Exploration of Classroom Participation in the Presence of a Token Economy

Article excerpt

Past research has emphasized the importance of active classroom participation in student learning. However, relatively little research has addressed what variables relate to such participation, especially in the presence of a token economy. This study addressed these concerns. Students received bonus points for classroom participation by asking questions. More than 78% of students participated in the token economy. Non-traditional students, students higher in Extraversion, and students with a Performance Approach or Mastery Approach to school participated more. Contrary to past research, women, people with higher Openness Scores, and students with higher Conscientiousness scores did not evidence higher levels of participation. Surprisingly, higher levels of classroom participation only related to better class performance in Statistics and Applied Behavior Analysis classes. However, students endorsed class participation as important to learning and students may have learned from listening questions asked by other students.

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Class participation can help students to perform better in school (e.g., Jalongo, Twiest,Gerlack, & Skoner, 1998). However, assessing class participation as a portion of a gradehas proven amixedblessing. Reported concerns about graded class participation have included difficulty in establishing objective criteria for grading, increased workload on instructors, and students feeling coerced to participate (Armstrong & Boud, 1983; Junn, 1994). On the other hand, reported benefits have included better class preparation (Armstrong & Boud; Dunaway, 2005) and greater mastery of course materials (Beekes, 2006). Given the reported benefits of active classroom participation by students, rates of actual participation have appeared quite low. Jalongo et al. (1998) indicated that approximately 10% of students voluntarily participate in class discussions.

Examination of variables related to classroom participation has suggested that several variables external to the classroom setting may relate to classroom participation. Women and older, nontraditional students participated more in class discussions (Fritschner, 2000; Howard & Henny, 1998). Research using an undergraduate sample suggested that students who reported higher levels of classroom participation also tended to score slightly higher on personality traits of Openness and Conscientiousness (Scepansky & Bjornsen, 2003). Students who participated more reported a higher Learning Orientation toward school and lower levels of Grade Orientation (Scepansky & Bjornsen, 2003).

A token economy can help overcome some of the difficulties associated with assessing classroom participation (Junn, 1994). Boniecki and Moore (2003) reported that the use of a token economy with rewards for correctly answering questions had multiple benefits. In addition to increasing the number of students attempting to answer questions correctly, students also participated more in class discussion and posed their own questions even though these activities earned no reinforcement tokens.

Junn (1994) took a different approach to the token economy by reinforcing classroom participation in the form of asking questions or of contributing to ongoing class discussion. This intervention required students to participate in the classroom discussion at least 20 times over the course of the semester. Student reports indicated that they enjoyed the exercise, it increased their level of classroom participation, and that it helped students to increase participation in classes without the token economy.

Although past research suggested that active classroom participation increased learning, most published research has not directly examined relationships between classroom participation and indices of learning, such as graded course materials. One team learning intervention reported that participation in classroom discussions increased as a result of the intervention, but that this yielded no measurable improvement in learning (Dunaway, 2005). …