More Than Just a Sticker: How TAGteach Prevents Kids from Being Punished by Rewards

rewards!, 3D rendering, rough street sign collection

There is a book called “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. I saw the title and thought “how can that be?” and so I bought the book. Dr. Kohn explains how endless stickers and charts and ribbons and praise and approval to children for every single accomplishment no matter how small is creating children who cannot function without outside approval. They have no confidence in their own abilities and low self esteem because they judge themselves through the eyes of others. They are not self motivated and do not derive satisfaction from achievement for its own sake since they have been systematically trained to look to others for approval as a result of the frivolous doling out of rewards by parents, teachers and coaches. This is of course an over-simplification, since it is quite a long book with lots of scientific references, but you get the idea.

The Praise Junkie

Theresa McKeon (TAGteach cofounder and professional gymnastics coach) calls these kids “praise junkies”. They are the ones that always want the coach to look at them. They can’t work independently. They are not focused on learning, but are focused on what the coach (parent, teacher, etc) thinks. They require constant approval and encouragement. They may even misbehave in order to have the attention focused back on them if other children are getting in the way of this.


Should We Pay Kids to Behave and Do Well at School?


By Karen Pryor (first published in 2010)

Last week TIME magazine ran a cover story about paying kids cash money to get better grades.
The objections to cash ‘rewards’ for schooling have been around for a long time and can lead to tremendous political uproar. There are moral objections—children should do what’s expected of them without reward. There are philosophical, theoretical, religious, and of course financial objections.

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.

Well, this fellow at Harvard, economist Roland Fryer Jr., decided the first thing to do was to find out if paying kids to do better in school actually worked or not. Forget all the existing studies and opinions. Forget those specific schools where reinforcers, large and small, are built into the system. According to TIME, Dr. Fryer “did something education researchers almost never do: he ran a randomized experiment.” (Just think about THAT for a minute. They opine stuff and put it into the schools and they don’t TEST it?)


Show ‘Em the Money! What Kids Want Teachers and Parents to Know About Reinforcement



Parents, teachers and other adults need to realize that it is all very well to hope that an innate sense of moral obligation will cause Jimmy to clean his room or raise his hand in class, but if you want the job done easily and well, then you need to pay with currency that kids value.

What do kids really want for reinforcement? How can we possibly find out? Social worker Lynn Loar PhD decided to ask them. The simple answer  was candy, for one thing; money for another. But it’s more complicated than that, as these kids explain in an article published in the the Summer/Fall 2009 issue of the Latham Letter. The article is authored by Lynn Loar and five young co-authors.


TAGteacher Tale: Spelling and writing, oh my! TAGteach saves the day

Kindergarten teacher helping students with writing skills

By Martha Gabler MA

TAGteach is so Versatile

Not only does TAGteach help with behavior, you can also use it to help kids overcome learning obstacles.

Here are two examples of how people used TAGteach to help kids who were unhappy about completing their spelling and writing assignments. These were quick, spur-of-the-moment interventions, but they created great outcomes.


How to Get What You Want

woof with words

By Joan Orr MSc and Anne Wormald MADS

She never listens! He’s lazy. She’s not smart enough. He has ADD. She’s from a single parent family. He’s stubborn. She’s a Libra. He’s got special needs. She’s too smart. His dad’s a lawyer. Her mom is a feminist. He’s from Boston.

There are lots of labels and excuses to explain why people don’t do what you want. Let’s just put all those aside for now and think about the most important thing. Which of course is you getting what you want. Sometimes you need others to act in order for you to get what you want and sometimes it is you who needs to act.

The internet knows that the way to get stuff done is to set goals and work on one small thing at a time. Look it up. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and all that other irrefutable wisdom. Productivity experts agree that we need to break big tasks into smaller ones. Ironically the instruction “break it down” is itself ill-defined. It is particularly vexing for people with no training in behavior analysis to come up with goals that are easily achievable and upon success can be reinforced. This is the reason that most New Year’s resolutions have failed by the end of January (if not sooner). Most people want to do too much at once in order to save time, but the result is that everything takes longer, seems increasingly impossible and is more frustrating for all involved.


