July 2005 -- TAGteach workshop

Quick note to all my horsey readers. This isn’t about training horses, but is a system that can be used to train riders and people who work with horses. They had results of a big equestrian study that was done in Ireland, but I didn’t have a chance to record it. I’ll get a copy from Theresa and then post it here. Short summary: TAGteach has been incorporated VERY successfully into the riding program at the study center, and they continue to use it.

Introductions… Theresa, Keri, and Heidi are our illustrious session leaders. Attendees at this seminar include dog clicker training instructors, horseback riding instructors, a police officer, guide dog instructors, a special ed teacher, a psychology professor, a parent of an autistic child, a personal trainer, an orthotist, dog shelter workers, a Sunday school teacher, and a teacher of at-risk youth.

Theresa found clicker training through horses. She had a horse who literally tried to kill people – and had seriously injured several people -- and saved him with clicker training. She was a gymnastics coach but didn’t combine the concepts at the time. Then a couple of years later she hooked up with Joan Orr, who was a coach AND a scientist. Together they incorporating clicker training into the coaching environment and TAGteach was born.

She gave a list of all the countries who are tagging and all the activities people has expressed interest in using it for (or are currently using it for). Don’t say “You can use it for that, but not for this.”


·        Brazil

·        Canada

·        England

·        Germany

·        Iceland

·        India

·        Ireland

·        Mexico

·        Netherlands

·        New Zealand

·        Newfoundland

·        South Africa

·        Sweden

·        West Bengal

·        Belgium

·        French Guiana

·        Austria

·        Czech Republic

·        Lebanon


·        Gymnastics

·        Volleyball

·        Drill team

·        Dance team

·        Math

·        Judo

·        Karate

·        Tennis

·        Cycling

·        Baseball

·        At-risk youth

·        ADHD students

·        Public school gym class

·        Kindergarten classroom

·        Hearing-impaired classroom

·        Speech therapists

·        Occupational therapists

·        College dance and theater

·        Senior learning

·        Scientist

·        Psychologist

·        Psychiatrists

·        Chripractor

·        Massage therapists

·        Physical therapists

·        Nanny

·        Training people to train dogs and cats

·        Flight instructors

·        Diving instructors

·        Meter readers

·        Hula dancing

·        Calligraphy

·        Squash

·        Knitting

·        Wrestling

·        Piano

·        French

·        Violin

·        Bridge

·        Horseback riding

·        Voice training

The original group of gymnasts has been changed by this. They believe that they don’t have to be abused to be a successful athlete. When it comes to learning, there is nothing more powerful than being successful. When it comes to teaching, there is nothing more successful than being positive. There *is* scientific data that this works.

“Seek improvement by identifying what is right and increasing it, rather than drawing attention to errors and trying to eliminate them.” Karen Pryor

She showed us a movie of cheerleaders, before and after. At the beginning of the video, kids and coaches were frustrated and unhappy with the workout. The coaches explain that the way to teach is to encourage and then get mad if that doesn’t work. Theresa split the team up into pairs – a teacher and a student. The teacher would do five TAGs, and then they’d switch. You see the coaches begin touching and being more friendly, more compassionate. Someone noted that they seem to feel the right point better because of the click. Attitudes vastly improved. Kids were excited because they were told over and over that they were right. They said it motivated them and they enjoyed working together. They said it made them feel good to teach another person. “Tattooed in their brains.” Happy kids, happy coaches! This was a 45 minute session, including the intro to the clicker and what would happen. This group is still using the clicker and has a whole system in place.

She showed a graph of the results of an experiment comparing the effectiveness of traditional coaching methods with tagging. The study used two groups of gymnasts learning four new skills. In each group, two skills were taught using tagging and two using traditional coaching methods. Four behaviors – A, B, C, and D. The first group learned A and B through tagging and C and D conventionally. The second group learned A and B conventionally and C and D through tagging.

In the first group, the percent of skill elements performed correctly was roughly 10% on the conventionally trained behaviors and roughly 70% on the tagged behaviors. In the second group, conventional behaviors fared better – between 20% and 30%, and tagged behaviors were again at approximately 70%.

She also showed the results of some work with people with autism:

·        Toe walking: Decreased 16% in 25 TAG sessions – after limited progress in two years.

