Almost every classroom has at least one obstreperous student, many have several. Some teachers have or develop ways to deal with these students, other don’t. These students are often removed from class, sent to the principal’s office, suspended or even expelled. In many cases, they will be diagnosed with some condition, emotionally disturbed, ADHD, etc. Such a diagnosis plants the problem squarely inside the child and relieves the school of any real responsibility.
Sometimes, behavior modification is recommended. A program is designed and implemented and in many situations has little, if any, effect and after a brief sojourn, is discontinued. Behavior management programs are then discounted, put on the shelf and deemed not to work.
If one takes a closer, even more critical look at the process, a number of features typically stand out.
First and foremost, the program that was implemented was not a replication of one that is among the almost 100,000 reported research studies in the journals using behavior analysis to solve classroom behavior management problems.
Secondly, the proposed program sprung full-blown and untested from the mind of some teacher, special education specialist or other consultant who in most cases, turns out not to have an extensive background in applied behavior management.
Thirdly, and most critically, no data is associated with the procedure to determine its effectiveness.
Finally, this is not a “behavior management program” at all, just an attempt to mimic what its originator thinks behavior management to be based on their limited knowledge and belief.
If you want to know whether of not the attempted remediation is, in fact, a “behavior management program”, ask to see the data.
No Data – No Behavior Management Program
Here’s the rule: No recorded data equals no behavior management program. Full stop. No exceptions.
More About Michael Maloney
With 40 years of teaching experience, 25 learning centers around the globe, & 34 books to his credit, it’s no wonder he was named Canada’s Literacy Educator of the Year in 2001.
Michael Maloney is an educator, researcher, writer and speaker with over 50 years of hands-on experience in both the private and public education sectors. He has used this experience to pursue his dream of sharing his highly effective teaching methods with people around the world.
Michael’s methods have taught over 100,000 students to read. He’s a global leader in effective education strategies and he’s dedicated his career to ending illiteracy.
In my pursuit of excellence (for myself and my students) I discovered TAGteach. This teaching approach has added many effective new tools to my tool box and has provided me with ways of becoming a better instructor. The first three (of many) things which pop into my head when I think about how TAGteach has helped me are:
breaking things down and;
I tend to prefer the term instructor over the term trainer when talking about teaching people to ride. For the purpose of this article, I’ll use “instructor” when talking about teaching people, and “trainer” when talking about teaching horses.
Observation Skills are Critical
We all have favorite exercises we use when we teach, but a canned approach only takes you so far. We also have to watch the student and see what needs help: position, confidence, comprehension, something different? We may start with an exercise such as riding a square by halting in each corner and doing a partial turn on the forehand to line up with the next side of the square. Observation comes in if the horse and rider pair do not execute the exercise correctly. Why not? Is the rider’s leg in the correct position? Is she using her seat correctly? Does she understand how to use her aids to ask for the turn? Does the horse understand the leg aid? Maybe all of those things are in need of help!
Breaking it Down
That brings us to breaking it down. As trainers, we know that the aids must be correct in order for the horse to understand what we are asking. We naturally want to make all of it correct so the tendency is to say, “next time slide your leg back and don’t lean over and make sure you maintain the bend but don’t pull on the inside rein….”. As instructors, we’ve also been in the saddle when someone else was barking orders at us (and boy do we have stories to tell about how rough WE had it when we were learning). So in order to make it easier on our students and to help them be successful- which of course helps us look good-, we can use TAGteach. We can break it down and only work on one of those skills at a time. “But!”, you say, “you have to have all those things in order to get it right”. Well, yes, but does anyone do it correctly the first time? Or even the tenth time? Better to break it down and make progress in one aspect of the skill, than to keep repeating yourself while your student gets frustrated trying to remember all the different things at once and still not getting it right. You can even take it out of the context of the turn. Focus on the leg position while she’s riding down the long side and have the student practice putting it in the correct place and back until she feels confident and can easily put her leg where you want it repeatedly. Tag each time she correctly places her leg. Then you can focus on the seat while leaving the leg out of the picture for a bit. Focusing on each component individually allows to the student to feel and experience each before trying to put them together.
Finally, reinforcing the student’s successes helps nail the skill down. A reinforcer is defined as something which will make the behavior more likely to happen in the future. While training animals, food is a great reinforcer because most animals like food. My young students are reinforced by receiving stickers or little plastic ponies for their efforts (we keep track of each tag and they barter them for prizes afterward). For many riders, simply being able to execute the skill correctly is reinforcement enough. That is, after all, why they are taking lessons- they want to become better riders! Being able to ride away from a lesson and say, “I can ask for and get a turn on the forehand” for the first time is sweet! But we want to help our student get to that point. So little reinforcers along the way, for each step of that process, is what I have learned is invaluable. First, you have to mark that correct performance of the skill. While a clicker is best for the accuracy and non-judgmental tone, you can also use your voice: “there!” when the rider gets the leg in the right place. Repeating the skill so that the affirming marker is heard repeatedly is what will create an easier and easier performance. So whether you have students pull down beads on a tagulator for each successful repetition or they simply get to hear and feel the little successes, keep that “rate of reinforcement” high.
