Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dentist Saga Update #2

We have been following with great interest the saga of Callan and the dentist. This 3-year old was terrified of going to the dentist and his mother Sara did not want to use force. She discovered TAGteach and began the stepwise process of teaching Callan to overcome his fears. They started by touching photos of the dentist's office and equipment, interacting with a Playdoh dentist and with mouth opening games. Then they moved on to visiting the dentist's office and touching the door, eventually going in to the waiting room and even sitting in the dentist chair. One one of these visits Callan actually caught a glimpse of the dentist himself!

Sara has videotaped much of this process and we are grateful to her for sharing this journey so that we can all learn from it. We know how much effort it takes to get video, let alone deal with a fearful child, tagger and treats all at the same time!

Here is the first video in the series of actual visits to the dentist's office:

Here is the ninth video in the series in which Callan actually sits in the dentist's chair, laughs while the dentist looks at his teeth and chats happily with the dentist.

To see the other videos in the series, visit Sara's YouTube channel.

TAGteach and Autism - Skill and Faith

There are two things that a TAGteacher needs to be successful. These are skill in applying the technology and faith in the technology. The skill comes from having a good understanding of the principles underlying the science of behaviour, having a good understanding of the principles of TAGteach and lots of tagging practice. The faith comes from experience and seeing it work again and again and just knowing that it works.

Denise Blackman posted a story to our TAGteach Yahoo group that gives a perfect illustration of the combination of skill and faith resulting in a successful outcome.

Here is Denise's post (reposted with permission):
I don't normally post, but I had a fun experience today and want to share it.

I work as a consultant to a preschool program for children with autism. Yesterday we were discussing one of the kids, "Robert", an almost 4-year-old boy who does not currently speak, make eye contact, imitate, play with others, or follow most directions.

One of the many things "Robert" is working on is writing. His writing goal is to draw a vertical line. Unfortunately he wasn't making any progress on the goal. Rather than trying to copy the line, he just scribbled on the paper. We decided to try TAGteach with him.

To prepare I made a stencil of a vertical line. The opening for the pen was big enough for two swipes with a thick marker. The stencil material was slightly thicker than a file folder. It was just thick enough to give a bit of direction to the tip of a marker but not much. I covered all but the opening of the stencil with laminating plastic so I could clean off stray ink marks. The idea was to use the stencil over white construction paper in order to provide good contrast between the stencil, the pen marks, and the paper.

My plan was to tag Robert for 1) touching the marker, 2) holding the marker, 3) holding the marker in a writing position, 4) touching the tip of the marker anywhere within the opening of the stencil, 5) moving the tip of the marker within the stencil, and then (hopefully, eventually), drawing a line within the stencil. Progression from there would involve fading the stencil. I was hoping to get to a pen touch within the stencil for the first session but would have been happy with less than that.

Today did not seem like a great day to give the procedure a try. Robert was not in a good mood. He kept crying and throwing things, and it wasn't clear what he was upset about. But I decided to try anyway. At one point he tried to take a juice container from the counter so I knew I had access to something he wanted.

So: I gave Robert a sip of juice and tagged him. Then I showed him the marker which he took and threw across the room. I tagged him as soon as he touched it, ignored the throw, and gave him a sip of juice. I offered the marker again, tagged a slight touch, and reinforced again. This first bit (reinforcing for any touch, ignoring tantrums) probably lasted less than a minute but it felt long. Then he took the marker by himself and held it in a writing position. Tag! Then he scribbled on the paper and stencil: I tagged when the tip of the marker landed inside the stencil.

After 2-3 tags for inadvertent touches inside the stencil Robert started deliberately marking inside the stencil. Tag! Then he made a deliberate line inside the stencil. Tag! After 2-3 tags for that, he took the stencil from me, moved it to a clear place on the page, and drew a full length line inside the stencil. Tag! And he did it again. Tag! And again. At that point we stopped the lesson. The entire session took less than five minutes. It was extremely, extremely cool to get that much progress so fast.

I can't predict where Robert's learning will go from here, but we sure found a teaching technique that works for him. I'm feeling excited about it and wanted to share.

Denise showed skill in the way she broke the skill down into manageable pieces, set up the learner for success and tagged and reinforced appropriately. The faith came into play when things did not go as expected at first and the child displayed undesirable behaviour after being tagged. Denise just carried on, ignoring the undesirable behaviour, sticking to her teaching plan and tagging the successes.

Thanks Denise, for sharing this terrific story!

The Praise Junkie

By Joan Orr M.Sc.

There is a book called "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn. I saw the title and thought "how can that be?" and so I bought the book. Dr. Kohn explains how endless stickers and charts and ribbons and praise and approval to children for every single accomplishment no matter how small is creating children who cannot function without outside approval. They have no confidence in their own abilities and low self esteem because they judge themselves through the eyes of others. They are not self motivated and do not derive satisfaction from achievement for its own sake since they have been systematically trained to look to others for approval as a result of the frivolous doling out of rewards by parents, teachers and coaches. This is of course an over-simplification, since it is quite a long book with lots of scientific references, but you get the idea.