·        Vocal imitations: Two people, number correct improved…

o       33% in 11 TAG sessions with first person

o       25% in 6 TAG sessions with second person

·        Other improvement areas:

o       Social interaction, staying on task, eye contact, fine motor skills

o       Teaching skills, troubleshooting

TAG = Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.

·        Acoustic – sound from clicker.

·        Guidance – feedback/information.

·        The click means yes, and lack of a click means try again.

Keri did a demonstration with Steve, tagging for raising his arm to horizontal position. Theresa gave tickets as reinforcement. However, she said that with most adults – and even with kids – the reinforcement is actually the information. In fact, you can usually skip the external reinforcement entirely *unless* you have a reason to use it. Steve noted that getting the ticket was actually distracting – he’d rather concentrate on the task.

Then Keri did another example, tagging Steve for doing a dance position where he would touch his toe to his calf. He said that when he didn’t get a click, he was actively trying to adjust to figure out what he needed to do to get the click.

So then Theresa did the horizontal arm example and had the group TAG. There was some variety due to skill and due to people having different definitions of what constituted vertical. However as we practiced, the clicks got more simultaneous.

Tagging is better than praise for several reasons... clarity, precision, consistency, and impartiality. It's also objecting, making it easy to track progress. She showed a video where she was clicking for a very specific moment that occurred several times during really fast gymnastics moves. She *never* could have marked it with a word.

She showed a video of gymnasts, volleyball players, dancers telling why they love the clicker. The kids were *clearly* in favor of tagging. They were very emotionally invested in it.

Someone asked about what happens when, in a group, a kid falls behind. Theresa explained her strategy for helping the kids catch up, but said that other kids won’t let them fall behind – will share their TAGs or will come up with ways to help them.

The kids become operant… They don’t just want to learn the point. They get interested and want to learn more. They take ownership.

We did a few little games to learn to use the TAGger. Then Keri showed a video of Theresa introducing the TAG to her gymnasts. She noted that students who have limited language skills excel at this because it takes so much pressure off them. She said it’s also great with kids who have ADHD. The concentration on the kids’ faces was amazing. You can see a lot of neurological responses to the clicker early on – pupil dilation, skin twitches, blinking.

A TAG point is a single selected element of a response, action, or position (RAP), acoustically marked with a TAG as it is occurring. The TAG point is a yes or no answer of a completed behavior, instantly recognizable, phrased in the positive. When you set the TAG point, phrase it as, “The TAG point is….”

Theresa suggested that when you make a TAG point out of something that you formerly nagged about, change the cue. The old cue is poisoned.

She showed videos of gymnasts and divers, gave us a TAG point and had us click. Cool!

Peer tagging is student to student tagging… making a student a coach. VERY effective. This really empowers the kids. Possible configurations for peer tagging include pairs, small groups with rotation, group tagging a single student, student TAGs the teacher.

Benefits include mental training, pride and responsibility, empathy for fellow students, and equal time for the “shadow child.” These include kids who are neither so great or so bad that they get attention normally, so they fade away and aren’t noticed. Benefits to teachers include ability to assess student comprehension, reduced down time, and teacher freedom. This method proves that the *teacher* knows the skill well.

Tell the student what the reward will be. When you can, let them make up their own rewards. If they don’t know what the reward will be, they may not consider it worth working for.

With humans you can have them count TAGs and then pay off with a bigger reinforcer for a certain number of accumulated TAGs. (Theresa sells the cutest “TAGulators” for keeping track. Kids love them!) The secret is to maintain a high, high, high TAG rate. The kids worked for 100 tags = one Skittle. Yes, one.

When you have multiple trainers, you need to define your TAG points clearly so everyone will have the same criterion. The identifying of the TAG point is as important as the tagging itself.

Teach first. When you get to tagging, though, shut up – let the tagger be the communicator. Tell them the TAG point, and then stop talking.

Focus fatigue. This is so concentration intensive that you may only be able to TAG for a few minutes at a time. Despite that, you can use the overall tagging methodology all the time.

Sometimes we’re so focused on what we’re “supposed” to look for, that we miss other things. Read “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. She gave some examples where you had to reorient the picture or where there were two pictures intertwined. She also gave an example where people were so engrossed in a task that they missed a gorilla walk through the room.

One of the issues that lay people have had with clicker training and behavior analysis in general is the elite, scientific terminology. The principles aren’t new – the accessibility is.

