Friday, February 27, 2009

Dentist Saga Update

I posted a link to a video in a previous blog post about a preschooler afraid of the dentist. His mother has been using TAGteach to help him overcome this fear. There are several videos in this series that you can see at YouTube. Here is the third dentist visit, which shows that huge strides have been made since the first visit, when the child was clearly terrified and was wary even of approaching the door. Now he goes right in and sits in a chair in the waiting room.

To see this video at the YouTube site and thus be able to see all the other videos in the series, click on the YouTube logo on the bottom right of the video screen.

Thanks to Sara and Callan for setting a positive example and sharing their adventures. For more of Sara's videos visit her YouTube site.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Introducing TAGteach: Lessons Learned

Theresa has gone off to Japan and abandoned us. I am bereft. So you will have to get by with a post from me today. Well, it's technically not really from me since I copied both the text and the photos from others (with their permission of course).

Maggie Ouillette who is a clicker trainer and TAGteacher has kindly provided this excerpt from a summary of a project she is working on for further TAGteach certification. Maggie's project involves implementing TAGteach in the teaching of shelter volunteers to clicker train the dogs.

Shelter Volunteer TAGteach Project - Some Things I've Learned

Implementing TAGteach into a training program was a learning process for me as well as for the shelter volunteers. Understanding the TAGteach methodology was just the beginning. It took some time to become comfortable actually using the process to teach dog training. The first step was to identify the skills needed to work with the dogs successfully. They fall into categories of:

  • Leash/dog handling
  • Timing of reward marker
  • Timing and placement of reward delivery
  • Ability to observe and shape behaviors
The tag points that I came up with were designed to break these skills down into the smallest denominator. Whenever possible I used `value-added' tag points which prevented undesirable behaviors as well as identifying a skill point.

Things I've Learned Through TAGteaching

Start small

My initial impulse was to jump in with both feet, using multiple tag points. The first training session was less than perfect because of that impulse. I started out wanting to tag everything. Over time I realized that using a limited number of well chosen tag points was most effective. I learned how important it was to introduce this new concept gradually.

Begin with the basics

I developed a set of introductory tag points which dealt with the skills needed from each of the four categories. For example, a set of tap points dealt with the basics of clicking and then delivering the reward. Each training session began with these tag points before we ever introduced the dogs. The learners practiced the exercises without a dog, then with a stuffed dog, then with a shelter dog. The learners were often a bit bemused about the simplicity of the introductory exercises. One teenaged learner remarked jokingly "Oh, we're in Kindergarten! She mastered the intro exercises easily. When we added the dog she was the first to comment "Oh, yeah, it's harder when you have the dog!"

When in doubt, break it down

In the past when I was working with dog training students, when they were having trouble performing a skill correctly, I would gently take the leash, saying, "Let me just show you how to do it". That may give the learner an opportunity to observe the skill in its completed form, but it doesn't teach them how to do it themselves. Now when those moments happen, I stop and say to myself "This would be a great place for a tag point!"

Verbal markers are problematic

When the program began, I tried using a verbal marker such as `yes' or `good' . I was teaching the volunteers to use a clicker as the dogs' reward marker, and needed a different marker for the humans. Theoretically, it should have worked. After viewing some video footage of my efforts, it was clear that I was having trouble maintaining a consistent signal. I also tried using the word `tag' to avoid conveying emotion, but that word sounded harsh. My solution was to use clickers for the humans when possible (no dogs present) and used an inexpensive child's toy that created a chunk-chunk noise when the volunteers were working with the dogs.

Let the tagger do the talking

This project taught me to talk less and tag more. There are times when I need to give an explanation of how and/or why something is done in a certain way. I still spend time talking about the exercises. The difference is that there is a separation of lecture time and hands-on practice. I explain the basics of an exercise, then give the tag/focus point, then the learner works on the skill. When I observe off-point errors, I don't do any talking while the learner is working. I make a mental note to add a tag point to address the off-point error.

