Token Boards 101

I've blogged many times about reinforcement and the importance of token boards in helping to change behavior. However, I've yet to really break down the ins and outs of token boards. Let this blog be your guide to understanding token economies and how to utilize them in your work, classroom, or home!


What is a Token Economy?

Token economies are systems that provide positive reinforcement to a learner (or learners) by giving tokens for engaging in desirable behavior. They are a method for strengthening a desired behavior. Think of tokens as a form of currency for demonstrating adaptive behaviors that the learner can cash in for their backup reinforcer (what they really want to earn).

Some people incorporate a response cost procedure in their token system, which means that when learners are not engaged in the target behavior, and/or engaged in maladapative behaviors, they will lose tokens. This can be effective, but take care to implement this strategy, as this is a punishment procedure and comes with its own unintended effects.

Why Are Token Boards Important?

Token boards help the learner visually track the reinforcement they are earning for a specific task or length of time. It also is used as a way to delay reinforcement, thus continuing to fade reinforcement to a more natural schedule.

Token boards provide important information to children, visually, about how and when they will receive the backup reinforcer.

How Do I Implement Them?

  • First you need to clearly define the target behavior that will earn the tokens.
  • Introduce your token board and tokens - these are visible and countable. Oftentimes people use poker chips, stickers, Velcro pieces, etc. that they can either add to a laminated board, a small container, or sticker chart.
  • Tokens are not the backup reinforcer. No one is working just to get tokens. The idea is that the token board serves as a visual form of "currency" that the child or adult will cash in for a bigger, more potent reinforcer, once they collect all the tokens needed for the board. These backup reinforcers need to be meaningful to the individual receiving it, therefore you should be running a preference assessment to determine what will be a potent reinforcer for the learner.
  • Make sure the amount of tokens required to receive reinforcement match the behavior/time and the reinforcement. I've seen really solid token economies, and I've also seen poorly implemented token economies. In an adult program I consulted with, the woman had a token system in which she earned one token each day she did not engage in self-injury, and if she earned 5 tokens in the week, she could earn a cup of tea on Friday afternoon. She rarely met her goal. Perhaps the frequency of tokens were not enough to increase the desired behavior of "safe hands". She also didn't appear to be too motivated by a cup of Earl Grey tea at the end of the week after working extremely hard all week long. Likely, it was both of these factors. In this case, we made the tokens more reinforcing by making the frequency of reinforcement denser, as well as ran a preference assessment to determine what she actually wanted to earn (in this case it was computer time). Making small, but individualized changes to your token economy will make or break a system.
  • Have a system for taking data. You want to ensure your system is working (or not working like the example above), therefore taking baseline data prior to implementation, as well as during the use of your system will help. Additionally, data will help you to thin the schedule of reinforcement over time, so instead of a learning earning say, computer time every 15 minutes, you will be able to stretch it out to 2 times a day, then once at the end of the day, etc.
  • Be consistent with its implementation! Your token economy will only succeed if it's individualized and staff are implementing it consistently.
  • Continuous reinforcement will occur at the beginning of implementation. That is, a learner will earn a token for each desired behavior they exhibit (based on what they are earning tokens for), then gradually decreasing over time. This is to help the learner pair the tokens with reinforcement and the desired behavior. 

Want even more? Check out my Token Board Pack to help you get started!

ABA at Play: token economies, reinforcement, positive reinforcement, behavior modification, response cost, pairing, stimulus control, visuals, schedules of reinforcement, evidence-based practice



Get Out of Your Rut

We've all been there - feeling stuck in your current situation, whether it be your job, a relationship, boredom with life, etc. It's never a good feeling, and it never feels like things will change. I'm here to tell you it can. Here are some tips to get your self out of the mud and make meaningful changes.


Trick AND Treat: 3 Ways to Utilize Behavioral Momentum

As we all know, behavioral momentum is such an easy, effective tool to work on compliance and task initiation with our loved ones. (and ourselves!) You may find yourself using this strategy with your kids at home, your partner, your students, and yourselves without realizing it it's already "a thing." The key is having the "momentum" of success prior to the more difficult demand. This will increase the likelihood the learner will comply with the more difficult task. So what are some ways you can use this in the different areas of your life?


