Behavior Change Technology for Under $5

I want to introduce you to a fascinating and inexpensive piece of low-tech equipment that can help you effect magical behavior change in yourself or others. It’s called a tagulator. A tagulator is a specially strung string of beads that you can use to reinforce your own or someone else’s behavior. There’s something appealing and comforting about the way the beads slide down the string that makes everyone love to pull the beads.

The tagulator is a wonderful adjunct to the actual tagger and you can also use it without a tagger. Each pull of a bead is effectively a tag.

In Pursuit of Domestic Bliss

In pursuit of domestic bliss, TAGteacher Leslie Catterall turned to TAGteach and the tagulator to teach her husband to take the recycling off the kitchen counter and into the bins.  “I explained my situation and my understanding of his. He told me that there was no malicious intent in his forgetting to recycle; he’d simply got into the habit of leaving the bottles there, a behavior that was hard to change when he was tired and focused on other things. What an eye-opener that was to me. And since then I am seeing more and more how much of the behavior with which we are dissatisfied stems from patterns of repetition that are hard to break simply through being told.” Leslie and Martin engaged in a mutually agreed upon experiment where Martin would tag his own behavior and pull down a bead on a tagulator mounted in the kitchen every time he took the recycling out to the bin. The experiment was a raging success and Martin quickly accumulated 67 tags recorded on a set of 2 tagulators. Asked why he still continues to do it he said, “it’s about presence of mind, committing to the whole process breaks the habitual behavior”. When pressed further he put it this way: “even though I’m the only one recognizing it, it gives me a nice feeling that I am being recognized for doing it.”

Here’s a video showing how you can use a tagulator in this sort of situation. The couple in this video each have their own tagulator placed in strategic locations to help promote desired behaviors that they have identified. Whoever finishes a tagulator first gets to pick the next movie or TV show.

 

How to Make a Tagulator

Here’s a video that shows how you can make your own tagulator.

 

Tagulator Mechanics

Sometimes just pulling a bead down is enough reinforcement to strengthen a new behavior, but sometimes tangible reinforcers are required. Some learners need to have a candy or token or other tangible item after every bead, after every few beads or at the end of a tagulator. If you’re giving tangibles after bead pulling, you can make patterned tagulators to modify the rate of reinforcement. Here’s a video that shows how tagulators work with Skittles as reinforcement. There’s no specific behavior being reinforced in the video. This is just a demonstration of the tagulator mechanics. The sequence is teacher tags > learner pulls a bed > teacher delivers a Skittle. You can see how different bead patterns modify the rate of reinforcement with the Skittles.

 

Not Just for Errant Husbands

Tagulators are not just for adults. Kids of all ages love them too!

Here’s a video that shows how to introduce the tagulator to increase teaching efficiency. This child has up until now received a reinforcer after each tag. Sometimes it has been stickers, beads or melon pieces, but he’s most interested in Skittles. It’s often disruptive to the smooth flow of a lesson to stop and eat a Skittle after each tag. The tagulator provides a great way to reinforce without stopping to deal with the primary reinforcer. Lear is 4 and this is his introduction to the tagulator. Notice that he has no problem with the drastic reduction in the number of Skittles he’s getting. Formerly he was getting 1 Skittle per tag, now he’s getting 1 Skittle per 10 tags. Clearly it’s more about the game than about the candy for Lear now.

He sometimes wants to stop and count remaining beads to see how far he still has to go to get a Skittle, but he doesn’t object to the the 10-fold reduction in Skittles. The tagulator is fun too.

Note how matter-of-fact the teacher is here. She doesn’t cajole or ask him if he wants to use the tagulator, she just tells him that this is what we are doing now and then she does it. She has a good history of reliability with Lear and he likes and trusts her. He also respects her because she sets the expectations, she’s clear and she’s consistent. Lear is tag savvy and is very clear on the concept of TAGteach.

The Applications are Endless

People are using TAGulators all over the place. TAGteacher Amelia Bower posted on one of our Facebook groups recently:

I had two lovely TAGteach-inspired moments this week and wanted to share.

1) At the ABA clinic where I work, we started a Direct Instruction program with a young learner. She seemed a bit bored by the instructions at first, but when I added a clicker and a TAGulator, her interest was piqued and the program ran very smoothly.

2) I also tried out a tiered reinforcement system, with staff members! I needed to increase the frequency of checking to see if workspaces are clean before leaving a session. I added a visual prompt, asked therapists to initial a poster before leaving the room clean, and I’m collecting initials and awarding puzzle pieces as we accumulate each week. When the puzzle is complete, management will provide a huge snack stash to therapists. We rolled out this intervention yesterday, and the feedback has been very positive!

I’m so glad I pursued this training!

Veterinarian and TAGteacher Linda Randall told us about her use of the tagulator in the vet clinic:

There is a tagulator by one of the telephones. My initial idea for this tagulator was to use it  for myself. I wanted to slow down and truly listen to my clients rather than rushing to tell them what I wanted them to hear, then getting on with my day. When I relaxed my shoulder muscles as I listened, I would “pull a bead”. After 10 beads I would do something rewarding for myself. Soon this morphed into “pulling a bead” every time I overheard a staff member say something compassionate or service-oriented to a client when using this particular phone. Then anyone could “pull a bead” for anyone else for a client or pet-centered phone phrase. The tagulator became a team effort and we needed a second tagulator to mark the completion of the first tagulator so we could get pizza after 100 secondary beads! It worked, and is working, wonderfully.”

Employers are using tagulators in the workplace, therapists are using them instead of giving a primary reinforcer for every trial, parents and spouses are using them at home, sport coaches are using them and people are using them for self-tagging to help remember to eat healthy foods, choose not to smoke and adhere to exercise programs.

Share Your Tagulator Stories and Photos

Tell us in the comments what you use your tagulator for. Please post photos of your tagulators and stories about how you use them on our Facebook page.

TAGteach Tip: Set Observable Goals for Yourself and Your Learner

TAGteach tip3

 

When you are setting goals for yourself, or for teaching others, it is important that you can tell exactly when the goal is attained. This seems obvious, but in fact it takes a certain amount of thought to make this happen.

In order for a goal behavior to be attained and then repeated, the behavior must be reinforced. That is, a pleasant consequence must occur immediately after the behavior happens, and this consequence must increase the chance of the behavior happening again. In other words, the most effective way to teach something requires the following sequence:

Behavior happens >> something good happens >> behavior is more likely to happen again

Positive Reinforcement

As a teacher (even if teaching yourself) you strive to explain the teaching goal clearly, notice when the learner gets it right and give reinforcement to the learner so that they know that they got it right.

As an example, say you wanted to teach a dancer to kick her leg higher. You could say to her: “kick your leg higher”. But, how much higher? What do you mean exactly? How will you know if she has achieved the goal? How will she know how high? “Kick higher” is a vague goal that is ill-defined and neither teacher nor learner knows exactly what it means. The chances of getting a consistent performance and being able to give clear, timely reinforcement for a vague goal such as this are slim, and progress will be inconsistent at best.

How can you clarify the goal “kick higher” to make it observable and thus reinforceable and repeatable? The way to do this is to attach some very clear criteria to the goal so that both teacher and learner can agree and understand exactly what it means to achieve this goal. One possible strategy with this example would be to hold your hand at the goal height and define the goal as “Kick to hand”. Or you could put a line on the wall or the mirror and define the goal as “kick to line”. This gives you and the learner a clear definition of what it means to succeed and makes the goal clearly observable for you as the teacher.

Maybe you want to set a goal for yourself to get more exercise. “Get more exercise” is another ill-defined goal. What does this mean? How can you observe this and know if you achieved this goal? In order to be successful and to be able to say to yourself “Yes, I did this”, you need to define the goal in terms of something specific that you can easily track. Let’s say that part of your exercise goal is to use your elliptical trainer more often. A specific and observable goal related to this could be to go 5 seconds longer than the last time. You goal is “Go 5 seconds longer”. Now you have something very specific that you can observe and measure and reinforce yourself for achieving.

Set Goals that Impact the Underlying Behavior

Another aspect related to creating observable goals, is to ensure that the goal actually impacts the behavior so that reinforcement can come at the exact moment the goal behavior happens. This is best explained with an example.

