Friday, July 27, 2012

Don't Treat My Daughter Like a Dog!

By Ted DesMaisons

Many teachers and coaches who use TAGteaching—Teaching with Acoustical Guidance—get resistance from parents or colleagues for “clicking” kids. Isn’t that what dog trainers use? Are you treating my kid like an animal? Humans are different!The palpable fear and anger get in the way of good instruction, both by introducing hesitation on the instructor’s part and defensiveness on the learner’s.
Of course, to “treat someone like a dog” does normally mean you’re treating that person poorly.[1] Maybe you’re “shutting them out” or “keeping them leashed” in some way. Maybe you’re using commands or dominance in a disrespectful manner. Or assuming they’re of lesser intelligence. Because of such associations, the pioneers of using positive auditory reinforcement for humans early on needed to steer clear of “clicker” language. But TAGteach involves none of that ugliness. Quite the opposite.
Instead, TAGteach takes the best of positive reinforcement science with other animals and applies it to the particular world of humans. The stuff works on any animal with a nervous system, from “scallops to scientists” as one colleague put it this past weekend. Specific instruction and precision feedback work best to instill long-term learning, period. Here, “feedback” doesn’t mean critique or pointing out how something went wrong, but, rather, simple yes-no information about whether a goal was reached.
But we’re not animals. We can use words. Why do we need a “click” to tell us when we’ve done the right thing? Well, for one, we are animals. Getting a “yes” message directly to the amygdala helps show us Oh, this is the behavior we want. In that way, words often actually prove detrimental to learning. They activate cognitive processes that interrupt simpler, more immediate absorption. An “Attagirl” for my shortstop accidentally invokes my social approval (and suggests her need for it). There may be a time and place for that but it’s not at the moment of integrating a successful learning. A quieter “OK, mm-hmm” that follows a more enthusiastic “AWWWRIGHT!!!” can prove more confusing than reassuring. A simple “yes” can lose all its power when converted to a “yes, but”—and we as teachers so often want to add in that “but” to demonstrate our superiority or confirm our value. When offered by itself, the “click” serves as a marker that communicates a job correctly done, without variation or emotion attached. The information remains clean and pure.
Importantly, TAGteach demands as much improvement from the teacher’s side of the equation as much as, if not more so than, from the learner’s side. To use the method well, a TAGteacher has to improve his craft by going after several questions:
What behavior or ability, exactly, am I trying to develop?

What smaller skills or behaviors make up that larger goal?

Why should this matter to my learner?

How can I explain what I’m looking for cleanly and concisely?

How do I get better at marking successes precisely?

And, then, how do I get out of the way of my student’s progress?

“The  tag point is: proper cover hand.”
A teacher who asks these questions starts to shift from sage to coach. Her job is not to be the center of attention or the server from which a kid downloads information, it’s to help set clear goals and deliver the methodology and information needed to reach those goals. It can all sound a bit dispassionate and removed—What happens to being a cheerleader?—but there’s an elegance and a beauty when it’s done well. The learning itself provides the reward. Then, at the end of a TAGteach sequence, the teacher offers praise to celebrate the process used to get the result rather than the result itself.
Most parents would blanch at using a drug or a treatment for their child that hadn’t first been tested on animals, but somehow this idea of “clicker training” kids still raises hackles. TAGteach co-founder Theresa McKeon offers a useful reframe that can ease minds—“I’m going to use a short sound instead of my voice to say yes so I don’t break your concentration”—but in the end, we do rest on the success of the animal behavior science.
If you flinch to hear that I’ll use a clicker to help your daughter improve her softball game, you’re right in one sense. I will treat her like a dog. More specifically, I will use positive reinforcement. I will signal when she’s earned the reinforcer. And I will regularly increase my expectations of her performance so she can maximize her potential.[2]
Over time, I promise that you will be astonished with the results.