Post-its and tape are my best friends

A target is worth a thousand words. Even clear instructions to "hold your hand like this" or "take a step" sometimes gets lost in translation. Giving the learner a specific location for hand/foot/treat placement sets the learner up for success. It feels great to get it right. It has been my observation that adult learners find it hugely rewarding to be successful. I found that material rewards or even praise were not necessary for the volunteers. Because they mastered the basic clicker training skills early in the process, they saw the dogs catch on very quickly. This was immensely rewarding to everyone involved.

Maggie Ouillette
Whitmore Lake Michigan

Thanks to Oliver Beverly of C.L.E.A.R Dog Training in Australia for the photos

Monday, February 16, 2009

Introducing TAGteach to fishermen Part 5

“The true test of a teaching methodology is its success across a spectrum.”

The first sentence of the first slide of the first TAGteach day said it all. TAGteach is a methodology that works...regardless.
I wanted to let the guys from the Seafisher know that although many of the examples and stories in the presentation were about TAGteaching gymnasts, golfers, kids with autism, and medical students, the methodology was universal and would certainly apply to them as well. Their minds should be set on “how this applies to me in my world”.

We continued with history and basic TAGteach information.
What is TAGteach?
What does TAG stand for?
What is a marker and why should you use it?
What are the benefits?

We let the guys practice tagging people on videos. This step is great to bridge the gap between clicking chickens and tagging people. It is a different feel and using the videos builds confidence and precision.
The group tagged examples like:
Using the inside of the foot in a soccer kick
Bent knees during a volleyball set
Straight legs in a handstand on balance beam

The seminar continued, loaded with games and practicals that provided on opportunity to experience teaching and learning with a focus on creating clarity. We talked about how to break down tasks into small crystal clear behaviors that could be tagged; tag points. The group had an “aha!” moment when they realized the added value that comes with tagging; competency assessment

Incorporating tagging and tag points provides the management or teacher a real time assessment of skill acquisition. An audible tag means “yes” success. No tag means “self assess and try again”. This method delivers as much information to the teacher or person tagging as it does the learner.

We often teach and then say “do you understand”.
The learner shakes their head “yes” because they don’t want to get in trouble, or do it again, or look foolish or whatever.
I have found that it is the rarest of times that the “yes, I understand” head toss is true to its implication.
This miscommunication between parties is the fuse that can torch a teacher/student relationship.
The teacher assumes the learner understands and moves on, expecting the behavior will be performed precisely as it was taught. The learner fears the impending failure.

Tag points provide clear incremental staging sites for success and assessment.
The tag point is given, “fish head facing in” (this was a real tag point for the guys lining fish up for efficient processing).
The tag is heard, the learner is reinforced by the sound of success (the tag).
If a tag is not heard then the learner looks at the position of the fish, mental replays the verbal tag point “fish head facing in”, corrects the position of the fish and receives reinforcement with the sound of the tag.
If the leader sees that the learner does not know why he didn’t receive the tag and cannot make the correction within a particular time frame, then the tag point can be taught again.
The leader is immediately made aware that for whatever reason, the information was not initially processed by the learner.

This particular benefit of tagging was meaningful to the group. A crew member not doing his job correctly can cause a myriad of problems: loss of production due to improperly cut, laid or packaged fish and of course any range of injuries from improper operations on the ship.

Next Chapter: Tagging the Roulette Table

Friday, February 13, 2009

Introducing TAGteach to Fishermen Part 4

An ongoing account of TAGteach introductions, triumphs and tribulations!
Chapter 4
TAGteach, Parrots and the Men from the Bering Sea!

How Does One Reinforce for Learning to Reinforce Reinforcement?

Not a chair was left out of place, not a soda can or candy wrapper left on a table. This crew not only participated in every activity with great enthusiasm but now were seated and prepared for the second day even before the power point projector had even finished warming up.

OK, the guys were great, but what did we do to facilitate the process on day one?
We asked Amy and Tim “What do the guys really like?”.
"Well, they really like cigarette breaks but on the boat, once they start to work it’s hours and hours before they can even think about a break.
It is also difficult to eat while they are working."
Ok, Terry made sure there were frequent smoke breaks during the first day.
There was also a well stocked snack table close by for easy access.