Say you want to teach someone to sink a 50 foot putt on the golf course. The most obvious goal would seem to be getting the ball into the hole. Surely that is an observable goal? The problem with this, is that the behavior (the muscle movements) that caused the ball to travel the correct distance with accuracy happened several seconds before the ball went into the hole. In order for reinforcement to work effectively, it has to occur exactly when the goal behavior happens. The ball going into the hole makes the golfer happy, but it doesn’t teach him exactly what he did correctly to make that happen. The ball falling into the hole happens way too late to reinforce any specific movements. As a teacher you need to figure out what exact movements are required in order to strike the ball with the desired speed and accuracy and teach those one at a time.

Other examples like this include, “run faster”, “hit the baseball farther”, “ get the puck in the net”, “serve the ball inside the court”, “clean your room”, “stop smoking”, “eat less”. These are all end results of some behaviors that happened previously to cause that end result. To create an observable goal that you can reinforce, you need to put aside your concern about the end result and focus on specific behaviors that lead to that end result.

Deliver Timely, Effective Reinforcement

With the TAGteach method we use a click sound to signal to the learner that they got it right. This is called a tag, and it happens immediately to tell the learner “Yes! you got it right”. This is a very effective way to provide immediate, clear, precise reinforcement. As the teacher, it is your job to tag (using a handheld clicker) exactly when you see the behavior happening. In order to tag effectively you need to be able to see the goal behavior precisely when it happens. The goal behavior must be clearly OBSERVABLE as outlined in this article.

Video Example

Here is an example of a teaching session with a clearly observable tag point. The teacher can see it exactly when it happens and the learner understands what he needs to do to meet the goal.

 

Make it Observable!

Make the goal behavior (the tag point) observable. Define it clearly so that both teacher and learner agree on its definition. Relate the tag point to specific muscle movements that cause the goal behavior to happen.

The TAGteach Goal Setting Process

This article describes one aspect of the TAGteach goal setting process. There are four parts to creating a clear, precise, consistent goal. These are:

  1. What you want (express the goal in positive terms)
  2. One thing
  3. Observable
  4. Five words or less

You can easily remember these with the acronym WOOF

woof with words

 

We have explained each of these in detail in separate articles. Here are the links to the rest of the series:

  1. What you want
  2. One thing
  3. Observable (current article)
  4. Five words or less

WOOF Planner

We also have a free WOOF planner with instructions to help you create effective tag points (or teaching goals):

Download WOOF Planner

Related Webinars

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Surf’s Up! TAGteach Without a TAGteach Instructor

by Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT, KPACTP, TAGteach Level 2

Following the amazing-as-always ClickerExpo, I headed southeast to join friends and family for a Caribbean vacation. It was delightful; home was 4 degrees Fahrenheit when I left for San Francisco, where the rainy 60s felt lovely, and 80 degrees on a sandy beach felt positively euphoric.

And I learned to surf.

Well, sort of. Our ship was equipped with a FlowRider, an artificial surf machine. I’d seen one before at a water park, but I’d never tried it, and some of us decided to give it a whirl. We joined the others, a mixture of novices and really talented surfers, and I braced myself on a board, listened to the instructor, and gave it my best.

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TAGteacher Spotlight: Laura VanArendonk Baugh

laura vab circleTen years ago, Laura skipped a clicker training lecture to look in on an introduction to something she’d heard about called TAGteach — and she’s never looked back.

“Shaping human behavior incrementally just makes so much sense. We do it with the animals because it’s easier for them and us both — why not for human student and human teacher?”

Laura has incorporated TAGteach not only into her professional work, for training private clients with Canines In Action, Inc and as faculty with the Karen Pryor Academy, but into her personal life as well — which finds her using TAG principles in organizing costume masquerades, in physical exercise form, in handling a firearm safely and shooting competitively, and in writing and editing. This fall she will tour the Indianapolis library system with Alena VanArendonk, teaching teenagers to dance THRILLER as part of a zombie-themed reading program and sneaking in TAGteach along the way. Check out Laura’s video, The Thrill of Tag…

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