Token systems for behaviour management – what schools can learn and implement

Disruptive elements in the classroom can be a headache, but they are certainly not an insurmountable challenge. Schools are getting better at knowing how to deal with discipline problems more effectively, and reward (or denial of it) is at the heart of the concept. Here, we’ll have a look at how token systems can have a positive effect on behaviour management, and why it’s never too early to start.

The typical class has a strangely uniform feel to it, which repeats year on year. You’ve got the studious types, the quiet ones, the jokers, the energetic ones and, of course, the troublesome kids. As a teacher you develop techniques for teaching all of them, through experience, ongoing learning and using your own personality and demeanour to cut through.

Of all the student types, though, it’s the badly behaved that have the most serious impact. From refusal to work to tantrums, they eat up valuable time that could be better used educating both themselves and the rest of the class, even if you have classroom assistants to help.

But plenty of teachers swear by token systems for managing behaviour. In short, tokens are given for good work and behaviour, and removed for bad. It doesn’t take disruptive children long to learn that there’s a two-token difference between being excellent and being disruptive. While it won’t convert all devils into angels overnight, giving pause for thought often defuses an outburst.

Nobody left behind

The beauty of token collecting for disciplinary reasons is that it includes every child in the class, even if its aim is to rein in bad behaviour. Because every child has the chance to be rewarded for their good work and behaviour, it doesn’t suffer from accusations of being focused solely on the disruptive ones.

The science bit

We’ve already written about the science behind token schemes, and we urge you to have a read of it, along with the linked articles that go into more detail. They’re all genuine studies, including a report from the Department for Education.

Key among the findings is that effective communication of what is good and what is bad behaviour is an essential first step in designing a reward system. Without those guidelines, children can often be left confused and frustrated about why they are being punished, or even rewarded.

It’s also important to note that the culture of every school is different, influenced as it is by different socioeconomic and environmental factors, so there isn’t a one size fits all solution – the token system needs to be designed with the pupils in mind, and teachers should be mindful of when it’s not working and take remedial action.

What is clear, however, is that a well implemented token system, with rewards that resonate with the children, can work wonders on bad behaviour. And there’s no need to stop the system if and when behaviour improves, as it can easily be carried on to start aiming for excellence rather than average. Then you can really deem it a success.

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