Token Economy in the Classroom: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of Token Economy
  • 2:18 Criticisms of the…
  • 2:42 Examples of a Token Exonomy
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Peggy Olsen
Token economies provide rewards, such as chips or tokens, that can be used to pay privileges or things. Learn more about token economies and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

Definition of Token Economy

Token economies are based on operant learning theory, which states that rewards and punishments shape behavior. A token economy rewards good behavior with tokens that can be exchanged for something desired. A token can be a chip, coin, star, sticker, or something that can be exchanged for what the student wants to buy.

How does a token economy work in a classroom setting? Teachers give students a token when their behavior matches the desired behavior. On a regular basis, the teacher sets up a sale of items and privileges which students can purchase with the tokens.

How does one set up a token economy? The first step is to decide what behavior(s) should be focused on with the class; for example, perhaps the teacher wants to encourage students to turn in homework on time. Once the list of behavior(s) is complete, the teacher will determine how much each behavior is worth. For example, turning in an assignment on time is worth one token.

A teacher might also have a list of undesirable behaviors that cause a student to lose a token. If a student does not turn in assignment, a student might lose one token when the assignment is a week late.

Depending on the age and ability of the students, a teacher might give students the option to bank their tokens so they do not lose them. The teacher can keep a chart to keep track of tokens that are banked.

What will motivate students? To compile a list of rewards, a teacher will want to consider the interests of the class and perhaps even ask the class to brainstorm ideas. Once the list is complete, assign values. Design how often to offer the reward store. Depending on the age of the students and frequency of the behavior, it might be daily, weekly, or monthly. Optionally, you can allow students to choose something when they have a minimum number of tokens, but management-wise, scheduling time is less cumbersome.

Criticisms of the Token Economy

There are two main criticisms of token economies. The first is the concern about dependency on external rewards. The second is the ethical concern about controlling others. Teachers can be mindful of these concerns by keeping rewards reasonable and as a supplement to self-satisfaction, rather than being so large the reward is the only reason a student turns in homework on time.

Examples of a Token Economy

To see an example of a token economy, let's take a look at Mrs. Weir's classroom:

Mrs. Weir has a token economy set up in her second grade classroom. She uses poker chips as her tokens. She has set up a system to encourage students to read more books and to start reading immediately when they sit down after lunch. Each time a student reads a book, she gives them one token after they have answered a couple questions about the book orally.

After lunch, she passes out tokens in the first two minutes of class time. A student who is very disruptive during the after-lunch reading time can lose tokens. She estimates students can earn 20 tokens for reading immediately after lunch and can easily earn 4 reading books. Once a month, she opens her store, which contains the following items and more.

  • Extra recess cost 45 tokens
  • Computer time cost 35 tokens
  • Books vary between 10-35 tokens
  • Toys vary between 10-45 tokens
  • Snack foods, including candy and gum, cost 5-10 tokens
  • Stickers, pens, pencils cost 1-5 tokens

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