[1] Unless you’re with my partner Melissa, in which case being treated like a dog means getting the platinum-level, luxury service: long walks in beautiful places, nightly grooming, a steady stream of belly rubs and cuddling, and the like.
[2] Thanks to TAGteach colleague Josh Pritchard for the phrasing of this sequence.
Ted DesMaisons is a Religious Studies teacher and Head Coach, Varsity Softball at Northfield Mount Hermon. Please visit Ted's blog for more about contemplative practice, improvisational theater, positive reinforcement training, and alternative assessment.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tag Point vs End Point

Today Cathy Beyer, a long time TAGteacher and attedee at the recent seminar in Boston posted this to the TAGteach yahoo group:
The most helpful lesson I learned at the Boston seminar was to separate the directions from the tag point. Prior to that I only understood lesson and tag point, so I ended up trying to make the tagpoint a direction. Understanding the difference has given TAGteach application wings. Now I'm trying to separate the concepts of tag point from the goal of the TAGteach application. I was developing a "small money management" protocol using TAGteach this morning and realized I need that endpoint, the measurable outcome, to help stay on track with the breakdown of lesson/direction/tag point.

The endpoint is tangible proof that the GOAL is reached. An endpoint is critical. It's the problem you want to solve. It's the object you want to obtain. It's the skill you want to master. It's the measurable outcome. It's the ultimate motivator for both leader and learner.

Question: Is "endpoint" already part of the TAGteach language?
This issue of tag point vs end point, or is the tag point actually the end point came up in several discussions over the weekend.

To answer Cathy's question, no we have not been using the term end point as part of the TAGteach language.

To address this issue of tag point vs end point we must first define what we mean by end point. Is the end point the overall goal of the learning? For example, playing tennis in the 2012 summer Olympics. Or is the end point the smaller goal of the current learning session. For example, joining two dots to form the upright of the letter L. In the tennis example, the end point could never be a tag point because the goal is too broad and is made up of too many components. In the second example, the end point could well be achieved through the tag point "dot to dot".

The end point or ultimate goal to which Cathy refers is the final outcome of the learning process. This is the final winning moment that marks the achievement of the learning goal. The tag point itself is rarely, if ever, this ultimate goal. TAGteach provides tools to help reach this ultimate goal and provides a way to identify, mark and reinforce small successes along the way to keep motivation high.

During the evolution of TAGteach we have found that in fact there is a more useful way to define the tag point that does not involve consideration of the end point or ultimate goal, or sub-goal or whatever we want to call the target behavior. The tag point is simply the behavior that you are going to mark.

The tag point may occur at the beginning, middle or at the end of a sequence of behaviors. In some cases it may occur at all three! Here is an example of that. This is one of our classic videos that shows Theresa McKeon tagging with a group of gymnasts. Here the directions are to complete a series of back handsprings, keeping shoulder to ears at the start, in the handspring and at the end. The tag point is shoulders to ears.

This position can occur at the beginning, during the handspring and at the end.

In another example the tag point could fall only the in the middle of the sequence. For example the tag point "arch back" in the high jump occurs in the middle and cannot occur without some action occurring both before and after. The tag point "pull tight" in shoe tying occurs at the end of the sequence. The tag point is simply the behavior you are going to mark, it does not matter where it occurs in the series of actions.

If you are a certified TAGteacher, be sure to sign up for our FREE webinar on TAGteach updates to learn more about the issues that Cathy mentioned in her post.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Upcoming TAGteach Seminars and Events

TAGteach Certification Seminar with Special Guest Karen Pryor! 
Date: Jul 14-15 2012
Location: Brandies University, Waltham MA
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar: NYC - Manhattan!
Date: Sept 15-16, 2012
Location: Blue Pearl, 410 West 55th St, New York
Get more info and register

APDT Annual Educational Conference and Trade Show - TAGteach Workshops
Date: Oct 19 and 20, 2012
Location: Northern Kentucky Convention Center
Get more info and register

Primary Certification and Advanced TAGteach Seminars Back to Back! - Switzerland
Date: Oct 25-28, 2012
Location: Solothurn Switzerland
Get more info and register

TAGteach and Clicker Training - The Dynamic Duo - Italy
Date: Nov 2-4, 2012
Location: Illasi, Italy
Get more info and register

TAGteach Primary Certification and Training Seminar
Date: Dec 1-2, 2012
Location: Asheville, NC
Get more info and register 

WOOF: The Eastern European Training and Behaviour Conference
Date: Feb 22-24, 2013
Location: Milton Keynes, UK
Get more info and register

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TAGteach Launches New Website and Announces Membership Option

TAGteach International is proud to announce its new and improved website Along with a new streamlined format, the site contains more information, access to resources, and listings for seminars, workshops and webinars.

