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 Central Reach 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
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.
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.
Reprinted from Visionary Magazine, April 29 Edition
I have worked with visually impaired people for the past 15 years, and guides dogs for the last 10. We have to the train people how to work with their dogs in order for then to have the best mobility possible. There is a lot to learn so I have been using TAGteach to really break down these processes and turn them into easy to learn chunks.
TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance and it’s teaching and communication method that combines positive reinforcement with an acoustical event marker. It’s an application of behavior science that makes the science of positive reinforcement accessible.
TAGteach relies on breaking behaviour down into small pieces, looking for desired behaviors and giving positive reinforcement to increase those moments of great behaviour. In that regard it is the same as guide dog training, or all animal training.
For me it’s like telling a story or painting a picture. Teach a single tag point, and then add on one more part and then another until you have the whole picture.
One client I recently worked with has memory issues and finds it difficult to process information. When she qualified with her dog, she said to me “TAGteach was great for me as I didn’t have to process a lot of words. I just knew if I hadn’t heard the click, I had something else to do. Thank you for understanding me.”
I was hesitant to use it at first. it seemed complicated and to be honest I was not sure of the benefit. Anyway, as a huge advocate of anything positive-reinforcement based I decided to put myself through the course, so I could really learn about it and apply it correctly. It’s far more than just “clicking a person”.
It’s primary use has been with sighted people, and children in particular. It has also had success with kids with additional disabilities such as autism. In order for me to use it successfully with the guide dog client base I had to make some adaptations. My first adaptation was to mostly drop the demonstration stage. Obviously this is not so relevant, but there are still times when I manage to do a form of demonstration by utilising a sighted guide or something similar. My second adaptation was on what to use as a marker in the presence of clicker savvy guide dogs! TAGteach puts a lot of emphasis on the potential emotional baggage a vocal marker can bring so I opted for a shoulder tap. Since then I have found an alternative acoustical marker that is different to the clicker.
The advantages I have found using TAGteach have been really positive and not just based on the clicker but on how I now really break down tasks into small chunks. There are no mistakes for the person to make, only opportunities for success. If people are not getting the tag points, all we have to do as practitioners is adapt our tag point, no telling them it’s wrong, just a new opportunity for successful results. We all know behaviour is driven by successful outcomes. I do a lot of work prior to the dog being involved, this means I can really hone the skills first. Then the client is more fluid and confident when the dog arrives and he dog experiences a more similar style of handling to what it is used to and so hopefully less stress. It creates fluid sessions as there is no conversation required during the learning. Once they hear a tag the know it’s right and can continue. No tag means keep trying. I have found quick learning with great retention using this method, as well as as added bonus of increased focus on the tasks which I think is due to lack of conversation and task orientation once you say, “The tag point is….”
So why isn’t everyone doing it? It’s fairly new, some people see the clicker and think it would patronise people using a “dog” training device on humans (although I have never found this when I have used it). People like what they know and it’s a leap of faith for us to try something new, also people are good trainers and coaches so they already do a great job. Anyone with reservations, I would advise them to go to tagteach.com and youtube.com/tagteacher where there is a collection of information and videos on its application.
Learn Tony’s Best Training Tips
Join us for a live webinar with Tony to learn all his best secrets for top level training. After the live date it will available as a recording at the same link.
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.
Managing the reinforcement for a group of people is one of the major difficulties that we may encounter. Especially if the people in question are 20 kids, 11 years old, with interests and personalities different from each other.
For the last two months I’ve been working in a school as a teacher. For the first time, I have the chance to use the marker with a large group — a group with no particular desire to be at school! How can we reinforce them? Some of the kids enjoy candies, some others like beads or extra time for recess. There are (they exist!) students who find study itself reinforcing, but, they are very, very, very rare.
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:
You tell the student the goal (a very narrow and specific action for the next turn)
You mark the correct action with a sound (a click sound or a word)
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:
Improving your observation skills
Encouraging you to break skills down into manageable pieces
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!
Have you wondered how to apply TAGteach in a classroom setting? 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? Will you need to give too many food reinforcers? Can you use TAGteach to manage aggressive and dangerous behaviors? Is it OK to let the child use the tagger and be the teacher? Listen to this month’s interview with a TAGteacher and watch the accompanying videos to get answers to these and more questions.
This month’s interview is with Anne Wormald. Anne is one of the first TAGteachers and has extensive experience from both ends of the tagger, being the daughter of Joan Orr, one of the TAGteach cofounders. Anne is working on her BCBA and is a Level 2 TAGteacher. She has many years of experience working with special needs kids and at the moment is working in home and school settings with children with autism.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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:
What you want (express the goal in positive terms)
Five words or less
You can easily remember these with the acronym WOOF
We have explained each of these in detail in separate articles. Here are the links to the rest of the series:
How do you feel when you try something and make mistakes over and over? How do you feel when it seems that you are disappointing the person trying to teach you? Do you feel energized and excited to be “learning from your mistakes” or do you feel frustrated and discouraged? For most people, repeated failure and “just one more”s make them anxious, frustrated and wanting to escape to do something less stressful. Sometimes the result of too much pressure to try something too hard results in a full-on meltdown. Once this happens, there is no more learning.
This is why we suggest the three try rule. If a learner fails three times (or fewer) to meet the specific learning goal (the tag point), go to a past point of success and move forward in smaller increments. A point of success is something earlier in the learning process that you are 100% sure the learner can get right. By starting at a point of success and moving forward in small steps you build on existing success instead of searching blindly for a good starting point. Of course the ‘three try rule’ isn’t really a rule. The learner doesn’t HAVE to fail three times. If it is clear the learner will not likely achieve the tag point criterion after the first failure, or the learner is very sensitive to failure, jump right in and clarify or break the skill down further and change the tag point.