Then there were the casino chips. They were handed out liberally during the first day for answering questions, asking questions or anything resembling active participation. After the completion of the first day the crew was driven out to a local casino, provided a great dinner and then allowed to gamble for several hours. Black Jack and roulette tables were well attended and I was told substantial sums were won by several of the guys.
Unfortunately, that did not include me as my limit of $20.00 was greedily gobbled by a five cent slot machine in under ten minutes…no reinforcement for me...I digress…

On the second day the chickens were tucked away for good and it was time to transfer the clicker training into a methodology that could be employed on a ship.

The first thing was to get the guys comfortable with giving and receiving positive reinforcement. Usually in a formal setting like this we rely on the leader to deliver praise or affirmation.
I wanted the guys to also get comfortable with saying to their peers or bosses, “yes”, “good job”, “I agree”, “I don’t agree but thanks for the input”.
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
When was the last time you felt confident giving a coworker or your boss a literal or figurative slap on the back and a hearty verbal, “good job”?
In the beginning it can make you feel a bit vulnerable. It takes practice.

Since the guys enjoyed the games of chance, I designed a reinforcement system from a deck of cards and a chance to play a hand of poker.
Actually it was an adaptation of a brilliant reinforcement plan developed by a fellow TAGteacher, Kevin England. Each guy was given a hand full of playing cards. If they liked anything a fellow attendee did or said or thought, they could hand them a playing card.
At each break the guys would look through the cards they had, pick out the best 5 and see who had the best poker hand. The more cards given out the better chance they had of a having a winning hand. The best hand received a casino chip.

It took a while for the guys to understand that it was not only the leader in the group (myself) who could dole out the cards… they had just as much responsibility to encourage participation and acknowledge success as I did.
To reinforce what I wanted (for them to hand out cards to each other) I would hand out a card to anyone who handed out a card. Now the guys were reinforced for reinforcing….

Stay tuned for chapter 5

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Introducing TAGteach to Fishermen Part 3

An ongoing account of TAGteach introductions, triumphs and tribulations!
This is the third installment of ,
TAGteach, Parrots and the Men from the Bering Sea!

Part 3: Egg laying and Clicker Training Give a Bear Hug to TAGteach and Poker Chips

January 2008, Seventeen members of the Seafisher management team arrived in Sequim, Washington for the first ever collaborative TAGteach-Clicker Training seminar for commercial fishermen.
Terry and I were honestly a bit apprehensive.
Would our training interest these tough guys?
Would they participate or sit back sullenly, arms folded, waiting for the day to end.
Had we prepared a program that would be applicable and beneficial to the crew of a commercial fishing vessel?
No time like the present to find out!

All seventeen guys were seated with coffee and snacks neatly placed on the side of their desks next to their pens and yellow pads of paper.
Note taking?…They had come prepared for work. In fact they were seated and ready fifteen minutes early. The guys were immediately rewarded for their attentiveness with real poker chips that could be used that night at a local casino.
Big smiles and laughter broke out…success…this reinforcement plan was used throughout the day to encourage participation.
Note: casino chips are great reinforcers!

How does you pick up a chicken?
Will it peck my eye out?
Will it fly off the training table?
How do you hold it so it doesn’t…uh…leave droppings on you?
All very good questions answered with great patience by Terry during the first few minutes of class. The guys quickly warmed up to their egg-laying beady-eyed, clucking partners and got down to the serious business of clicker training chickens.

The training sessions were brief as chickens can only be trained for a few minutes at a time. This left plenty of time for Terry to introduce the basics of using a clicker, operant conditioning and force free training. The guys quickly learned you cannot force a chicken to do anything except get back into its cage. Yelling, cajoling and threatening would only be met with a blank chicken stare. On the other hand you can encourage a chicken to do all manner of chicken things and then reward them when they do. Walk over here; climb on top of that, peck the paper with the picture of a flounder on it instead of the paper with a mackerel on it on so on.

The group was amazed. They could train a chicken to do a variety of skills without raising their voices or even using language at all. If I can train a chicken…I can train anything! Yep, the seed was planted.

