TAGteach® Terms

Here is a list of the official TAGteach terms showing their proper spacing and capitalization. The term TAGteach is a registered trademark and should include the registered trademark symbol ® the first time it’s used in an article.

This list shows the way that the terms should be written in a sentence. Regular capitalization rules apply if they’re used in a heading or title.

TAG (as acronym for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) and TAGteach are interchangeable. Please note that TAGteach is written as 1 word with the TAG in upper case and the teach in lower case. TAGteacher and TAGteaching are also written this way, but other terms such as tag point are written in lower case as two words. When used as a noun or verb, tag is written in lower case.

TAG (as acronym for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance)
TAGteach®
TAGteacher
TAGteaching
tag (as noun or verb)
tagger
tag triangle
tag point
tagulator
focus funnel
point of success
three try rule
peer tagging
tag phrasing
TAGteach script (click here to download)
WOOF (What you Want, One thing, Observable, Five words or less)

Learn About these Terms for Free

Take an hour and learn about the basic terms and how they all work together as part of TAGteach in our free online course: Fundamentals of TAGteach.

Glossary of TAGteach Terms and Phrases

Download the glossary in English as a PDF
Download the glossary in four languages (English, French, Italian and German)

Applied Behavior Analysis

The field of science from which TAGteach and other reinforcement-based teaching and training technologies have been developed.

Behavior

Physical activity in general; or a specific movement or group of related movements (‘a behavior’).

Conditioned Reinforcer

Any stimulus that has acquired positive reinforcing properties through association with other reinforcers such as food, praise or success.  [The tagger is a conditioned reinforcer -providing a positive stimulus that occurs simultaneously with a desired act or response.]

Focus fatigue

Mental fatigue that occurs when a tag session is too long for a particular learner.

Focus Funnel

A technique used in planning and teaching.  Beginning with a broad lesson, information is reduced into more concrete directions and then reduced again to a precise tag point. (Also see reverse focus funnel)

Incompatible behavior

Short for differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior (DRI). Eliminate a designated behavior by strengthening other behaviors that are incompatible with it.

Operant Conditioning

Any procedure by which a behavior becomes more or less likely to occur, depending on its consequences. [In TAGteach, the consequences are always positive and desired responses become more likely to occur.]

Peer Tagging

Student-to-student tag configurations and activities.

Point of Success

A behavior to start or to repeat, for which the student is guaranteed a tag.

Positive Reinforcement

A procedure in which a behavior is paired with a desired stimulus or event that will increase the chance of the behavior happening again in the future.

Reverse Focus Funnel

Deliver the least amount of information necessary for success first (tag point). Once the behavior has been accomplished, and the learner is more confident, additional information can be delivered.  This is useful in situations where too much information may overwhelm the learner and cause a loss of concentration. 

Shaping

An operant learning procedure in which small increments of a desired response are reinforced.  By reinforcing some small response, and then selecting stronger or longer occurrences, one can ‘shape’ or build a more elaborate behavior.

Stimulus

Something in the environment that can be sensed – a sound, an object, a color, etc. A discriminative stimulus is something the learner can perceive which indicates an action to be taken (for example a red light is a stimulus to step on the brake).

Marker

Something which “marks” or identifies a desired action. Typically a TAGteach marker emits a brief, distinct, uniform stimulus used to pinpoint movement as it is happening; a click from a ball point pen, a clicker, hand clap, a finger snap. Some Smart phone applications provide appropriate marker tones.

Tag

As a verb it is the action of marking someone’s correct behavior (as in “tag for each blink”).  As a noun, it means the mark that is placed on a correct behavior (as in “You got 5 tags today!”). (see Marker)

Tag Phrasing

The wording used for preparing and delivering tag points (see WOOF)

Tag Point

The specific aspect of a behavior that when/as performed will receive the audible mark (tag). (see WOOF for tag point criteria)

Tag Triangle

The three components of the TAGteach process: Identify, Mark and Reinforce.

TAGteach

TAGteach is a protocol that promotes positive interactions for increased productivity and success. The acronym TAG stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance and refers to the audible marker, a key tool used in the system designed to highlight success. The TAGteach protocol also includes tools to deliver information, reduce inefficient language, assess performance, create confidence and deliver positive reinforcement.

