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. 

Webinar with Jane

The recording of this webinar will be available from the same link as the live event

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.

More About Jane

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

Read a TAGteacher Spotlight article about Jane

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TAGteacher Spotlight: Jane Jackson, Riding Instructor

By Jane Jackson, Level 3 TAGteacher

I was at a clinic with Alexandra Kurland (I had been clicker training horses for many years) when she mentioned that since I taught kids as well as adults, I should try TAGteach. When I asked what that was, she used the following example, “you ask them to keep their position around a 20 meter circle and if they do, then click them and they can go jump the cross rail”. I think my jaw dropped. What a brilliant idea. I remember saying that I could have left the clinic right then and there and I would have gotten my money’s worth (but I’m glad I didn’t because there was more great stuff to come). My mind went wild with the possibilities. I couldn’t wait to get home and try it. Kids love to jump – they don’t like to work on position so much. There was a perfect way to work them together.

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TAGteacher Tale: How to Use Positive Reinforcement in Basketball Coaching

By BJ Mumford, Basketball Coach, Level 1 TAGteacher

Imagine a 3rd grader dribbling up the basketball court in a live full-court 3on3 game, driving to the basket, reacting to a defender and making an assist to a teammate. Now imagine that this player had never played basketball before 6 weeks ago….

Unthinkable you say? Well, not with TAGteach!

I have spent 14 years coaching basketball in a variety of roles, but have always returned to player development as my favorite way to provide lasting value to kids. I grew up being homeschooled, and have always been an advocate for self-directed learning, free play, and experimentation as the best method for kids to motivate their exploration of the world. The most rewarding thing I can do is to guide an already motivated learner on their path to achieving their goals! I have always been very positive and encouraging of player attempts, but like most coaches I always struggled with the ability to concisely communicate instructions to young players when teaching complex concepts and skills, inevitably leading to their boredom, and my frustration.

I have always been very positive and encouraging of player attempts, but like most coaches I always struggled with the ability to concisely communicate instructions to young players when teaching complex concepts and skills, inevitably leading to their boredom, and my frustration.

I started my own business called Play>Practice Basketball in 2018 to address the need for precise 1on1 coaching for all ages (we have worked with ages 3 to 42 so far) and to specifically focus on the K-5th grade age groups which I found to be most underserved by basketball instruction. The primary issue I discovered for the younger age group is that the average volunteer parent or coach has no way to translate high-level basketball skills and concepts into the most basic parts without contradicting what they would later teach the same players as they progressed (e.g. learning to dribble around cones placed on the floor, later being chastised for not having eyes up).

Being a stickler for consistency, I set out to solve that problem through experimentation….

The TAGteach Adventure Begins

My TAGteach adventure began in May 2018 when I completed my Level 1 TAGteach certification, and I that fall I began an after school enrichment program teaching basketball skills through a games approach, combined with tag points. The philosophy was based on a book by Alan Launder titled Play Practice, detailing a method of teaching all major sports through the games approach. I made it my own and added what I call the “Practice Sandwich”, modeled after the whole-part-whole method, by starting and ending each session with a game and breaking down the skills used in that game during the middle, or “meat” of the practice. This format accomplishes several things, A) it gives players an incentive to arrive on time to get in the first game, B) allows the pent up energy from a day in the classroom to be used constructively, and C) gives the coach a chance to evaluate which skills and concepts have been retained from previous sessions, and what still needs work. The final game of the day is always the favorite, where players are able to apply what they just learned (and whatever else they come up with) during a semi-formal game with the coach acting as referee. We made our Play>Practice logo a bit ambiguous to support the games approach concept by using the “greater than” sign between play and practice and leaving the reader to interpret it as they wish – most commonly “play before practice” or “play is greater than practice”.

