Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Win-Win Reward System

Behavior modification is the traditional term for the use of behavior change techniques to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviors, such as altering an individual's behaviors and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement of adaptive behavior and/or the reduction of behavior.


       It's kind of ironic, but one of my least favorite classes in my undergraduate program at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania was, "Behavior Modification". I don't remember why exactly but I think the reason may have had something to do with the fact that at the time, I didn't have actual students to test my "techniques" on. I was lucky though, it didn't take long before I had my first classroom.I accepted my first teaching position prior to graduation. I was a summer school teacher at the Devereux Foundation in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The Devereux Foundation is a residential school for children with multiple disabilities. My students were between eight and ten years old and were dually diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbance. I very quickly put my newly acquired behavior modification techniques to work! Overall, the summer went well and the behavior modification program had a lot to do with both my success and my students success.
    Today I have honed my skills somewhat. I have used the same student rewards program with minor variations for each group or with each new school schedule for about nine years now. I actually love all of the built in positives with this reward program. My students simply call it "points or points cards" which I guess quickly defines the program. The whole program is based on points that students collect and trade in for money at the end of each school day. The money is stored in individual money boxes. Every five weeks the students spend their earnings in "Aubin-Mart". 

     The students begin with 2 points per period. If they need a warning to get back on task or for exhibiting inappropriate classroom behavior or rudeness to an adult or peer they lose a point. If a student has a melt down or is uncooperative they lose both points but...only for that period. This is the heart of this program. We all make mistakes and we all have times when we are not at our's human nature! One mishap should never, ever ruin a whole day! So, every class period, the student starts anew. What's lost can now be earned.  If a student had a difficult period they now have another chance to make up for it. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, second chances are allowed in my room. Also, I sporadically give out extra positive behavior, cooperation, and excellence points.  This encourages student engagement and rigor. Kids love it when they earn extra points! 



      The beginning of each school year is always interesting when it comes to the "points" program.  Students who are new to the classroom have never shopped in "Aubin-Mart" before, so they don't know what a treat this can be. I usually stay very calm during the first five weeks of school and just let the program work its course. I always have new teaching assistants who I need to train by telling them "stay the course" and not give or take away points too hastily. I also have to remind them to be patient with the new students who have not "shopped" before because until their first shopping experience and they do not fully understand the importance of earning points. It's hard to understand something without experiencing it first hand.

     "Shopping" day is the best!  The anticipation has mounted!  All students are on their best behavior all day. We usually shop in the afternoon. The students try really hard to refrain from asking, "Is it time yet"? Finally, it is almost time. Usually right before lunch the students count their money. Yes, of course they must count their own money! Another win-win situation in this points program is the educational component! Students learn how to count money! After every student counts his or her money, it is written on a "credit card".  Then the students must line up in order from who has the most to the least. It is recorded on the whiteboard from highest to lowest as to who has earned the most money! The student with the most will be allowed to shop first.  This quickly turns into an "aha" moment for the new students who maybe didn't take the "points" program seriously enough! This sad student may be shopping last! This is where I gently insert the lesson: "It's not fun to go last but you will be able to buy some great things. Next time, remember the more points you earn, the higher on the list you will be." This is usually all it takes to have a believer in the points program!

         While the students are at lunch. I set up "Aubin-Mart" over the years it has grown. We really do have "departments". I always love the look on the students faces when they step into the classroom and see so many things they can buy! I try to fill the store with things they are interested in and things they need. We have: Sports cards, jewelry, "Frozen" and "Minecraft" themed items, candy, hair supplies, school supplies, deodorant, hats, mittens, toys, puzzles,fishing poles and supplies, basketballs ...and the list goes on. Many items are under $1.00 although students have earned as much as $12.00. Keep in mind we aren't actually spending student money but classroom  money that they have earned in school. After each purchase the students are checked out and given a shopping bag filled with their goods! Any unspent money is returned to their coin box for future purchases.

      Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate my students? They are thoughtful and kind. Often, instead of buying things for themselves, they buy gifts for family members. Last year, a girl bought a doll for her younger sister who had just had surgery. One boy bought nail polish for his sister, another a necklace for his stepmom. They buy things that they need, like pencil boxes and deodorant. These kids amaze me every day. It is my hope that our classroom point program and store teaches my students the bigger lesson that hard work does pay-off. I hope they learn that with diligence, honor, respect, and generosity, they can be successful not only in our classroom, but in life.

Educator Links:

1o Best TEDTalks of 2014 for Educators

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Mitt Aubin's Book Review :     I just love the:"Adventures in Colonial America" series. The Winter at Valley Forge. is written like a diary or journal.The illustrated sketches by George Guzzi makes the journal look authentic. Having lived in the Philadelphia/Valley Forge area for nearly twenty-five years, I appreciate the author's use of real towns that are in Pennsylvania that General George Washington's troops would have travelled through. The book is accurate, as winters in Pennsylvania really are cold and the Schuylkill River that Washington's troops crossed into Gulph Mills really does freeze. Having personally spent many days in Valley Forge Park, I can attest to the fact that the small wooden cabins sketched in the book look like those still standing in Valley Forge today. This book would be an excellent accompaniment to a history lesson on the Revolutionary War.


  1. Great idea!! We did this as a department wide incentive program when I taught high school. This works well for all age groups. Thanks for posting :)

    1. You are welcome. It also worked in a residential program that I taught in. We used it as a school wide program also.