Token Economies

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In college, I remember hearing from my professors that token economies and other reward systems were a thing of the past – that we want to build intrinsic motivation into our lessons.

I remember hearing from my professors that token economies and other reward systems were a thing of the past

However, I was surprised to find out when I started that my school implements one of these. The teachers carry around dollars that can be spent on special treats in the cafeteria once a week. Different teachers hand them out for different reasons, but still, students are being rewarded for their actions.

The adult world they’ll soon be entering just doesn’t work like that.

I’m torn on this. Part of me deplores the idea that we are rewarding our students for things that they are suppose to do. The adult world they’ll soon be entering just doesn’t work like that. On the other hand, it does motivate them to work where they wouldn’t otherwise.

I’ve taken to only handing out the dollars when I see something extraordinary from a student or as part of a game. I use more of them in my inclusion class because I feel those students need the incentive more than others.

What’s your stance on token economies like this? What positive or negative experiences have you had with them?

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3 thoughts on “Token Economies

  1. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of these external rewards. I’ve noticed that teachers who don’t have great behavior management skills can use them, or not use them, but either way, the kids still have too much control and too much freedom. Teachers with good behavior management skills can completely avoid them and still have a cooperative and calm classroom.
    Our school tries to follow the Responsive Classroom approach, so I don’t use any external rewards at all, and things are pretty smooth. We use consequences (logical, tied to the infraction) and that’s pretty successful too.

    • What kind of population are you working with? I work with many inner-city students who have special needs or severe behavior problems and I think that’s why they kind of justify it.

      • Good point! I work with a very intact, middle class population. While we have some kids with special needs and emotional/behavioral issues, its really a different world from the one you are in.
        I have to be honest; I believe in using whatever system works for the kids.
        Good luck! Where do you teach?

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