Here is an example. In the first photo the rider has her heels down properly, but her leg is too far forward. When I ask her to move her foot more to the back, she moves it too far and now her heel has come up into the wrong position (see photo 2). So we have two things to fix: the position of the heel (should be down below the stirrup) and the position of the heel relative to the hip (should be aligned). Deciding to work on only one aspect (the heel/hip alignment), I put a piece of purple tape on the hip and the heel and give the tag point “tape to tape”. The rider will get a tag when she lines up the tape horizontally. Success!
Video Examples from Webinar with Jane
Observing, breaking things down and reinforcing successes are three critical components of using TAGteach and as such, they are some of the initial skills taught at a TAGteach seminar or the online course. The bonus? I feel I have become a better trainer and rider myself through this process of careful examination.
Do you see promise and potential in your students, but wish they would progress faster? This webinar will show you how to boost your student’s performance. You’ll learn how to make simple changes to your teaching approach. You’ll learn how to talk less, say more and motivate your students to do their very best. You’ll learn about a powerful new approach to giving structured, perfectly timed positive reinforcement. This is a practical webinar that will show you exactly how to use TAGteach. TAGteach is teaching method that uses the principles of behavior science for precise, efficient, effective teaching. Elite orthopedic surgeons are trained this way as reported in Scientific American. Your students will be thrilled to know that they are being taught like surgeons!
Raise the bar for your teaching and for your student’s performance.
In this webinar you’ll see creative ideas for removing the horse (and his stress) from the picture and using just a few minutes on the ground before the lesson to minimize unnecessary errors. This webinar includes discussion and commentary from TAGteach cofounders Theresa McKeon, Joan Orr and Karen Pryor.
Editor’s note: We are often asked why it is that TAGteach works so well and so fast, sometimes yielding behavior change or learning that seems magical. There is no magic involved, except that which goes on in our brains. TAGteach Faculty Member Luca Canever presented a fascinating webinar about how the brain learns and why TAGteach works so well.
By Luca Canever – TAGteach Faculty
The answer to the question in the title is this: They both learn the same way!
Working Memory and Cognitive Load
The TAGteach mantra “talk less, teach more”, seems counter-intuitive, but there is sound science behind this. The role of working memory is to catch things from environment to ensure our survival. We can think of the working memory like a window from which our consciousness looks at the world. Also the working memory creates the memories for the long term memory. If we overload the working memory with too much information it won’t be able to pass on the memories, and the learning will stop. Too much information it’s not good for the learning. TAGteach, indeed is.
Associative Learning: What a Caterpillar and Einstein Have in Common
Earth had 3 billion years of bacteria, before life discovered associative learning. Life had blossomed about 540 million years ago when the first multicellular organisms discovered associative learning. If you know (and you can remember) where you can find food, mating opportunities and where your predator is waiting for you, your survival chances will increase. Organisms have learned by association for millions of years, so the argument that TAGteachers sometimes hear from parents: “Don’t treat my child like a dog!” makes no sense. From the lowly caterpillar to the brilliant Albert Einstein, we all learn in the same way. What is different is the complexity in the brain. Recent findings indicate that our (human) brains are not brand new. On the contrary they use pieces and parts that already exist and adapt them to our new requirements.
Maps in the Brain – Why My Car is not Like Yours
In his book “Thinking fast and slow“, Daniel Kahneman says that each of us has his/her own, clear idea of what a car is. But if you ask two people to draw a car what you get is two different things. At the same time we can understand each other because we “share” the idea of “car” or “table”. We can develop a common language because my representations in my brain are similar to yours. The memories in the brain are not “single-folder” kind. Memories are maps in the brain with different pattern for everyone. TAGteach helps because application of the WOOF rules creates a crystal clear tag point that is clearly understood by both teacher and learner.
There was a time, when we had much less experience than we have now, that we suggested to people that they might use the word “good” or another verbal marker to signal success to the learner. In practice this has turned out not to work as well as using a clicker or other non-verbal signal. We have used taggers with elite athletes, tiny tot ballerinas, commercial fishermen, kids with autism, kids with Down syndrome, business professionals, prison inmates and medical students to list a few examples. Using the tagger absolutely works and it works with every population of learner that we have encountered.
