Our first topic will be about token systems and their variations. This is on our minds because we just had some students graduate to more advanced forms of reinforcement and reward for learning.
Why token systems are effective
One goal in behavior analysis is to help students learn about delayed gratification, and the importance of working for things they care about. While we may initially provide a reward directly for each small response that we are looking to teach, this is unsustainable and doesn’t map onto the real world that we hope to prepare our students to enter. To help with this, several our students utilize a token economy.
At the most basic level a token is something tangible that a student is given as a reward for a specified amount of learning or work done. We individualize the amount required to earn a token to student and the difficulty of the work. After earning a certain number of tokens the student can exchange them for a larger reward (this can range from fun teacher attention and playtime to simply a brief break from work). The great thing about token systems is that they allow us to help students learn and do more to earn larger and better rewards (rather than relying on a 1:1 small reward system). It also sets up a system that can adjust with the students to make sure they’re learning the most they can by changing what they do to earn tokens and for what they can be exchanged. We can also adjust the system so that we can give them for any number of positive responses (not necessarily just correct answers on academic tasks), and they can be exchanged for lots of fun larger rewards. We believe it is always best if the student can pick what reward they are working for and ultimately control how and what they earn.
Why “buck systems” are a step up
One of our most basic systems is a be as simple 5 token exchange in which we have poker chips which attach to a token board to be exchanged for the reward. We are excited to have recently transitioned a few of our students to a more complex system! We’re introducing a new “buck system”. In essence it’s a variation on the regular token economy they are used to, but with some advanced components which result in lots of additional benefits. The most obvious is that the students are earning mock dollar bills instead of poker chips. Dollar bills are like tokens which motivate a lot of our behavior in the real world, so we like to use similar systems to teach necessary skills to our students. In addition to the dollars, we’ve provided them with wallets to store the money instead of a Velcro board, as this will teach independence and responsibility. In addition to learning to save and budget, when they “shop” in the store, they will need to use adding and subtracting skills. They are working on math without realizing it!
Another great thing about a “buck system” is that the student has so many more options to purchase with their hard earned money. Again, using their saving and budgeting skills, they will need to choose between spending a little bit of money on something small, or keep saving to earn a bigger reward. These are critical skills necessary to live most independently.
We’ve also added a store that they has operating hours (much like in real world stores which are not 24/7), so we are teaching our students how to be patient and wait to can spend their money. As you can see, a slight shift in their system promotes a wide range of new skills that are critical to successful independent living. We’re excited to have several students doing so well with this system, and we hope to have others transition as soon as they are ready.