Next Installment:
Chickens to Champions: Making the TAGteach Jump

Introducing TAGteach to Fishermen Part 2

This is the second installment of ,
TAGteach, Parrots and the Men from the Bering Sea!

Part 2
Cascade company co-owner Tim: Burly Bear or Behaviorist Extraordinaire?

Tim said it was time for a shift in the way the management and crew communicated with each other on the boat and in the shipyard." Tim speaks and people jump, literally.
He is not only the co owner of the company; but a big guy with a booming voice and personality. He is also open to ideas that will benefit his employees and has great trust in Amy's recommendations, so when she told him about her idea, he listened.

"Why don't you listen to this CD and tell me what you think"Amy said. She handed over an audio book of Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. "This is about the science of teaching and learning, it doesn't matter whether it is dogs, cats, dolphins or fishermen. It's just science. I've done the preliminary research by contacting Karen Pryor Clicker Training and explaining our situation. They sent me to TAGteach International which is the company that caters to the human branch of clicker training. I think they could really help us".

After hearing the CD, Tim was cautiously optimistic. Cascade had tried offering traditional `management training' in the past with less than ideal results. Men in suits laden with personality quotients and powerful buzzwords just weren't bringing the right ingredients with them. This I understood. I've been to a few of these seminars and while the information was interesting, it was nearly impossible to bake that cake.

This TAGteach stuff piqued Tim's interest but he wanted to attend a seminar first to assure it would be a proper fit for his guys. Tim is not the kind of guy that will keep forcing a square peg into a round hole….We found a seminar close enough that despite a crazy schedule, Tim, Amy and an engineering manager could attend.

The seminar was held at Terry Ryan's dog training facility in Sequim, Washington. The seminar had open enrollment including 2 behavior analysts, a flight instructor from Australia, 2 classroom teachers, 3 people who teach people to train dogs and of course Tim, Amy and B.

TAGteacher, Keri Gorman and I often teach seminars together and she agreed to help plan and teach this one. It's wonderful to have friendly, knowledgeable co teachers like Keri. I often look to her with a stumped look on my face and say, uh…why don't you answer that question!

Well, the seminar must have been acceptable as we started discussing plans for a Cascade event while at dinner the first night. Terry (the owner of the facility) joined us for dinner and conversation during which her achievements not only a dog trainer but a "chicken camp" director came out. The idea of being able to train chickens to discriminate in a short period of time was intriguing to Tim. It would be fun and certainly entertaining for the guys and maybe tie into the TAG training somehow. He threw the suggestion out for consideration.

I was horrified.
Haunted by "You can't train me like some kind of dog with that clicker thing", I had spent the last 4 years trying to build a great big wall between animal clicker training and TAGteach. Now there would have to be an explanation for "Are you trying say we are only as smart as chickens?". Well, there are stories circulating that Tim gets what he wants and can be intimidating but he used his charm and positivity to convince us to give it a try…The TAGteach seminar would partner with Terry Ryan who would present a lecture on operant conditioning and a chicken training introduction.

Stay tuned for part 3...
Egg laying and Clicker Training Give a Bear Hug to TAGteach and Poker Chips

Introducing TAGteach to Fishermen Part 1

Welcome to the adventures of TAGteach!
(Insert appropriate TV introduction music here.)

An ongoing account of TAGteach introductions, triumphs and tribulations!
This week I offer the first installment of :
TAGteach, Parrots and the Men from the Bering Sea! by Theresa McKeon

(Warning... these accounts are in bloggish form which means they have not been edited and will contain gross errors in grammar, form and spelling. I often use ... as a pause when I don't feel the comma is up to the task of defining the whirring sound that goes off in my brain when I think. It is my desire to dispense the information and later find perfection. To prove my point and horrify professional writers, Iwill add an emotcon :) )

Chapter 1
Blink...blink, blink...blink If this had been a face to face meetingi nstead of a phone call, the client would have thought the person she contacted was stone deaf. I was caught speechless. I didn't make the caller repeat herself but I did have to mentally replay the introduction. "Hi, this is Amy Duz owner of IWorkWise, a company that provides safety training and regulatory compliance consulting for several major companies. I would like to talk to you about providing a management training course for the crew of a commercial fishing vessel in Dutch Harbor, Alaska"