The verbal marker becomes very repetitive and annoying very quickly. It seems condescending in a way to say “good, good, good” over and over especially to another adult. It’s also very difficult to keep the tone of the “good” the same each time. People tend to want to convey additional information with the verbal marker. They tend to vary the tone and give a more expressive “good” if there is a particularly good effort. It’s hard to avoid the big excited “YES” when they finally get it, or the desultory “yes” when you’re tired, hungry and have a headache.
My name is Martha Gabler. My husband and I are the parents of two boys. The younger one, now 22 years old, was diagnosed at age 3 as having severe autism and being profoundly non-verbal. He had all the common difficult behaviors typical of children with autism, including self-injury and aggression.
By sheer chance, I learned about TAGteach and realized instantly that this method for positive behavior change could be a huge help for us. This turned out to be the case. My son is now a delightful, happy teen who loves life and loves going places. He still has autism, but life is much, much better for us all.
Here is a video that shows my son Doug going for a walk with his friend Anne and listening to his music. I had to teach him the skills for safe walking and sitting still to listen to music; now he can apply these and gain enjoyment from them independently.
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 or why they behave in certain ways. 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.
A topic that seems to come up with some frequency in our interactions with TAGteachers relates to the sound of the tagger and what kinds of sounds (or other stimuli) can be used with TAGteach. Here is a sampling of some of the concerns that have come up:
I work with children diagnosed with autism. They are very sensitive to sounds and will be upset by the sound of the traditional tagger (clicker).
I work with people who are hard of hearing. They won’t be able to hear the click sound.
I teach riding to children and adults and all my horses are clicker trained, so I don’t want to use the same sound for the people since the horses might get upset or confused if the hear the click sounds and don’t get a treat.
I teach people to clicker train dogs (or other animals) and I am worried that the animals will be confused if I use the same sound for them as for the people.
I would like to try peer tagging, but with so many taggers going off all over the place I don’t think anyone will know which tag is for them.
Let me preface this discussion by saying that in all the many years and many applications in which the TAGteach founders, faculty and experienced TAGteachers have used TAGteach, we rarely use anything other than the traditional box clicker (tagger) to make the tag sound. We have tried other things, but in the end they break, we lose them, or they didn’t work any better anyway. Even with children diagnosed with autism, noisy roomfuls of kids tagging each other and in the presence of clicker trained animals, we have had great success with the box clicker – as have others.
In trying to decide the best way to deliver the tag stimulus, a TAGteacher needs to consider the following:
Can the learners perceive the tag?
Does the learner like to get a tag?
Is the tag distracting other learners (including animals)?
The first two are easy to assess. All you have to do is ask the learners.
Does the Learner Perceive the Tag?
We have often been astounded that learners hear their own tag even if there are lots of other taggers and other noise going on. If they don’t hear their own tags, then you might need to spread out more, change the position of the person with the tagger so they are closer to or within the line of sight of the learner or take turns with tagging so that fewer taggers are going off at once. You will most likely find that once the learners become tag savvy, they don’t have any trouble hearing the tag that is meant for them.
Does the Learner Like the Sound of the Tag
Some learners find the tag sound aversive. This is more often true with adults than kids. They may dislike the sound for no particular reason, may experience physical pain (very rare) or may have a past negative association with the sound. Generally they will not suffer in silence and will be quick to let you know that you are causing them grave suffering. Sometimes this aversion can be remedied by associating the tag sound with a tangible reinforcer (candy, stickers, chocolate etc). Sometimes they get over it when they see others progressing well and the want to have some of that success for themselves. The tag sound has not been a problem for professionals working with children diagnosed with autism. These children seem to adapt well to the tag sound, most likely because it is associated with a primary reinforcer (popcorn, a sip of soda etc) and because they quickly learn that this is the sound of success and something that they can control in an otherwise largely uncontrollable world. This latter is just speculation, since we haven’t conducted any studies, but it has been a surprise to some to find that sound-sensitive children are not bothered by the sound of the tagger.
The tag sound is generally not distracting to other learners who are also engaged in the tag session. For example a roomful of gymnasts or volleyball players all tagging in pairs or groups will not disrupt the others. They get very good, very quickly at concentrating and hearing the tag that is meant for them. In a quiet situation in which a teacher is tagging one student for reading skills, while the others work quietly, the tag sound could be distracting, so muffling the sound or using something quieter may be best.
Many people are using TAGteach to teach animal-handling skills. In the majority of these cases the animals are clicker trained, or are being clicker trained and so the tag for the person could be distracting for the animal. Some people are concerned that the power of the click will be diminished if the animal hears a lot of clicking and doesn’t get a treat. People who teach group clicker training classes, train animals in a group situation or have multiple clicker trained animals at home know that animals very quickly learn that not every click is for them and not every clicker session involves them. They learn to read environmental cues, pay attention to where the trainer’s cues are directed and most importantly to where the treats are coming from and where they are going. Animals become very good at knowing when it’s their turn.