Divide behaviors into segments that are easily achieved and reinforced. Teach the TAG point. Have the coach demonstrate. Then have the people practice with the coach troubleshooting. Finally, have the coach explain and demonstrate how to incorporate the TAG point into the full behavior. Practice.

Terrific video of a girl in Special Olympics doing a rhythmic gymnastics routine. She is supposed to toss the ribbon from one hand to another, but is so afraid to drop it that she couldn’t make the toss. For years she would stop and spend ten or more seconds trying to get herself to make the toss, and finally would, essentially, just hand it to herself. The video showed them shaping different TAG points and by the end she’s tossing the ribbon high and catching it.

She uses the three-try rule. If a learner is unsuccessful after three tries, she stops, moves back to the point where the student is successful and then figures out the root cause of the problem.

Fabulous video of teaching the high jump. The “Fosbury Flop” is the form used by high jumpers. Coaches say it takes seven years to teach that form. Joan Orr decided to teach her children – and video taped it. She taught them beautiful form in a single 20 minute session.

These kids learn to learn. They’re operant. They come to her and ask for certain TAG points or set up their own TAG points. They aren’t just told what to do. When being told what to do all the time, success comes from passivity.

Next we broke into groups. Our assignment was to come up with a either a shaping plan or a diagnostic plan. Our group came up with five TAG points for teaching a customer service rep to greet a customer. Lots of issues came up in the discussions surrounding these assignments…

·        A behavior may include a combination of a lot of responses, but the TAG point is a single criterion. If the person doesn’t get a TAG point, he needs to know exactly what he didn’t do. The TAG, then, can’t be A and B – just A or just B.

·        Value added TAG point – a TAG point that results in a lot of bang for the buck. For example, walking on a loose leash takes care of a plethora of unwanted behaviors on leash.

·        Behaviors can be broken down really far, but don’t have to be. Consider your audience and break it down appropriately.

·        You can phrase the TAG point in many ways, but it’s important to define it specifically. You have to know when to click, and the student has to know when they’re right.

·        If the TAG point isn’t getting the results you want, say, “I don’t like that TAG point. Let me think of a new one.” That takes the onus off the learner. The learner didn’t make a mistake; the TAG point just wasn’t quite right.

A lot of people resist doing this because it puts all the onus on them to teach instead of on the learner to learn. It makes the coach work the whole time.

In some cases, when you break down a skill, there’s a breakdown in the quality of the skill temporarily. This worries people who are afraid that they’ll lose ground. They need to understand that they’ll get it back, and it will be better. It’s also important that they are rewarded while it’s broken into its component parts.

Next we discussed some advanced TAG techniques including virtual tags, focus points, and back chaining.

There's a philosophy that needs to be internalized by the coach -- much more than just tagging. It's also the responsibility of the teacher to present information so that the learner can succeed.

In addition to certification seminars, there are one-day workshops that large groups can attend relatively inexpensively that teach them how to TAG. Levels of certification are based on “giving back.” Rather than attending more workshops, for example, to get Level One certification, you have to do a project and add to the program. (Level One certification costs $75.)

Level Two – You have to use the technology for a certain number of hours and do some projects. You have to present at a seminar.

Level Three – You have to host a seminar.

TAG Teach services include introductory half-day workshops, hosted workshops, on site certification seminars, custom curriculum / comprehensive specialty coverage, Level 1 certification design, programmatic implementation support. Group pricing available.

We did a riding demo, and I was the rider. Mary Kay, a dressage instructor from Texas, tagged me for riding position. It was tough because she had to figure out how to get me to put my body in the right position without using poisoned cues. It was also difficult because we didn’t have a saddle or saddle stand. We tried working on an exercise ball and on a chair, but what worked best was standing.

There were multiple TAG points. Theresa said that in practice she would have a person get some fluency on one TAG point before moving onto the other. This minimizes the need to jump from point to point later. The reinforcement helps keep the practicing of one point from becoming too monotonous.

Next two instructors from a guide dog school gave a presentation. They explained curb approaches, a vital part of guide dog and handler training. Position, probe, praise. When the handler and dog walk, the handler walks at the dog’s haunches. When the dogs stops, the handler should take a step forward and position himself at the dog’s shoulder. Then he should probe with his foot – forward, not to the left or right – to find out why the dog stopped. And then they should praise the dog for finding the curb.

