A couple weeks ago, we discussed the function of token systems and how those can be transitioned to “buck systems.” However, with some students, token systems might not be a good choice. For example, it may take too long for students to contact their rewards using a token board. Additionally, a student may not yet understand how a token board works to earn the reward.
We have had new students with whom this was the case. One case, we tested a typical token board composed of laminated construction paper and plastic tokens. We found that he would work for the about five to ten trials before we would see any issues. So we began working with five tokens before he earned the reward/break. However, we found that fairly soon after implementation, he would often try to rip his token board (but it didn’t seem reliably connected to the amount or difficulty of work) he would then throw it away from his desk. After several different assessments (looking at a variety of rewards to deliver on a 1:1 ratio), we found that it wasn’t necessarily about how much work. We needed another way to help him learn that completing his work led to break time.
Our solution may remind you of a game that some of us played as kids – “Red light/Green light.” The object of the game is to be the first person to tap the hand of a person calling the signals of “red light” or “green light.” Players need to stop when the person calling the signals faces the players and says “red light.” The players are free to run when the person turns his/her back and says “green light.” As adults, we continue to play this “game” most times when we drive our cars and encounter a traffic light.
Many behavior analysts may be thinking they know what we did – bringing the student work behavior under “stimulus control”. But hang on, we flipped it a little! For our student, we made a card of laminated construction paper that was red on one side and green on the other. This is where our protocol deviates from the norm: The green side indicates that it is time to work and the red side indicates that the student can have a break. We wanted to find out how much work our student wanted to do, and provide a clear way for him to let us know when he desired a break. So, instead of his teacher deciding when the student earned a break, we had him tell us when it was time for a break. We conducted training trials which lasted about an hour before we could implement our new intervention. Training involved teaching the student that the card would display green for work time, and if a break was desired, he needed only flip the card to show the red side. Additionally, after the student completed the break period his teachers would prompt him to turn the card to the green side to begin his work again.
Within the first two trials the student correctly requested a break independently. Teachers also gave prompts to flip the card to green and begin working. Within three trials the student independently turned the card over to green to indicate work. It seemed like the beginning of success!
Such a procedure helps to remind us that we may need to alter our interventions at times. One of the largest benefits obtained by this intervention is that our student is able to independently choose when a break should occur (he’s learned the good that comes with communication as well as a means to assert his needs appropriately). Another benefit to the student is the clear distinctions of work and break times that may not have been very clear with the token board. As always, we will continually collect data to make sure that our student is choosing work enough to meet his educational targets, and that it helps keep any disruptive behaviors that impede on his learning to a minimum. For updates, stay tuned!