When animals are first learning about clicker training, or if the animal is likely to get excited and become a danger, then an alternative approach is needed. This may involve using a different sound or working on the human skills with the animal out of the picture at first. In some cases it may be appropriate to have the click and the tag be the same. For example, if you are teaching loose leash walking and the tag point is “leash hand at waist”, then both dog and person could get a click/tag at the same time. If the use of TAGteach for teaching animal handling skills becomes confusing and problematic, then you need to take steps to simplify. We always recommend that the animal be out of the picture until the person learns the skill.
But I Need an Alternative Signal!
Sometimes you really may need an alternative signal for the tag, whether it be a different sound or a different signal altogether. Here are some alternatives to the traditional box clicker (tagger) that have been used or suggested by TAGteachers:
i-click (quieter click sound)
Clicker+ (makes 4 different sounds – these are no longer in production)
Muffle the sound of a box clicker with a cloth, your hand or from inside a pocket
Car key fob (from the dollar store – makes the sound that your remote car door opener makes when you unlock your car)
Squeaker from squeaky toy
Click from ball point pen
Click from hand-held counter (also counts the tags, which can be useful)
Juice bottle lids that pop when pressed
Ding from triangle instrument
Sound from phone app
TAGteachers have also used non-sound markers with hearing impaired students and in other situations in which the tag sound is inappropriate or would be ineffective:
Flash of light
Tap of finger on shoulder or hand
Hold tagger against the learner’s back so the feel it, if they can’t hear it
Virtual tag – pretend to tag by making the tag motion without tagger
Slide a ticket or a block or other marker from one side of the desk to the other
Pull down a bead on a tagulator
Here is a video that shows a shoulder tap being used as a tag:
TAGteach and Precision Teaching go together like ice cream and apple pie. Each makes the other even more awesome. Add TAGteach to your Precision Teaching and watch your acceleration lines soar. Add Precision Teaching to your TAGteaching and you’ll see exactly what’s working and what tag points are the most effective.
If you’re a TAGteacher and you’re wondering “what’s Precision Teaching”, visit Chartlytics University for lots of free information.
If you’re a Precision Teacher and you’re wondering “what’s TAGteach?”, visit TAGteach Online Learning for a free course on the Fundamentals of TAGteach.
What’s a Tag Point?
A tag point is the goal behavior in a TAGteach session. The teacher tags (marks) the desired behavior with a click sound (tag) when the behavior occurs so the learner knows the exact moment that they got it right. A tag point has four criteria (WOOF):
What you want: the tag point must be phrased in positive terms
One thing: the tag point can be only one behavior
Observable: the tag point must be observable
Five words or less: you must be able to articulate the tag point in five words or less
By Roni Dunning, B.A., ABA M.Sc., TAGteach Level 2, Blossom ABA
The first time a child performs a skill that they haven’t previously demonstrated is always unforgettable! At Blossom ABA, we’ve been using TAGteach® to help our learners emit spontaneous behaviours in a number of different developmental areas such as imitation, play and social skills. While we use an audible marker, we tend to limit language to teach behaviours that we want to increase in frequency or behaviours that require a chain of steps.
How Does TAGteach Work?
TAGteach enables the teacher to mark a learner’s appropriate behaviour with a sound made using a handheld clicker (or tagger). The tag becomes a conditioned positive reinforcer through association with tangible rewards (access to a preferred toy for example) or praise if the learner finds praise reinforcing. At times, the tag sound can be combined with a small piece of a highly preferred food, a sip of a preferred drink or a token economy system, which helps learners who are being taught skills intensively to understand when they’ve finished that round of teaching and can access a preferred item or activity. We use the terms “reinforcement” and “reinforcing” when referring to things that increase the likelihood that a behavior will happen in future (Skinner, 1957). There is research evidence to support the use of TAGteach and its efficacy in teaching a number of skills, ranging from the teaching of every day tasks to children with autism, movements in sports and to teach surgical procedures to medical students (Jackson, P. A., 2014; Gabler, M., 2013; Fogel et. al, 2010; Levi et. al, 2015).
By Luca Canever, Elisa Casarini and Eleonora Galanti
Canever, L, Casarini, F. and Galanti, E. (2014) The Effects of Using TAGteach to Promote Earthquake Safety for Children in School. Presented at the 7th Conference of the European Association for Behaviour Analysis. University of Stockholm. Stockholm, Sweden. Sept 10-13, 2014. Read Abstract:http://www.europeanaba.org/events/submission/7/62
Obviously, the more you train the more skilled you get, or at least, you should get. We wished to find out if, given the same amount of training time, using an event marker (like the box clicker we use in TAGteach) could make any difference in terms of learning quality. We wished to find out if a marker based teaching could be a more effective way to improve learner’s retention, endurance and application of new skills.