Thursday, July 14, 2011

Upcoming TAGteach Seminars

Register now for an open TAGteach Certification Seminar or contact Theresa at to schedule a personalized seminar for your group.

Register at or call 704-995-9237 for more details.

If you can't make it to a live seminar, you can take our online course from the comfort of home at your own pace.

Denver, April 2011

Upcoming Seminars

Fredericksburg VA (9/24-25/2011)
Solothurn, Switzerland (10/22-23/2011)
Verona Italy (10/29-30/2011)
San Diego CA (12/12-13/2011)

Recent comment we have received about TAGteach...

TAGteach Goes Corporate Training! Glenn Hughes (Dir. of Learning Architecture, KLA-Tencor) presented his case studies at the TAGteach seminar at KLA. Incredible results. "TAGteach works so well, I can't do anymore baselines-It would be unfair to my students".

Fix It! With the Focus Funnel

By Theresa McKeon

A late night comedy show recently aired a skit with a character so frustrated by unresolved economic problems that he was reduced to repeating a single phrase. “Fix it…just fix it…fix it, fix it, fix it!”

In the gym, coaches experience this frustration when athletes, despite repeated directions and feedback, fail to correct particular parts of a skill. This frustration can turn into nagging and then escalate into yelling and punishment. So the question is, if a learner is physically and mentally capable of recognizing the directions to fix a task, what is keeping them from doing so?

One possibility is an insufficient connection to the information delivered by the coach. The coach says “When you are doing a handstand, push up tall all the way through your arms and legs and keep your feet pointed”. The athlete performs the handstand but distractions keep her from remembering to point her feet. What are these distractions? For the most part, it doesn’t matter. There will always be distractions. The solution is to strengthen the line of focus between the coach’s directions and the athlete’s performance of them.

Strengthen that Connection with a Focus Funnel

Research is debunking the "multitasking" myth and data suggest that there is reduced efficiency associated with trying to learn more than one thing at at time. Although multiple tasks can be combined once learned, it is merely an exercise in frustration for coach and athlete to expect an athlete to learn more than one thing at a time. To avoid multitasking in your coaching, start with the academic portion of the lesson and put it through a funnel to provide crystal clear directions and a single point of focus. To use the funnel approach, start with the broad explanation of the lesson, reduce this to a clear instruction and reduce it further to a single point of focus for the athlete’s particular turn. A point of focus declares “fix this one particular thing”. We can further encourage a connection by providing a distinct call to attention for the athlete, a phrase that shouts, “Listen up, the really, really important information is coming now!”

For Example

Lesson Description: “To get a powerful tumbling pass, you need a powerful hurdle. Having clean lines in the hurdle helps you keep the power of your run directed forward. One way to keep a clean powerful hurdle is to reach into the hurdle with your shoulders and arms touching your ears. This will keep your head in line and your back straight which helps to maintain your power.”

Directions: “Go to the floor and do four round-offs with good alignment”

The tag point is… Shoulders touching ears

The athlete now has a single criterion for success, “shoulders touching ears”. If the shoulders are touching the ears in the hurdle, there is absolute success for that tag point. Any additional refinements can be addressed with future tag points.

Lesson Description: “Your feet need to stay together in the handstand, even when you are doing a pirouette on bars. If your feet come apart, they can pull you out of alignment and cause the handstand to tilt or even collapse. Besides, the judges will take a deduction for feet apart.

Directions: Do one handstand half pirouette on the floor bar and 5 handstand pirouettes on the low bar and 5 handstand half pirouettes on the pit bar.

The tag point is…Big toes glued together

Fixing it is Fun

Although studies show that success is in itself reinforcing, the measurable successes marked by audible tags can be used in a token economy. As an athlete ‘collects the tags’ she may turn them in to “buy” stickers, trinkets, come in late for a Saturday practice, choose the next skill or even the next tag point. Groups of athletes can combine their earned tags and turn them in for open gym time or the chance to compete in skill contests.

When the name of the game is perfection, we all have to “fix it” endlessly. The challenge lies in developing the concentration and motivation needed to fix everything. One solution is a direct line of focus between the coach’s directions and the athlete's performance of them. The Focus Funnel provides this direct line by reducing confusion while introducing positive reinforcement and encouraging commitment to the performance.

Read a scientific article by Cora M. Dzubak, PhD about multitask learning that concludes: "there is unequivocal evidence that depending on the task, degree of thinking and the need for future application, we might want to do some things one step at a time, free of interruption, and do them well"

Friday, July 8, 2011

Teaching Kids About Operant Conditioning

By Jane Jackson - Level II TAGteacher

I thought I'd share a little project I did this week with some kids aged from about 10-15. I've tried to promote +R techniques with the kids in our Pony Club (a local chapter of a global organization with nationally set Standards of Proficiency) for several years with varying success. They are interested but I've always felt like I overwhelmed them with too much info at once but never knew how to break it down smaller when I had limited time and access to them.

