Gold stars; smiley faces; trophies ; pizza parties; Boz Scaggs concert tickets …
These are all different iterations of the same type of ‘token economy’ reward system that is liberally applied in classrooms across the globe.
I imagine you would be hard pressed to find any school that didn’t use some form of a token economy. In fact, some schools are pushing this ‘rewards arms race’ to new extremes -- many public schools in America, for example, are now using financial incentives (including direct bank deposits) as a motivational tool.
Regardless of the specific mechanism, rewards systems are implemented with the goal of altering student behavior … and broadly speaking, they work.
However, just because something works does not mean it’s an optimal solution.
For example, imagine you went to the doctor’s office with a sore knee. The doctor could quickly eliminate your knee pain by amputating your entire leg, but it’s unlikely this approach would be the optimal one.
And sure, that example is a bit ridiculous, but my point is many people take a narrow or short-term view of rewards systems without considering the longer-term effects.
In this 'From Theory to Practice' video, I examine a classic piece of research that can help us do just that:
The Token Economy: An Evaluative Review (Alan E. Kazdin and Richard R. Bootzin)
Here are some of the questions I tackle in this installment: