Token Boards for Reinforcing Behavior and Managing a Classroom

A Tool that Works Paired with Well Developed Instructional and Behavior Plans

A token chart created for an individual student. Websterlearning

Like any educational tool, a token board is most effective when used consistently within the context of a comprehensive classroom management plan. Token boards have been associated with Applied Behavior Analysis, as they provide a simple and visual method of structuring and providing reinforcement. They can be used to narrow or broaden your reinforcement schedule. They can be used to teach children how to defer gratification. They can be used narrowly to address specific behavior problems.

At the same time, unless you and your staff or you and your collaborating teacher are clear about how a token is earned, you can end up with a lot of dysfunction. The purpose is to provide clarity about which behaviors, even academic, that you are reinforcing. If you get preoccupied and don't consistently award tokens, you also undermine your whole reinforcement plan. For these reasons, it's important to address how you make and use a token board in your classroom.

Basically, a token board has individual pictures or tokens that are held in place by Velcro. The tokens are stored on the back of the board until they are moved to the front of the board. Usually, the number of tokens is determined by how long you believe you can defer reinforcement. Many token boards (as the one depicted above) may include a place for the student's "choice" of reinforcement represented by a picture. 

Token Boards Used for Reinforcement

Creating a clear sense of contingency is the first and primary purpose of a token board. You student needs to know that he/she receives a token and reinforcement for exhibiting a particular behavior. Teaching contingency is a process of first establishing one to one correspondence. In Applied Behavior Analysis, contingency is critical in order to match the reinforce to the behavior.

A Token Board becomes a visual schedule for reinforcement. Whether you put a child on an 8 token schedule or a 4 token schedule, you are expecting a child to understand that they will receive access to reinforcement when they fill their board. There are ways to build toward an eight token board, including starting with a smaller number, or starting with the board partially filled. Still, the likelihood of increasing the behavior, whether it is communication or academic, is to be sure that the child knows that behavior is being reinforced.

Addressing Specific Behaviors with a Token Board

To start a behavior change program, you need to identify both the behavior you want to change and the behavior that should take its place (replacement behavior.) Once you have identified the replacement behavior, you then need to create a situation where you are reinforcing it quickly using your board.

Example Sean sits very poorly at circle time. He gets up frequently and throws himself on the floor if he doesn't get access to a preferred toy, Thomas the Tank Engine. The classroom has a set of cube chairs that are used for circle time. The teacher has determined that the replacement behavior is:

John will stay seated in his cube during group with both feet on the floor, participating appropriately in group activities (singing, take a turn, listening quietly.)

The Stimulus-Response will be "Sitting, please." The "naming" phrase will be "Good sitting, Sean."

A classroom aide sits behind Sean in group: when he sits for approximately a minute quietly a token is placed on his chart. When he gets five tokens, he has access to his preferred toy for 2 minutes. When the timer goes off, Sean is returned to the group with "Sitting, please!" After several successful days, the reinforcement period is expanded to about two minutes, with three-minute access to the reinforcer. Over a couple weeks, this could be expanded to sitting for the entire group (20 minutes) with a 15-minute free place "break."

Targeting specific behaviors in this way can be extraordinarily effective. The example above is based on a real child with real behavior issues, and it took only a couple of weeks to effect the desired result, though since I play my guitar at group, sitting and participating quickly becomes naturally reinforcing, and then a time out from reinforcement plan can keep those good group behaviors in place.

Cost Response: Taking a token off the board once it is earned is known as cost response. Some districts or schools may not permit response cost, in part because non-professional or support staff will remove a reinforce that has been earlier as a punishment, and the motivation may be revenge rather than behavior management. Sometimes taking away a reinforce after it has been earned will generate some pretty unmanageable or even dangerous behavior. Sometimes support staff will use response cost just to get the student to flip out so they can be removed from the classroom and placed in an alternate "safe" setting (used to be called isolation.)

Token Boards for Classroom Management

A token board is one of several different  "visual schedules" you can use to support classroom management. If you have a reinforcement schedule based on the board, you can specify either a token for each completed tasks or a combination of appropriate participation and work completion. If you give a token for each completed worksheet, you may find that your students choose only the easy ones, so you may want to offer two token for a particularly difficult activity.

A Reinforcement Menu A menu of reinforcement choices is helpful, so your students know they have a range of choices that are acceptable. You may create a choice chart for each individual child, or permit them to choose from a larger chart. You will also find that different students have different preferences. When you create a student's choice chart, it is worthwhile to take the time to do a reinforcement evaluation, especially for students with very low function.