Tagulator

A device made from beads that slide on a string that allows the teacher or learner to keep track of the number of tags they have earned or given.

Three Try Rule

If a learner fails to perform the designated tag point three times, the teacher creates and delivers a more achievable tag point.  The three try rule is more of a guide than a rule. Some learners want to work things out for themselves and will try several times without getting discouraged. Others would rather take very small steps forward and succeed nearly every time.

Value Added Tag Point

A single tag point in which more than one problem may be resolved.  (e.g., The tag point “keys in pocket”, would keep the keys from being misplaced and from being locked in the car.)

WOOF

The acronym defining the four criteria for a tag point: What you want, One criterion, Observable and definable, Five words or less 

(Some technical definitions are adapted from Learning and Behavior.  Third Edition, by Paul Chance, Ph. D.  Brooks Cole, Pub. Pacific Grove, CA.  1994)  

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 with or without a tagger. Each pull of a bead is effectively a tag.

Unfamiliar with TAGteach? Click here to learn about the basics.

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 a behavior to replace smoking 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.

Join Us at CHATTcon

Join us at The Convergence of Human & Animal Training and Technology Conference to meet some of the most influential people in the world of behavior working today. Geek out with your fellow behavior nerds and find out the latest thinking and learn about the coolest tech going in behavior applications.

Behavior Analysis – Where a Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

By Michael Maloney PhD

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.

Confessions of an Equestrian Instructor in the Pursuit of Excellence

By Jane Jackson, Level 3 TAGteacher

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: 

  1. observation
  2. breaking things down and; 
  3. reinforcing successes.  

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.

Reinforcing Success

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.

An Example

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

The Bonus?

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. 

Recorded Webinar with Jane

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.

More About Jane

For more information about Jane, visit BookendsFarm.com and check out her blog at bookendsfarm.blogspot.com

Please share this article

What Do a Caterpillar and Einstein Have in Common?

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.

References

Cognitive Load:

MILLER (1956) – The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information
COOPER (1998) – Research into cognitive load theory and instructional design
BINDER (2002) – Fluency achieving true master in the learning process

Associative Learning:

GINSBURG (2010) – The evolution of associative learning A factor in the Cambrian explosion

FIORILLO (2008) – Towards a General Theory of Neural Computation Based on Prediction by Single Neurons
About the 3D Grid in the brain

Maps in the Brain:

WINKIELMAN (2002) – The hedonic marking of processing fluency
REBER (2004) – Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure
MORE ABOUT TAGTEACH AND SCIENCE:http://www.tagteachitalia.com/scienza/

TAGteach Principles Applied in the Classroom:

Webinar Recording: How the Brain Learns

Learn more about the science behind how the brain learns in this recorded webinar with Luca Canever.

Why “Good!” is not Good Enough for Your Learners

By Joan Orr M.Sc.

Why Did She Get a Better “Good” Than Me?

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.

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TAGteacher Spotlight – Martha Gabler MA

Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to have Martha on our team of TAGteach Instructors as a Faculty Member. Martha has made a huge contribution to the development of TAGteach for autism.

Martha is the author of the popular book, Chaos to Calm: Discovering solutions to the everyday problems of living with autism.

Meet Martha in person and learn about TAGteach at the upcoming Advanced Workshop in Boston, Sept 29-30, 2018.

By Martha Gabler MA, TAGteach Faculty

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.

 

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How to Use Behavior Science to Get What You Want

By Joan Orr MSc and Anne Wormald M.ADS BCBA

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.

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The Different Sounds of Tagging

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.

Visit Martha Gabler’s page about TAGteach and autism

Visit our reference list for scientific research reports

Is the Tag Distracting Other Learners?

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)
  • Whistle
  • Squeaker from squeaky toy
  • Clap hands
  • 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
  • Bicycle bell
  • Party noisemaker
  • Ding from triangle instrument
  • Sound from phone app
  • Tongue click
  • 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:

Do You Know the Difference Between a Tag Point and a Pinpoint?

By Joan Orr M.Sc. and Anne Wormald M.ADS

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

Read more about the WOOF criteria for tag points here.

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