Here are some unique ways behavioral momentum can work for you:

1. With children: Children are great little guinea pigs when it comes to utilizing behavioral momentum. By requesting the child engage in high-probability (HP/easy) tasks, they begin to achieve a level of "success" with the completion of those tasks (because they are getting done, and you are praising them/providing reinforcement for their completion). After this success, you "sneak in" a low-probability request, often the task you wanted them to finish in the first place. On the surface, this may seem silly, and maybe like it won't work. But trust me: when done right, it's very effective!

2. With your colleagues: If you are lucky enough to have paraprofessionals helping you out, you and your team could benefit from some behavioral momentum strategies! For example, you may be requesting they take data frequently, but they are really struggling to be consistent with it, or even find value in taking it at all. After doing all the necessary staff training and explaining the significance of data collection, you may be employing some behavioral momentum strategies to get you to gain better compliance. Having a checklist of to-dos at the end of a period, which includes things that the staff are more inclined to do, such as: give high-fives to the child, give tokens to children who earned them toward their token board, put away materials, mark data on data sheet. (Your data will not always be able to be taken in this way. Depending on your collection method and the behavior in which you are tracking, taking data after the fact will not be beneficial. But sometimes, this can be done this way, at the very least while staff are getting used to taking data and increasing the likelihood they will engage in this in the future/making it a HP behavior itself!)


3. With yourself: It may seem hard to do this with yourself, because you are "aware" of the technique, but it can still be effective. For example, say I want to go to gym, but I'm not motivated. I will do higher probability activities such as changing into my gym clothes, taking the dog for a walk, doing some light cleaning around the house, that will get me moving and give me the momentum to go work out. Once I eliminate the issues with working out (I'm lazy and want to stay on the couch) by requesting of myself some easier tasks that I can do (such as changing into my gym clothes instead of my post-work sweatpants), it allows me to follow through and comply with my low-probability (LP) request.

Now, for your treat! Check out this print out for a step by step guide for utilizing behavioral momentum!


ABA at Play: reinforcement, social skills, ABA teaching strategies, motivating operations, behavioral momentum

How can you use behavioral momentum with your co-workers? Loved ones? Yourself?

The Busy Bee's Guide: Maintaining Wellness Goals

School is in full-swing and hopefully, the chaos has calmed a little, or at least is a bit more manageable. New school years always bring about this idea of change and rejuvenation, however we know it's not always possible, or even best, to try to start/change up too much in our lives in September. That's why, come October, I find it's best to start really revving up your wellness engine to attempt to make some meaningful changes, after the stress and fury of the new school year has settled. The weather is still enjoyable enough (at least in New England), where being outside is still a treat (especially in New England) and it's not quite time for Daylight Savings, therefore you don't feel like your day is over at 4 pm (yet). October is great time to get into a habit of wellness, so come winter, you're already motivated and into the swing of things, that you don't try to convince yourself it's too cold, too dark, too early, etc. to fit in that wellness routine.

So how does one get started on this journey? Read on to learn some ways to help you start and maintain your wellness goals this autumn.

Setting Up Classroom Routines

Can you believe it's already Back to School season!? I know, I know...many of you have already been back to school for a few weeks (some of you even went back in July...WHAT?!). But regardless of when you went back, we all have the same issues when it comes to starting a new year: setting up the classroom, creating lesson plans and/or centers, managing student pull-out schedules. I would argue one of the most important things a teacher needs to do is plan and teach classroom routines. If you don't have this down in the first few weeks of school, you will be teaching and reteaching these same expectations for the rest of the school year. Before any academic learning can happen, I think the routines need to be down. It makes your life easier, as well as the lives of your learners!

Photo by: Molly Coulter

Prompt Fading: What, Why, and How

Remember that post about prompting and how great it is for our learners? Well, I'm here today to tell you to get rid of those amazing prompts. Why? Because, while they are awesome in helping our individuals learn or strengthen a skill, we don't want to rely on them forever. So, with that being said, here's how to fade out those prompts...

Photo by: Molly Coulter

Prompting: What, Why, and How (with a Freebie!)

Many of us know what a prompt is, or at least what it means to prompt. If not, here's the quick dictionary definition:

prompt (verb): (of an event or fact) cause or bring about (an action or feeling)

So now that we're up to speed, did you know that there are all different kinds of prompts we can use? We often think of prompts as reminders. We prompt our children to grab their backpacks before they run for the bus. We prompt ourselves to empty the dishwasher with the use of a visual magnet that reads clean. We use prompting every day of our lives, so it would serve us well to learn more about what it means, why we should care, and how to use them!

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