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(Antecedent Interventions)
Classroom Interventions for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder


A token economy is an intensive, in-class positive reinforcement program for building up and maintaining appropriate classroom performance and behavior.  A token program may be needed when other positive reinforcement programs, such as selective use of teacher attention or a home-based reinforcement program, are insufficient to motivate the student with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to behave and perform appropriately.  When this is the case, a tangible reward program, managed by the teacher, may be needed.  Tangible rewards can be conveniently managed through a token reinforcement program.

Token programs involve the distribution of tokens (for example, stickers, stars, smiley faces, etc) or points following appropriate behavior.  The tokens or points can be accumulated throughout the day and exchanged for designated rewards at a specified time.  a predetermined goal is set for the number of tokens or points require to earn a reward.  The teacher or classroom aide is responsible for distributing the tokens and providing the reward.


A token program is one of the most powerful behavioral interventions for improving school behavior.  In children with ADD, the changes in classroom behavior can be comparable to those obtained by stimulant medications (O'Leary & O'Leary, 1976).  Token programs allow for the use of more powerful incentives than are tpyically in place in the classroom.  In addition, token programs have the advantage of providing more immediate rewards than home-based programs.


A survey of teacher's classroom management practices management practices showed that formal token programs token programs were used for increasing appropriate behavior by about 30 percent of teachers, with an average frequency of use between "not at all" and"just a little" (Rosen, Taylor, O'Leary, & Sanderson, 1990).  This result may simply reflect that such intensive in-class programs are not needed for the majority of students.  However, it could indicate that the technique is too time consuming and difficult to manage, given given teacher's other responsibilities.  Furthermore, while behavioral interventions soud simple, their implemtation can be difficult.  For this reason, teachers may need additional training or consultation with a person trained in behavioral interventions in order to successfully implement a token reinforcement oprogram.  In one study, a classroom teacher was able to successfully manage a classroom wide token program with 18 hyperactive children after consultation with a behavioral speciallist who helped initiate the program (Robinson, Newby, & Ganzell, 1981).  The steps involved in establishing a token economy program are outline below.


Step 1:  Select behaviors to target for change.

The teacher should choose two to four of the most important problem behaviors to target for change.  Additional behaviors can be substituted in as the student's behavior changes.  It is important for these behaviors to be defined clearly.  The characteristics of well-defined behavior are described and examples provided in this table.
Characteristic: Recomended Examples: Not Recomended:
*  Define in clear, specific, and
    observable terms

*  Positively stated when

*  Represent academic
    products rather than
    classroom behavior or

"Turned in homework on time"
"Obeyed class rules"

"Played well with the other children"
"Was prepared for class"

"Percentage of math completed"
"Percentage of accurately completed reading"

"Was good today"
"Had a bad day"

"Hit other children"
"Unprepared for class"

"Stayed seated"
"Stayed on task"


First, the behavior should be defined in such a way that it is clear to the child and everyone else involved when the behavior occurs.  The behavior should be clear, specific, and observable.  A good rule of thumb is:  if the behavior can be counted and two different people observing the behavior can agree when it occurs, then behavior is probably well-defined.  Vague target behaviors make it difficult for teachers to monitor them and children to know when they have performed them.

Second, a token reinforcement program is designed to be positive and motivational, focusing on increasing desired behaviors.  Behaviors targeted for change should be defined in terms of what the child should do, rather than what the child should stop doing.

The third characteristic relates to targeting classroom products rather than conduct or process behaviors.  Programs targeting disruptive behavior or academic "process," such as staying on task, sitting still, or staying seated, are successful in changing behaviors, however, they do not necessarily lead to increased work productivity (Barkley, 1990).  Programs targeting the products of academics can lead to increased productivity, as well as imporvements in behavior.  It should be acknowleged that the bahavior of some children with ADD can be quite disruptive to the classroom and may need to be the target of change.  It is recommended that targeting behaviors involving classroom conduct be done only after a period of rewarding academic productivity.

Step 2:  Develop a method for keeping track of tokens or points.

The teacher much develop a method for keeping track of the tokens or points.  It is recommended that physical tokens be used for young children (4-7 years old), such as stars, stamps, or stickers (Barkley, 1990).  These tokens can be given to the child to place in a container at or near the child's desk.  Some young children may get distracted by these chips and it may be necessary to place them out of reach, such as in a fabric pouch attached to the back of the desk or placed in some other  desk or in a journal.

Step 3:  Identify powerful rewards.