This week we had our annual camp with 9 kids- staying at a friend's very nice facility. There were also 2 older kids there as junior instructors. They have lessons twice a day and lectures at noon; they bring their own horses and are responsible for all care and working as a team to keep the whole barn neat and safe. There were two other instructors in addition to myself- the friend, my age, who owns the property; and a young woman who graduated from our club (she was there part time). Pony Club utilizes "traditional" methods- lots of -R and does not hesitate to advocate +P. I want to share +R techniques as much as possible but have to acknowledge this is my own little interest, not part of the United States Pony Club curriculum.

Explaining the Challenge

I decided to do a week long explanation of the four quadrants. I've felt for a long time that understanding those four "tools" is really helpful. At our morning briefing on Monday, I introduced my "challenge" to the kids. Each day we'd focus on a different quadrant (I didn't use that word). At the morning briefing I would explain each "tool" and give a couple examples. Then they could look for examples of that tool through the day. Anyone who brought me an example (any time!) would get a ticket. The example did NOT have to be correct. Just telling me something they THOUGHT might be right earned them a ticket. I wanted them to bring me lots of ideas and then I could tell them if it was an example of the tool of the day or not and if not, why. No wrong answers. They had 2 options with their tickets. I had a tin of candy and a plastic bag labeled raffle in the tack room (so yes, I used Theresa's seminar model!). They could either trade a ticket for a piece of candy (honor system) or drop it in the bag for a raffle of a free private riding lesson. Each day at lunch we'd review some of the ideas that they'd come up with during the morning, then they'd have a little more knowledge to go hunting in the afternoon. Each day I added new candy to the selection to keep the appeal fresh!

Day 1

I loved how it worked through the week. The first day was +R and they were very enthusiastic. They discovered early on that compliments were a great example so we had fashion tips going strong ("nice shirt", "I like your socks", "That's a cool saddle pad", "your horse looks really good"). All these things made it more likely the receiver would wear the shirt or socks or saddle pad again and keep their horse shiny and healthy. So for the afternoon, I suggested they look for non-fashion examples and they found more horse-oriented ones.

Day 2

Day 2 was +P. I did not want to encourage them to use it or criticize others for using it so I explained how +P may be accidental: tripping over a dog in the doorway will make it less likely the dog is underfoot next time. Being out of balance over a fence may hurt your pony's mouth or back and make it less likely he'll want to jump next time. They found some but there were fewer examples and I said that was GOOD because it's more successful to reinforce a behavior than discourage one. They came up with using pressure to stop a horse from grazing (and hopefully make it less likely they'd try to steal grass again), making a horse who barged out of his stall go back in, etc.

Day 3

Day 3 was -R. The majority of traditional horse training is done with -R but even using that as an example was confusing for them. The thing that clicked was when I used a car's seat belt beep as an example. The examples they brought me were traditional methods- rein pressure, leg pressure, rope pressure. Perfect :)

Day 4

Day 4 was -P I asked how many of them had privileges revoked (computer, TV, phone) for bad behavior. Every hand went up so I had that covered! Many examples I got that day were of that ilk but I also got horse related ones. By that afternoon I could say "negative means" and they knew "take away", and on through positive, reinforcement and punishment.


The last day I did a review of all and the project for the day was to come up with something they'd like to train their horse (simple!) and how they'd go about it. The girl who wanted her horse to stop nipping at her when she tightened the girth had a really hard time framing it in positives ("what DO you want her to do?") so I was really glad for the opportunity to discuss that. Someone else wanted her horse to stand at the mounting block, another to load in a trailer, another to stand quietly, etc. They were great. After they gave me their plans I went into more detail on how to proceed, accentuating the need for baby steps and high rates of reinforcement. The only followup I'll do will be casual- some are my students I see regularly; others I may only see a couple times through the rest of the summer at PC meetings.

Overall I felt it was more successful than any other promotion of Operant Conditioning I've done with the kids. I feel like I really helped them become more aware of what they were doing and assessing whether or not it was successful. One girl told me that when the other instructor yelled at the horse for kicking his stall door, it was an ATTEMPT at +P but it didn't work because he kept kicking it all week :)

Some Tag Points

This wasn't officially TAG teach (there was no auditory marker for this although I used one frequently during lessons). I just thought if anyone else is trying to explain OC with kids, I'd share my experience! Something I picked up at one of the seminars is that TAG teach can be most useful when a learner is experiencing difficulty. In my Level II project, I tried to set up tag points for my program in advance. Putting it to use showed me that many of these tag points were unnecessary and yet there were other tag points that I needed which I hadn't predicted. In this camp situation, my plan was to introduce the 4 quadrants and I did not know what individuals would find challenging so I had no pre-set tag points. Theresa challenged me afterward to find some!

So here are three situations I came up with for which the learner had difficulty:

The girl who had so much trouble re-phrasing her pony's nipping into a positive behavior to reward for.

Another who very enthusiastically kept bringing me examples of management as opposed to training.