TAG! Not Just Another Game At Camp

TAG at camp

By Karin Coyne and Abigail Curtis DVM

Twelve teenage girls, twelve dogs, four days and three nights. How does one manage that without yelling, nagging or feeling frustrated? Seven years ago, we started a 4-H dog camp along with another friend. Teenagers and their dogs come to camp and try a variety of activities: agility, obedience, tracking, nosework, flyball, and anything else we can imagine. Teaching the activities is the easy part, but how do you manage that many campers and dogs? TAGteach to the rescue!

The first few years of camp, we attempted to use TAGteach based on what we had been able to pick up on the internet and applying the principles of clicker training to people. It went… okay. There were parts that didn’t seem to work and we had a hard time implementing it. The campers still had a good time, but it simply didn’t work as smoothly as we wanted it to.

We Went to a TAGteach Seminar!

Until we went to a seminar. That’s when it all clicked for us. We came out of there simply bursting with ideas. It changed the way we taught, the way we managed campers, and most importantly, it changed the way we THOUGHT.


How to Motivate and Reinforce Teens at Summer Camp

teen camp2

by Kristen VanNess

Reprinted with permission from the KPCT blog

I’m part of a group that runs a 4-H dog camp each summer called The Ohio 4-H Teen Dog Experience. A group of teens from all parts of Ohio spends several days with their dogs and new friends in an intense dog-training environment. Eleven 4-H’ers and their dogs attended the four-day camp in June, 2009.

Kids come from different areas of the state, and have varied experience levels coming into camp. Some campers are from 4-H clubs that do not even offer obedience or agility, and other campers compete extensively outside of 4-H. Most campers belong to clubs that do not use clicker training. However, all of the campers were enthusiastic about dogs, 4-H, and learning how to be a better dog trainer.

Tagging at camp

For several years, we have worked on ways to reinforce the teens attending the dog experience camp. After attending TAGteach seminars and working hard to strengthen our plans for camp learning, things went even better than we expected this summer.


TAGteacher Tale: Helping Animal Shelter Volunteers Have a Great Experience

Train yourshelter volunteerswith TAGteach!

By Marissa Marino

Volunteers are one of my favorite parts about working for animal welfare non-profits. The community that is generated for a single mission can sometimes be astounding. There are a variety of reasons why people engage in volunteer activities. Some people volunteer to give back to their community, others volunteer since they cannot have pets of their own and others hope to develop friendships along the way. One common thread I see is people longing to learn new things and expand themselves.  So let’s give them what they want! My philosophy is to empower volunteers through education in order to develop a dedicated and helpful team for the staff as well as the animals.


Interview with a TAGteacher: Occupational Therapist Mary Handley on Handwriting Instruction

Interview Mary


Check out the latest in our Interview with a TAGteacher series. This time we talked to Mary Handley, a school-based occupational therapist who is working with a 3rd grader to improve his handwriting. Noah’s handwriting skills were not functional and this was affecting his grades and his attitude at school. Mary explains with several video examples how she helped Noah to improve significantly in just four sessions using TAGteach applied with her usual method of teaching.

“At that 4 week point I was amazed beyond my expectations. I knew this would work in the right circumstances, but it worked better than I anticipated. I just don’t see that in my week to week therapy. The retention was pretty amazing. His teachers were amazed. Even the librarian made a comment. This has positively impacted his whole attitude toward school.” – Mary Handley.

Here is a sample of Noah’s handwriting before the intervention. He is so frustrated because he can’t even read it himself that he scribbled it all out.




TAGteacher, You’re My Hero! A Letter Every Teacher and Coach Wishes to Receive

How many tags do I have-

You’re my hero! Wouldn’t you love to hear that from your students? We think you’ll agree that receiving something like this makes all the work, the dedication, the blood, the sweat, the tears and the dealing with the criticism from the doubters completely worth it. This is an essay that 10 year old Irene Kim wrote for a 5th grade assignment. She chose skating coach and TAGteacher Lynn Loar as the subject of her essay. Thank you Irene for sharing your thoughts and shining the light on Lynn, who is an inspiration to all of us.

The Skating Hero

by Irene Kim

I skate freely around the bitter cold ice rink with my hands in my pocket. I glance up and see a bright shiny smile that seems to light up the room. It’s from Lynn, my hero.