The identification of powerful rewards is critical to the success of a token program.  In order for the reward to be motivating, it must be perceived by the child as desireable and worth working for.  One way to assure that the rewards are meaning ful is to involve the children in the process of generating a list of potential rewards.  Another method of identifying meaningful rewards is to observe what the children do in their free time.  Behaviors that children engage in frequently can be used as rewarding activities.  Parents also can be helpful in identifying favored activities.  In addition, there may be some classroom responsibilities that children may find rewarding, such as assisting the teacher or erasing the chalkboard.  For children with ADD, new rewards should be continually rotated into the reward "menu" in order to keep the rewards meaningful.  What may be rewarding to a child one week may be less so the next week.  Examples of potential school rewards are listed in the table below:
*  Access to hand held video
*  Free time in class
*  Computer time
*  Small toys
*  Field Trips
*  Working on a bulletin board
*  Being in charge of sharing
*  Passing out books
*  Acting as a line leader
*  Leading in the morning
    pledge to the flag
*  Leading songs
*  Being captain of a team
*  Helping in the cafeteria
*  Assisting the custodian
*  Helping the  librarian
*  Snacks
*  Extra Recess time
*  Playing Games
*  Playing Computer games
    like Jumpstart Programs
*  Legos
*  Art Projects
*  Access to science area
*  Helping collect work of
*  Erasing the chalkboard
*  Running the copy machine
*  Stapling papers together
*  Feeding the fish or animals
*  Raising or lowering the flag
*  Emptying the 
*  Operating a projector
*  Correcting papers
*  Giving message over the
*  Cutting paper
*  Running errands
*  Helping in the school office
*  Cleaning erasers
*  Writing lesson plans on the
*  Watering plants
*  Tutoring a less able child
*  Collecting papers
*  Getting out the gym
*  Taking roll
*  Working with clay
*  Listening to a radio with an
*  Visiting the counselor or

Step 4:  Establish Goals.

The next step is to determine an appropriate goal, or number of tokens or points needed to obtain the reward.  It is important to initially set the goal at a level that is easily achieved.  If the goal is set too high, the child may perceive it to be unachievable and may not put forth the effort.  The best way of establishing an appropriate starting goal is to keep track of how often the child performs the desired behaviors for a one week period prior to starting the program.  The starting goal should be set just above this "baseline" level of performance.  for example, is a student was completing 40% of his/her assigned work before intervention, then an appropriate starting goal might be 50%.  This reasonable starting goal will allow the child to obtain success and experience the reward of appropriate behavior early in the program.  The goal can be gradually increased over time.

Step 5:  Explain the program to the child.

The program should be explained to the child at a neutral time.  The behaviors targeted for change and how to successfully perform the behaviors should be discussed.  In addition, the goal for earning the rewards and when the rewards will be given should be discussed.

Step 6:  Teacher provides feedback.

The teacher should decide how tokens will be distributed.  They can be given for each occurance of a desired behavior or at specified intervals.  For example, if a teacher is trying to incease a child's raising of the hand before speaking, a token can be given each time the child performs this behavior.  If work productivity is targeted, the child can earn a token for every five math problems completed accurately.  It is essential that the teacher reward the target behaviors with tokens in a consistent and accurate manner.  In addition, the teacher should use frequent praise and social attention for appropriate behavior throughout the day and when dispensing the tokens.  a punishment technique called response cost can be built into the program.  This technique involves the loss of tokens, points, privileges following the occurance of some inappropriate behavior or failure to meet some specified goal.  However, it is recomended that response cost could be included only after the program has been tried and just rewards for several weeks.

Step 7:  Teacher provides reward.

At a predetermined time, the teacher should review the child's progress toward the goal.  If the child obtained the goal for the day, the child should be allowed to choose a reward fromt he reward menu.  If the child fails to obtain the goal for the day, the child can be informed in a matter-of-fact manner that s/he did not earn the reward for the day.  Avoid reprimands or "corrective" statements.

Step 8:  Changing the program.

When the child's behavior improves to a desired level for a period of time, the program can be changes in a number of ways.  The number of tokens required for a reward can be incerased.  For example initially, a child may be allowed to exchange tokens several times per day.  As the behavior improves, the tokens can be exchanged once per day.  In addition, after progress has been made on the original target behaviors, new problem behaviors can be substituted in as needed.  When making changes to the program, praise the child for the success and explain the changes and expectations.  If the child's behavior worsens during these changes and does not improve after a period of time, return to the previous system.


Barkley, R.A. (1990).  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder:  A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment.  New York:  Guilford.
O'Leary, K. & O'Leary, S. (1976).  Classroom Management:  The successful use of behavioral modification.  New York:  Pergamon Press.

Rosen, L., Taylor s., O'Leary, s., & Sanderson, W. (1990).  a survey of classroom management practices.  Journal of School Psychology, 28, 257-269

Robinson, P.,  Newby, T., & Ganzell, S. (1981).  A token system for a class of underachieving hyperactive children.  Journal of Applied Behavoural Analysis, 14(3), 307-315.

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