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Token Economy: How It Can Be Used During Tutoring Sessions

Monetary coins

I first learned about token economies during my undergraduate studies. A token economy is a form of behavioral intervention that helps students demonstrate a set of targeted behaviors. I especially like to use it during the early childhood years to help set students up for success starting at a young age. It also provides positive reinforcement by highlighting and recognizing desired behaviors and not drawing attention to negative or undesired behaviors.

A token economy helps build intrinsic motivation by first establishing external rewards and then gradually moving away from external rewards as students begin to look more inwardly for motivation. A token economy is useful for students who may need more reinforcement to perform desired behaviors. It's based on the notion that if a behavior is rewarded then it will likely continue to be demonstrated.

So what does this look like? A token economy should be individualized based on the student and the desired outcomes. It is usually a chart of some sort where students are first shown "how" to perform the desired behaviors and given options for what their reward will look like after demonstrating the desired behaviors. Students will be given tokens when target behaviors are observed and then students can exchange those tokens for a reward. It seems pretty simple, but it is very effective.

Some examples of rewards include iPad time, extra recess, a desired toy, a manipulative or fidget that can be played for a certain amount of time, stickers, TV time, a dessert, bubble gum, etc. Rewards should be individualized to match the interests of the student. For example, you wouldn't want to add bubble gum as a reward if the student doesn't like the taste or texture of bubble gum. Choose rewards that the student would be motivated to work towards.

Another thing I like about token economies is that students can only "gain" tokens for desired behaviors and not have them "taken away." Highlighting the desired behaviors is what makes token economies so effective. If a student doesn't receive the desired amount of tokens, then they won't get their prize. However, if the student earns tokens then they can't get those taken away, even if they haven't reached the amount needed to cash them in for a prize.

Token economies can also be useful during online tutoring sessions, such as the ones offered here at Holmes Tutoring. It can be a bit difficult for students, especially younger students, to sit and focus during the duration of tutoring sessions. What I like to do is tell my student(s) they will receive "tokens" for the following behaviors and if they reach a certain amount of tokens, then it can be exchanged for a prize. Of course, the number of tokens needed as well as the prizes will need to be discussed beforehand with parents.

Students receive virtual "tokens" as a visual representation of tokens earned to help the student stay focused. It can also help students see how many tokens they have compared to how many are needed. I have used this method several times during tutoring sessions and it works! After class, I email parents to let them know how many tokens were earned in class, and the parent can then reward the student appropriately.

Free token economy systems can be found by doing a simple Google search. I've found several free ones on Teachers Pay Teachers. Feel free to reach out by email if you want more information about how you can implement a token economy for your students or children.

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