Finite movements are imperative because the dog cues off of them. They probe with their left foot, and the tendency in nearly everyone is to probe off to the left, rather than straight. To many, off to the left *feels* straight, so this is a difficult skill.

Tagging in the workplace. Okay, I was updating something and missed Keri’s intro to this. (Sorry, Keri.) So I’m not sure what kind of business she was working in or what precipitated the change. But she described the training she did….

She started with the Training Game. This is a game that introduces people to the concept of shaping. This accomplished team building, helped them get to know each other, and helped build in some patience and empathy.

She let the staff help plan the program. This gave them ownership in the program. She let them come up with their own list of TAG points and reinforcers.

Some ideas when tagging staff…

·        Create a tagging philosophy.

·        Take advantage of the power of recognition.

·        Good habits are as easy to create as bad habits.

·        Incorporate games an activities into staff meetings.

·        Reinforcers could include breaks, coffee cards, casual dress days.

·        Have group and individual reinforcers.

Reward people not only for the number or times they are tagged, but the number of times they TAG others. This will keep them in the game.

Helix Fairweather and Steve White demonstrated the Training Game. Fun!

Positive reinforcement. (Note – in TAG Teach, reinforcer and reinforcement refer strictly to R+. There is no R- in TAG Teach.) R+ is the process of teaching a new behavior or skills by associating desired actions with desired consequences. A positive reinforcer is any pleasant consequence that, occurring in conjunction with behavior, increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. (Okay, Melissa butting in here. Those aren’t the scientific definitions, but really, in this application, this definition is the appropriate one.)

Use multi-tier reinforcement… When you get five tags, I’ll give you a sticker. When you fill up your sticker card, you can go to the treasure box. When everyone goes to the treasure box, we’ll have a class party. You MUST follow-through. If you promise a party, they must get the party.

A great reinforcer she created for her gymnasts were guilt-free cards. These gave them “permission” to do various activities that are generally forbidden to competitive gymnasts… like skip a skill, leave the floor to make a phone call, or go out to the school football game.

If working with a group, end with some activities that don’t rely on pure skill. This can help the people who aren’t the most outstanding catch up and have fun.

Cute little coins… “I was caught being good!” From Oriental Trading Co. Another source of cute things is Rhode Island novelty.

Rewards for the teacher…

·        Reduced frustration

·        Increased confidence

·        Process that eliminates multi-nagging

·        Freedom from pressure to over-correct

·        Drives interaction with individuals

·        Enhance relationship with student/coworker

Presentation by Heidi… Practical and professional application of TAG Teach. Heidi has worked with two very different groups… a Sunday school class of kids ages 6-8 and high school teens in a behavior disorder class who have been labeled ADHD and have anger management and other issues.

Keri works in a dog shelter, and they have come up with some TAG points for dog training and for handling/bite prevention. (These could potentially be modified for working with horses.)

TAG points for dog training

·        Body language

o       Stand up straight

o       Position relative to dog

o       Hold feeding hand still until click

·        Reinforcement delivery after click

o       Toss the treat/toy for repetition of the behavior

o       Feed/play with your dog

·        Counter-conditioning and desensitization

o       Feed when the dog looks at the scary thing

o       Put the food away when the scary thing is gone

TAG points for dog handling and bite prevention

·        Breathe and laugh

·        Hold your leash hand at your side

·        Loosen the leash as your dog greets

·        Upright posture

·        Kneel down sideways

·        Let the dog approach you/hands at your sides

·        Reach under the chin/chest to pet

·        Toss a treat between the dog’s front paws from a distance

Next Heidi spoke about Project Click! And its goals. I’m sorry, Heidi… my brain was just to fuzzy by that point, so even the slides don’t refresh my memory. There was a great video though of kids who had come through the juvenile offender system who were taught to train the shelter dogs. Very neat… both dogs and children were happy and positive.

We took our written and practical exam then – I now officially have my Primary Certification in TAGteach. After that, Theresa wrapped up with some comments on getting set up to succeed. These included...

·        Identify key places tagging can help

·        Start with points of success

·        Stop tagging while they still want more

·        Involve students in tag point selection

·        Keep records

“Success comes when there is a desire for learning… not a fear of failure.”



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