Another exciting addition is a membership option exclusively for certified TAGteachers. If you are a Primary, Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 certified TAGteacher, you can try it for six months at no cost!

Member Benefits
  • Use of the TAGteach member logo on your website and in electronic and printed materials.
  • Two free member-only webinars per year (attend live or download the recording).
  • 50% discount on all other webinars (attend live or download the recording).
  • Access to our online course, “Introduction to TAGteach”, for only $50.
  • Enrollment option in a live Primary Certification seminar for only $149.
  • 10% discount on everything in our store.
  • Discount on entry fees to future TAGteach conferences.
  • Access to premium content on the member website.
  • Eligibility for TAGteacher awards in the future.
  • A listing of your name and the services you offer in the “Find a TAGteacher” database available to the public.
  • Access to information for enhancing career and personal development.
  • Connection with a dynamic and growing group of like-minded individuals. 
*Membership dues are $35 per year if you wish to continue after the free trial.

**You have completed the certification requirements by attending a 2-day certification seminar or completing the TAGteach online course and submitting your worksheets and journal for review and assessment.

Directory Listing

If you are a certified TAGteacher please check out your listing in the TAGteacher database and add your photo, logo and any business services that you offer (TAGteach-related or not). Just go to and log in with your email address and password (click on "Forgot Password" if you do not have a password), click on the “profile” button and make any changes or additions as required. Please check that all information is complete and correct.
For further instructions click here:


We will be offering webinars on a variety of introductory and advanced topics. The first webinar is July 25, 2012 and will cover the latest TAGteach updates. It is free of charge and available only to member registered, certified TAGteachers. We strongly encourage you to attend this webinar. TAGteach International is continuing to develop new tools and applications and it is important that you have the latest information. If you can’t join us live, the webinar will be recorded and available in the member area of the website.
Look for details in the Events section of the member website at

Not a Certified TAGteacher?

For those not certified, but interested in TAGteach or are applying TAGteach in life or work, we will continue to offer our Yahoo group, blog, newsletter and Facebook page free of charge. We are also scheduling 'open' webinars that will be available to the general public.
We will strive to keep the TAGteach community strong and growing and inclusive of everyone who is interested in participating.

TAGteacher Tale - A New Approach to Changing Behavior

by Leslie Catterall KPA-CTP

Reposted from with permission

Since the early 80’s my work has involved working with people – teaching them, tutoring them, training them. Most of that work has been with children with a large chunk in the middle involving adults in the business environment. A theme that ran through nearly all my work was changing behavior – helping children with special needs fit into a classroom environment, working with people new to English acquire another language and engage with a different culture, assisting employees of a large retail organization to improve their performance, helping a large corporate organization get back on track with failing projects…the list goes on.

After 30 years of working with humans I made the switch to working with dogs. My primary reason for doing this was the new addition to our family – a traumatized miniature poodle named Blue. It was during my study with the Karen Pryor Academy last year that I first learned about TAGteach and since that first introduction I have been curious as to just how well it would work with humans in all the circumstances in which I have worked.

In May of this year, I certified as a Primary Level TAGteacher after completing online the comprehensive TAGteach IntroductoryCourse and keeping a journal throughout of my progress – both with the course itself and with TAGteaching. At the time I only had a few students and it seemed the right time to immerse myself in this new philosophy of learning and to really come to terms with all of its uses.

In any sort of training environment there are always doubters – whether it be the teachers of the students I tutored or their parents, a disgruntled manager considering that the training was a waste of time, or the students themselves believing that they’ve never been able to do this before so what makes this approach any different. In the past I have been used to dealing with this sort of response but it was not until I came in contact with dog trainers and owners that I experienced for myself how easily it is to question what you know to be true and revert to the “way everyone else does it”.

I found my students were so conditioned at focusing on what their dog did wrong and trying to correct that, that it was difficult to convince them that their dog’s behavior would change if they just focused on what it was they wanted the dog to do. I needed a new set of tools to deal with these situations so that I could demonstrate what I meant through the way I responded to my student. My normal approach of positive praise was not powerful enough – it lacked timing, accuracy and specificity – what exactly was it that they had done well? I found it increasingly difficult to answer this question when I came to write up my session notes. It occurred to me that I needed to change my approach and TAGteach seemed the most obvious choice to do that.