The Learning Experience Continues

The last 2 years have been a great learning experience for both myself and my assistant coach as we have experimented with various game structures, tag points, prizes, and progressions of skills. We found that our coaching approach had to drastically change to ensure that all drills, games, tag points, etc were always game-relevant, and would not be contradicted at a more advanced level of play. Working with ages that are easily overwhelmed in a chaotic sport, and may have difficulty performing the basic skills even in a calm environment, we discovered that by starting with the conceptual context of a game (beginning with 1on1), we were able to quickly increase the player’s enjoyment of basketball practice. By presenting skills in a practice setting as solutions to the problems recently encountered during play, players were very motivated to sustain a focused effort practicing skills that would otherwise seem boring. The need for “tagging” an individual skill in a controlled practice setting was eventually overtaken by the positive reinforcement of achieving success in gameplay, allowing a rapid progression across multiple skills within a 6-week program.

What’s Next?

What’s next? We have recently undertaken to codify our work into a curriculum that will be used to standardize our practice pedagogy for K-2nd and 3-5th grade age groups, and we are reaching out to elementary school teachers to begin their training through the TAGteach online course, followed by our own coaches training curriculum and hands-on training during our summer camps to prepare them for the fall school season.

If anyone is interested in basketball or TAGteaching individual or team sport concepts, please get in touch with me at info@play-practice.com I am always happy to discuss anything relate to this topic!

Learn More With Us!

Join us for a live webinar with TAGteach Co-founder Joan Orr and Coach BJ Mumford This will be recorded, so if you miss it you can access it from the same link. The live version will be priced free-$20 and the recording will be $5-$20 (pay what you can in both cases).

TAGteacher Tale: A Winning Approach to Transforming Your Instructor

TAGteacher Joey Iversen has successfully introduced TAGteach to the tennis world, although she said it’s for selfish reasons. “I want to be the best tennis player I can be and that will happen faster if my coach uses TAGteach!”

“I explained a few of the tools to my coach Grant Grinnell (USPTA) and he was willing to give it a shot. After just a few tries, he was totally sold on the value of TAGteach and the powerful learning it facilitates. He commented that there was more improved play in my game within a single lesson. He also noticed that although it was easier to get information to me with the marker, it also required a different focus. In a group lesson he is usually trying to take in what each of the players is doing. To tag me for the skill, he had to momentarily keep his focus on just me or he would miss the marker timing. Both of us had complete focus and that brought about immediate improvement.”

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Teachers: Here’s a Surefire Way to Help Your Learners Get it Right the First Time

Do you want your teaching to result in success the first time? Here’s how to do it: Set a learning goal that the learner can already do. It’s that simple. Start every new lesson with success and then keep building on this to get more success.

What is the Point of Success?

The point of success is something the learner can already do and where he is guaranteed to earn a tag. For example a kindergarten student can certainly pick up a pencil with her writing hand. The first tag point in teaching letter formation could be “pencil in writing hand”. Starting with the point of success ensures success on the first try and provides a rewarding introduction to the lesson. The point of success will gradually change as the learner gains competency. The point of success is a place to return to if the learner is having trouble with more difficult tag points.

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

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.

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

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.

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Interview with a TAGteacher: TAGteach for Special Needs Tennis

Have you wondered how to apply TAGteach in a group sports setting with special needs kids? Will it be too noisy for the learner to hear the tags? Will the learner be too distracted by everything else going on the room? How do you handle the reinforcers? Can you use TAGteach to manage behavior and social issues? Do coaches really think that kids taught with TAGteach learn better? Listen to this month’s interview with a TAGteacher and watch the accompanying videos to get answers to these and more questions.

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Riding Instructors: Boost Student Success with These Three Critical Steps

horse_heels_2

 

By Jane Jackson

Once I had a student come to me late in the season, having missed some of the lessons due to an injury. She was a pre-teen, self-conscious about her weight and worried about her sore leg. I had lots more to deal with here than just teaching riding skills! I needed to help her boost her confidence, overcome her fear, and proceed slowly and carefully.