I recovered from brief bout with aphasia. "Hmmm, you mean like the television show, "The deadliest Catch"? Like with freezing temperatures and slippery decks and very, ah...tough...people... She made a sound that must have been a cross between a sigh and a chuckle. "Well, yeah, I guess. But these guys are fantastic. They are smart and fun and want to make their workplace better."At the risk of alienating this woman further, I blurted out "Do you know what we do?" "Yes" she replied with great confidence, "you teach people how to work with other people in a positive reinforcing manner, yes?"

Well yes, that was true but usually it was directed towards coaches, teachers and behavior analysts... you know, land lubing types. I wasn't sure that the guys who performed "the world's most dangerous job" would be wholly captured by positive reinforcement and marker based training.

Oh the biases we hold close to the vest.

After a proverbial throat clearing to convince her I was not unsure of my ability to provide said services, maybe just nursing an early cold, I said, "We can do it!" (You may have noticed a certain politician co-opted my powerful phrase with some equally positive results.) I asked Amy how she had found us and she recounted the search for positive training and her path to TAGteach.

Amy had a parrot that was in need of training when what should appear in the pocket of her airplane seat but a fortuitously left behind copy of Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. The book literally opened the world of reinforcement based training to Amy. The leap between positive behavior training for parrots and positive physical and behavioral training for humans was not so big. "I'll call Karen" she thought...and she did.

Next installment:
Company co-owner, Tim: Big Burly Bear or Behaviorist Extraordinaire?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TAGteach Videos

Check out these cool TAGteach videos. There are more posted at YouTube as well.

Tagging writing skills:

Learning to read a passage for a memorial service without crying:

A child gets over his fear of going to the dentist (this is the first in a series):

Thanks to Sara and Callan for setting a positive example and sharing their adventures. For more of Sara's videos visit her YouTube site.

Comments from Cascade Fishing Workers

Here are some comments from the participants from the second seminar held for Cascade Fishing Company workers. They had implemented TAGteach in real life situations on the boat and had come back for a more advanced seminar to learn more.

"Now other commercial fishing companies are hearing about it and they are considering the same training."

"Train a chicken?! It was amazing I learned you can't force something or someone to learn, I have to work with them."

"It gives you patience to solve a problem instead of getting angry and yelling."

"It taught me to look at myself every time I train. Never blame the person you are training. I never saw it like that before this seminar. That's why we came back for a second seminar and brought back more people."

"I believe it's beneficial for any company that trains people to do anything."

"It just streamlines the idea of teaching and understanding "This is really good stuff"…Theresa said that!

Update on Cascade Fishing Company Training

Update from the second annual Cascade training weekend with TAGteach/Legacy/I WorkWise

We just held our second annual TAGteach + A Mini-Chicken Camp seminar for the managers of the commercial fishing and processing ship, Seafisher.

This ship fishes the crazy waters in the Bering Sea and maintains a crew of over 80 for several months at time.The crew and managers come from all over the world and try to use English as a common language but all have heavy accents from their native tongue. Add all the testosterone and seriously hard work under less than ideal conditions and you have the potential for a perfect storm of broken communication and management issues.

Cascade, the company that owned the Seafisher realized this and decided to turn the tide so to speak. You could say they wanted to be "crossover" trainers. They already had Amy Duz and her company IWorkWise to do the skill training aboard the boat but she quickly realized that communication skills were what was lacking (she is a behavioral genius!).

She convinced the management to try clicker training for humans (TAGteach) and to include a day a chicken camp led by Terry Ryan. It was a bit of a long shot…would the guys get the correlation between training chickens and working in a positive manner with their crew?

Well they certainly did! Every manager including the ships captain, head engineer and processing managers have now attended at least 2 TAGteach and Chicken camp combo's! They all learned to train a chicken and how to add the principles and TAGteach methodology in their day to day management arsenal.

After the first seminar, the guys brought the principles back to the ship and boat yard. Training and communication on the boat improved tremendously and accidents were nearly wiped out.