The TAG of TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance and this approach is all about enhancing performance on any level in any situation by identifying what it is you want the subject to do, specifying it articulately and tagging (with an audible marker) every occurrence while ignoring everything else. It is clicker training for humans… and it works!

I tag everything now – my dogs, my husband, my clients and myself. I’m even starting to think in tag points and that has probably been the most beneficial aspect of this learning for me. What is it I want to achieve? Ah, yes…and the tag point is…

TAGteach has reaffirmed for me that there is always a way to get the behavior you want, you just need to be creative in your approach and engage the participants as much as possible. This is not just conditioning or behavior modification, though those are very much behind the science of this technique, rather it is more about clearly defining what it is that you are after in a behavior and expressing why.

The course required the completion of exercises at every stage and many of them required me to take a look at myself – at home, at work and at play. I was asked to look at things I wanted to change and to see them from a different perspective – how I want them to be. I learned to shift my focus from what was bugging me, to the much more positive – what would I like to see?

TAGteach in Action

Martin - my TAG partner
One of the many success stories I’ve had since completing the course was in the enhancing of domestic bliss. One of the issues I have in my home is that my kitchen is not large enough to accommodate me and my mode of cooking let alone play host to all the empties we seem to accumulate during the week. Ever since we’ve lived here I’ve nagged my husband to “Please put the empties in the recycle”, every morning there they are, neatly stacked on the corner of the bench and it is left to a rather disgruntled me to move them into the recycle box in the hallway.

One of the TAGteach mottos is “tag, don’t nag” and it is so true. Rather than continue to nag Martin about the bottle dump, I decided instead to engage him in the process. 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. I invited him to engage in an experiment with me.

I’d learned all about the focus funnel in my course and while I could see how it would work in a teaching or coaching environment, I was curious as to how it would work in changing patterns of behavior between mutually agreeable participants.  The focus funnel literally draws together all the bits of information you want to get across and pulls them into a tightly constructed TAG point. I wanted to try this with our situation and Martin, the champ that he is, was willing to go along with it.

It became clear as we discussed options that there were several behaviors in need of modification: glass bottles, jars, and cans needed to be rinsed, plastic bottles needed to be crushed and recapped, and all needed to be put into the recycle.

TAGteach is all about focusing on one behavior at a time and as the ultimate behavior was to have a clear benchtop, I decided to back-chain the behaviors. Get the items into the recycle bin first, then work on the rinsing and the crushing at a later date. We came up with three tag points, one for each behavior.
Using the protocol for forming a tag point, we articulated them thus:
  • The tag point is… empties in recycle.
  • The tag point is… rinse non-plastics.
  • The tag point is… crush’n’cap plastics.

My job was now simple, all I needed to do was state (or create a sign) that articulated the tag point for that day, tag whenever I was present and leave it to Martin to do the rest.

Promoting behavior change is all about reward and reinforcement, whether it be intrinsic – the satisfaction of achievement, or extrinsic – getting paid for a job well done.  TAGteach International know this well and have devised an ingenious means of tracking tags received and trading them in for something more tangible – the tagulator. I have dozens of them that I made for my clients (they earn them with tags) and I gave several of these to Martin.

Simply put, the role of a tagulator is to record a tag whenever it occurs – Martin’s hang in the hallway, opposite the recycle bin and a tagger (clicker) on the shelf. Bottle goes in bin “tag”, slide a bead on tagulator.  The process has been going since our meeting on June 2nd, and in that time Martin has accumulated 67 tags. The top tagulator records every tag, and the second tracks the number of times he fills up the first tagulator – when the bottom tagulator is full, it’ll be time to cash in on any one of a number of “treats”.

Besides reflecting on the number of empties we go through in a month, it’s a very visual way of recognizing the effort that has gone into changing the behavior. I haven’t been involved much in the process since we set it up, other than to notice in passing the number of tags being accumulated. When I asked Martin 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.”

Is he convinced that TAGteach works? Absolutely, to the degree that we are now devising ways for Martin to incorporate TAGteach at his work.  

Am I pleased with the result? Totally - the evidence accumulates daily on the tagulator, but more importantly, I have a clear bench and there is no more nagging – now that’s a definition for domestic bliss. TAG!