A third who is painfully shy. The only times she brought me examples were when I encouraged the other girls to help her find some. She was so shy that when they all excitedly came to me, she would just smile and hang her head and shrug until one of the other girls would offer to say it for her. She got 2 or 3 tickets all week and I really had no idea if she understood any of it.For example #1, I would try playing with opposites. Starting with a point of success, I would tag her for giving me the opposites of up, in, fast, stop, dirty. Tag point is "say the word's opposite"

Next, have her tag me or another adult for the opposites of a list of action words which I would give her: moving (standing), yelling (whispering), greedy (patient). Same tag point but she'd be doing the tagging.

Next step: have someone act out some horse behaviors and then tag them when they changed from doing those behaviors to the opposite. The actor would be a horse fidgeting on the cross ties- "M" would (hopefully) tag when they stood still; a pushy horse to lead, could be tagged when patient; backing -> forward; head up -> head down, teeth clenched -> mouth open. This last example could be in the context of a horse who didn't want a bit in his mouth but could also be reversed to be her pony who had her mouth open to nip! Tag point is "demonstrate the opposite behavior"

Finally, I would ask her to repeat the last exercise but I would tag her for naming the desired behavior when it happened. My goal would be to help her turn her thinking around so that she could begin to think of and verbalize "what DO you want" instead of what you don't want. Tag point is "name the desired behavior".

I would also want her to tell me what the desired behavior looked like for things like "patience" and "standing" (four feet on the floor, etc)

I find creating tag points for cognitive educating to be most challenging. Simply tagging for correct answers is quizzing, not teaching. So I challenge everyone to come up with appropriate tag points for teaching cognitive skills and share them! Use # 2 above as an example if you want.

Visit Jane's website at Bookends Farm

Thursday, July 7, 2011

From the Archives - Theresa's TAG Journal, 2003

I was looking through old files and came across this excerpt from Theresa's journal documenting some of the earliest experiments with TAGteach with competitive gymnasts - thought you would enjoy! Note that this was before we came up with the tag terms, so the clicker terms are used.

Jan. 3/03 The optional team has been watching the compulsory team “playing” clicker games for a week now.

The response in the beginning ranged from mild interest to a quote from one girl of “not me, I don’t want to be trained like a dog”. I pulled her aside and explained that the clicker was not just a way to train dogs. This was a highly scientific way to communicate with her nervous system. We could speed up the time it takes to make corrections and therefore it would require fewer repetitions of elements and would take a lesser toll on her body.

A faster way to learn? Fewer repetitions? Fewer injuries?

Ok, she would give this a try.

The first opportunity for the optional team to click was a vaulting rotation. We use the Tumble Trac (a long tight trampoline, used for tumbling and vaulting drills) a great deal. During this rotation we were doing front layout drills used in the training of front handspring vaults. I began clicking the girls at the exact point they found the tight heel drive position while flipping over a mat into the resi-pit.

They were amazed at how late they were hitting the position. I had to give them proof by showing videotapes of themselves. The girls saw that the timing of my click and their position was exact. This helped them “trust” the clicker. Trust is the most important element in the coach-gymnast relationship.

During this rotation I heard a shy “can I try that clicker thing”. YES! This came from the same gymnast that didn’t want to be “trained like a dog”. The girls were coming to me.

Everyone wanted a chance to be the clicker boss.

I had to film their faces. They were totally focused on the exact points I had been begging them to think about. Now they could turn that visual internally and focus on their own positions.

I think the gymnasts realize that this is a step up from teaching “Fido to sit”. Should I tell them Fido was easier to teach?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do I Have to Say "The tag point is..."?

Sometimes people ask us about using the phrase “the tag point is..” before each tag point and that this seems contrived. It's true, it does seem that way at first. We have found however, that this is very important because as people get into TAGteach the phrase “the tag point is..” becomes a powerful cue to focus on the teacher. They know that the most important part of the instruction is coming. It also becomes calming for some people if they are anxious, because they know that they can succeed because of past experience. It is also non-judgmental. Much better than saying “I want you to..” or “I need you to..”, since these are emotion-laden and put a burden on the person to try to comply so as not to disappoint you. You just need to judge your learner. If they are uncomfortable or annoyed by the use of the phrase, then you can certainly use the other principles of TAGteach without using the phrase.

Using the phrase "the tag point is..." also helps the teacher. It forces you to focus on what it is that you really want and to articulate this very clearly to the learner.

We do encourage people to try to use the phrase "the tag point is...", because it really does have a powerful effect once people get used to it.

Thanks TAGteach - From a Medical Student

This letter was sent to one of our TAGteachers by a medical student...

I had never done an LP (lumbar puncture), but I went through the simulation teaching using models with my instructor during JURSI orientation week. In her group the teaching method incorporated using "tag" points that allowed us to remember the sequence of steps in performing an LP. I had not thought about those tag points since that day we had training, which was about 6 months ago. Recently on my Neurology rotation, a resident had offered to let me do an LP, but first I had to explain the process, the contraindications, and indications for doing an LP. I was amazed at how easily I recalled the tag points in their correct order. The resident was impressed and let me perform the LP, which ended up being successful on the first try. I think there are many medical students that would benefit from the teaching method employed by my instructor where a procedure or physiological process is broken down into steps - tag points - that make a complicated pathway/procedure more manageable and easier to mentally process.

It is safe to assume, that the patient is grateful as well!