In my pursuit of excellence for myself and my students, I discovered TAGteach. TAGteach is a leading edge science-based teaching approach used in many disciplines, including training for elite orthopedic surgeons (as reported by Scientific American). This teaching approach will add many effective new tools to your tool box and provide you with ways of becoming a better instructor. TAGteach helps elite surgeons learn faster and better and it can help you teach your students faster and better too. It certainly prepared me to better help learners like my stressed out pre-teen student.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You tell the student the goal (a very narrow and specific action for the next turn)
  2. You mark the correct action with a sound (a click sound or a word)
  3. The student self-assesses based on this very clear and immediate feedback

The first three (of many) things which pop into my head when I think about how TAGteach will help you expand as a instructor are:

  1. Improving your observation skills
  2. Encouraging you to break skills down into manageable pieces
  3. Improving your timing in reinforcing successes effectively

Find out more in this 1 hour webinar with Level 2 TAGteacher and riding instructor, Jane Jackson. For less than $20 you will get knowledge to change your life. Money back satisfaction guarantee!

Tell me more about the Webinar

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TAGteach Tip: How to Talk Less and Teach More

Teachers talk too much. Coaches talk too much. Managers talk too much. Parents talk too much. You probably talk too much when you are trying to explain what you want someone else to do. In a teaching situation, particularly, when the learner is focusing and trying to learn something new, fewer words are better. The only thing they really hear and remember are the last few words that you say.

To see a humorous example of this, watch this video from minute 4:44 to 5:20. This illustrates our point exactly.

http://www.cbc.ca/schittscreek/episodes/season1/the-cabin

Too Much Talking!

When we started with TAGteach more than 10 years ago, we realized that too much talking was a big problem in teaching situations. Learner’s faces would glaze over as they were faced with information overload. As a result they would just extract whatever seemed important to them, or whatever they heard last and the result was generally not satisfactory. At first we had a rule, that any teaching goal must contain 10 words or fewer. Once we got more experience in fine tuning the communication between teacher/coach and learner, we revised this to “Five words or less”.  (The use of colloquial language is intentional).

If you can focus your goal down to five words, then you have defined it clearly enough that the learner has his best chance at success. The learner can understand, remember and execute the exact behavior that you have defined.

Refining a goal down to five words is not always easy. What about all those other important things that the learner must also remember to do? We addressed the issue of focusing on only one thing in a previous article. You must be a very good analyst of your teaching goals in order to find the most important thing and deliver the final instruction to the learner in five words or fewer.

An Example

Here’s an example. Say you’re a tennis instructor. You’re teaching the overhand serve. You want the athlete to toss the ball to the correct height, in the correct place, to strike the ball with enough force and with the racket head in the correct orientation, and to step into the court during the strike phase. Whew! That’s a lot of information.

Imagine yourself as a novice player being given all the instructions and specifications that would go with those requirements, while also worrying about looking foolish or forgetting something. You would be pretty stressed and confused and you would have a hard time doing all those things at once. You may even get them all wrong.

As an instructor who understands the skill and is able to break it down into several components, you could take all the guesswork and stress out of the equation. You could teach the proper grip, the proper way to execute the swing part of the skill and the stepping into the court part as a separate exercise. You could teach the toss on its own. For every one of these parts you could come up with a way to describe the key movement in five words or less.

If you are a clever instructor you could come up with a way to give the learner one goal, in five words or less, that would cause several other elements of the skill to happen naturally. Watch this video of tennis instructor Grant Grinnell as he explains how he uses TAGteach and particularly how he used the tag point “step into the court” (only four words!) to improve several aspects of his learners’ serving technique. Brilliant!

Creativity

You must agree that this was a very creative and elegant way to solve a teaching problem. It may seem at first that insisting on five-word goals is very limiting. In fact, it takes more creativity and imagination, and a more superior knowledge of the subject matter to come up with a five-word goal than it does to produce a lengthy description and a lot of confusing instructions.

As Benjamin Franklin once said:

I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.

source: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/

It may take more thought on your part to come up with five-word goals for all your teaching points, but this effort will pay off in increased success for your learners. They will love you for it!

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
  4. Five words or less (the current article)

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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