How to increase appropriate behaviour

Provide students with structure and predictability

Make students’ days structured and predictable and limit excessive free time.

Transition schedules help students understand where to go and what comes next.

Make sure there are consistent and predictable routines throughout the day.

Break difficult school routines down into smaller steps (for example: “During lunch, I get my lunch box, line up, walk to the cafeteria, sit at the table, raise my hand for a drink, eat lunch, read a book until the bell rings, clean up my lunch, and line up.”). By identifying each step of the routine, teachers can pinpoint tasks with which the student has difficulty for further instruction.

Provide frequent reinforcement for appropriate behaviour and responses

Notice positive behaviour when it occurs and provide genuine praise. For example, if the student has difficulty sitting in a chair during circle time, observe the student and reinforce appropriate sitting behaviour frequently when the student sits in a chair without an adult directive.

Modify the classroom environment.

Set up the classroom to head off problems in advance. Locations for each activity should be clearly defined for the students with visuals and obvious boundaries.

Develop transition schedules that correspond with each area of the room, so the student can locate that area when asked to transition.

Areas for direct instruction should provide distraction-free environments for students who have difficulty attending.

Always tell students “what to do” rather than “what not to do”

Use simple language and pair it with a visual, if needed.

Provide appropriate learning opportunities at the student’s developmental level

Students engage in appropriate behaviour when they’re provided with meaningful tasks and activities.

Assess each student’s ability level to be sure the student has the prerequisite skills to meet expectations.

Develop materials that are appropriate for each student’s level.

Allow students multiple opportunities for choice-making

Allow the student to make choices of specific activities they would like to do and enable them to make choices during the activities as well.

Offer choices during the activities that might include their preference for rewards, materials, time, and setting.

Break difficult assignments or activities into smaller steps

When students are engaging in a difficult activity, start by making it short and fun. Over time, slowly increase the activity’s length of time.

Use visuals to support appropriate student behaviour

Employ visuals that tell the student “what to do” in advance of the activity or expected behaviour.

When providing reinforcement for appropriate behaviour, show the student the visual of the expected behaviour again.

Schedule activities that the student enjoys immediately following less enjoyable activities

Plan a daily schedule in which less enjoyable activities are initially conducted for short periods of time, followed by more enjoyable activities.

Always end a direct instruction session on positive behaviour

If the student is engaged in a less preferable activity in which inappropriate behaviour usually occurs, try ending the activity when the student is exhibiting appropriate behaviour. Over time, extend the length of the session and the amount of appropriate behaviour the student needs to exhibit before the session ends.

Teach students skills that directly compete with inappropriate behaviour

Provide reinforcement for skills the student engages in that are incompatible with their inappropriate behaviour. For example, if a student engages in hand flapping, teach the student to engage in an activity that requires the use of their hands (“playing a fishing game”).

Use a token board system

The token board is an evidence-based practice supported by research.

Why “coins” as the token of choice?

  1. Money is a token system we all use in our daily life
  2. Students can eventually use the money they “earn” to purchase items in a store
  3. Some students may respond better to something other than coins. Change the token if needed (for example stickers)

Use the token board system to teach targeted skills

  1. Reward correct responses during direct instruction sessions
  2. The token board provides immediate positive feedback to the student
  3. This reward system offers a visual and tactile stimulus to the student for correct responding

Use the token board system to teach many additional skills

  1. Teach the student to wait for a reward
  2. Demonstrate the value of money
  3. Instruct the student to count
  4. Reward appropriate behaviour
  5. Improve fine motor skills

Token board procedure

  1. Have the student choose a reward
  2. Place the reward on or near the token board
  3. For higher functioning students, use an icon to represent the reward
  4. Ask the student a question or give the student a task to complete
  5. For each appropriate response, give the student a “coin” or other token
  6. The student should place the coin on the board if possible
  7. Once the student has earned all the tokens, give the student their reward
  8. After a few seconds or minutes (depending on the reward and student) say, “My turn” and start the process over again
  9. Optional:
    • If the student can “wait” for their reward, have the student take the coins off the token board and hand them to the teacher. The teacher can count the coins.
    • If the student enjoys counting the coins, ask the student to take the coins off the token board, counting the coins as they hand them to the teacher.
    • Do not require the student to “count the coins” if the student needs more immediate feedback to reinforce correct responding.

Getting started with tokens

  • Teach the student to use the token board by pre-loading the board with one or more tokens
  • Preload the token board with four of the five tokens. The student only has to earn one token to receive their reward.
  • If the student is learning new skills and has appropriate behaviour, try increasing the number of tokens the student needs to earn to receive their reward:
    • preload the token board with three of the five tokens. The student now has to earn two tokens to receive their reward
    • continue this process until the student is working for all five tokens.

Putting it into action

  • Use the token board during a variety of activities
  • Teach appropriate behaviour throughout the student’s day using the token system:
    • use the token board to reward appropriate behaviour during functional routines
    • “catch the student behaving well” during the circle routine, group activity routine, by using the token board to reward appropriate behaviour during those activities.

Upping the ante

Increase the complexity of the token board system as students are able to wait for longer periods prior to receiving a reward.

  • Start with a five-coin board (10-cent board)
  • For students who are responding well to the five-coin board, introduce the $1 board:
    • have the student earn five ten-cent coins to add up to 50 cents
    • the student must earn two fifty-cent coins (adding up to $1) to receive their reward.
  • For students who are responding well to the $1 board, introduce the $2 board:
    • have the student earn five ten-cent coins to add up to 50 cents
    • have the student earn two fifty cents to add up to $1
    • the student must earn two dollars to receive their reward.