The Effects of a Token Economy Employing Instructional Consequences for a Third-Grade Student with Learning Disabilities: A Data-Based Case Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to determine if a token reinforcement program could decrease three inappropriate behaviors (out of seat, talking out, and poor posture) of an elementary student with learning disabilities. The effects of the token program were examined using a multiple baseline design across behaviors. The results indicated that awarding tokens for the absence of the three target behaviors was an effective procedure. The practical aspects of the token program, as well as difficulties of employing data collection in an integrated elementary classroom setting, were discussed.

Inappropriate behavior manifested in the classroom interferes with the learning process of both the offender and the remainder of the class population (Alberto & Troutman, 1995; O'Leary & Drabman, 1971). Examples of such behavior that interfere with the learning environment include being out-of-seat, inappropriate talking, and being off-task during teacher instruction. Aside from safety, improving student discipline is still rated as a high priority in educational programming (Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1991, Rose & Gallup, 1999).

One of the most effective and data-based ways to improve classroom behaviors has been to implement a classroom token economy. Token systems have been effective across various grade levels, school populations, and school behaviors (Kazdin, 1982a; McLaughlin & Williams, 1988; K. D. O'Leary & Drabman, 1971; O'Leary & O'Leary, 1976; Williams, Williams, & McLaughlin, 1988). Preparation for the effective implementation of a token economy should include appropriate teaching methods, curriculum materials, class rules, and a positive classroom climate (McLaughlin, 1975, 1981; McLaughlin & Williams, 1988; Morgan, & Jenson, 1988; O'Leary & Drabman, 1971). Without such preparation, a token system may improve the situation only temporarily (Williams et al., 1991). Several researchers have successfully used a token economy to increase productive behavior in remedial and special classroom settings (McLaughlin & Williams, 1988; O'Leary & Drabman, 1971, Shook, LaBrie, McLaughlin, & Williams, 1990; Swain & McLaughlin, 1998).

A recent change in token economy research has been the expanding use of instructional activities as back-up reinforcers. For example, Inkster and McLaughlin (1993) found that access to computers was an effective consequence to improve the attendance and academic performance of a high school student. Truhlicka, McLaughlin, and Swain, (1998) employed bonus points which could be earned or lost based on the spelling performance of middle school students with behavior disorders. They employed such back-up activities as free time and going to the school library. The use of such consequences are more socially acceptable than either school based activities (an additional recess) or consumables (e.g., trinkets, gum, candy) and requires further analysis. With the overall decrease in the publication of classroom research evaluating token economies, the use of more academic consequences may increase the number of teachers and classrooms where this effective and powerful classroom management procedure can be implemented a nd evaluated.

The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effects of contingently presenting a student with tokens which were later exchanged for math work sheets. Contingent tokens were earned for the absence of: (a) being out of his seat, (b) talking out, or (c) displaying poor posture. With the increasing emphasis on teaching children with mild disabilities in integrated classroom settings, another goal was to determine if a token system using academic consequences could be implemented in such a setting. Data were also gathered to assess the brief maintenance effects of the token program (Stokes & Osnes, 1988). Finally, the case report provides an example of employing data-based level three case studies (Hawkins & Hursh, 1992; Hawkins & Mathews, 1999) in a school setting by a practitioner. …