Theresa McKeon (TAGteach cofounder and professional gymnastics coach) calls these kids "praise junkies". They are the ones that always want the coach to look at them. They can't work independently. They are not focused on learning, but are focused on what the coach (parent, teacher, etc) thinks. They require constant approval and encouragement. They may even misbehave in order to have the attention focused back on them if other children are getting in the way of this.

TAGteach eliminates the conditions that create and maintain the praise junkies. With TAGteach the tangible reward is linked to the tag point through the tag. That is the tag (click) comes immediately as the behaviour occurs and if there is a sticker or other tangible reward, that comes later. It is the immediacy of the tag that makes the difference between a tag (which is a reinforcer) and a reward which comes after the fact (and may or may not be reinforcing). Forms of approval that come after the fact may reinforce the attention seeking and praise junkie behaviour and not the behaviour associated with the skill we are trying to teach.

TAGteach provides a mechanism for reinforcing the desired behaviour at the exact moment it occurs and not other behaviours which may come afterward. The tag sound is neutral and does not convey emotion or social approval. There is no sense of being judged by the person with the tagger. The tag just means "yes that was right". Absence of the tag directs the child to self assess and try again. TAGteach fosters independent thought and self-motivation since the learning process is now in the hands of the child as facilitated by the coach or teacher. TAGteach creates active learners who are in control of their own learning and who gain confidence in their own ability to achieve without dependence on the opinion of others.

Here is a video that illustrates the transition from TAGteach-facilitated learning to independent self-motivation. This video is edited to remove the repetition - but each tag point was repeated several times to the point of confidence before moving to the next tag point. Notice at one point Lear is frightened and refuses to jump off the step to the helper. A few minutes later he is pushing the helper away saying "no I don't need help!" and swimming around by himself for fun, with no external reinforcement.

TAGteach and Dog Bite Victim Rehab

Teresa Lewin (cofounder of Doggone Safe and dog behaviour specialist) has developed some interesting ways of using TAGteach to help dog bite victims overcome fear of dogs. Here is a series of three videos showing Teresa's approach.

The first shows Paige identifying characteristics of dogs in photos from the Doggone Crazy! board game and the Be a Tree teacher kit (available from Doggone Crazy!). She receives a tag for providing the correct answer. This helps her in two ways: 1) she is learning about canine body language and becoming empowered with the knowledge that lets her judge what kind of mood a dog might be in; 2) she is becoming desensitized to the presence of dogs without any risk.

The second two videos show Paige being tagged in the presence of a dog and then being tagged for actually working with the dog. The tag points relate to physical signs of relaxation produced by Paige.

Friday, November 20, 2009

TAGteacher Spotlight - Keri Gorman

Keri Gorman is a Certified Level 3 TAGteacher, Senior TAGteach Instructor and Education and Behavior Consultant. She was formerly an animal trainer at Sea World, California where she worked with a variety of animal species including birds of prey, river otters and parrots and performed in daily shows. It was there that she began using marker-based teaching methods and it carried over into her work at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington where she worked as the Director of Education and Behavior. While at the Humane Society Keri developed Project Click, an award winning at-risk youth program whose foundation is based on the TAGteach methodology and clicker training. Keri is currently implementing TAGteach into the Juvenile Justice system and also uses it in the fields of rock climbing and horseback riding. She also owns an equine behavior consulting business where she employs clicker training as a way to help people develop positive relationships with their horses and solve behavior problems. She works with a variety of clients conducting seminars, presentations and private consulting.

Visit Keri's website for more information

Monday, November 16, 2009

TAGteach Certification Seminar in IA in Feb

TAGteach comes to Iowa!

TAGteach is featured in Karen Pryor's new book "Reaching the Animal Mind" and is now being applied around the globe.

TAGteach uses the same positive reinforcement platform applied in clicker training and incorporates professional coaching skills to provide an inspiring teaching and learning technology! Persons involved in education, therapy, training and managing will come away with the ability to:speed learning and increase retention, acquire the full attention of students or staff, and reduce frustration (both leader and learner).

This seminar uses interactive video, lecture, special guests and lots of hands on practice to insure attendees gain the foundation skills needed to bring TAGteach back to their individual fields and begin using it.

Facility: Canine Craze Performance Center

Location: 3101 104th Street, Suite 3
Urbandale, IA

How to register: Register Online at Urbandale, Iowa

Registration fee: 375.00Earlybird or $425.00Std


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Praise for TAGteach from Autism Author

Mary Lynch Barbera, RN, MSN, BCBA, Author of The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders had this to say about TAGteach...

TAGteach has great potential to help children with autism learn complex skills. This new technology is built on an entirely positive approach so learners feel successful while being taught important life-long skills. Every teacher and parent (of children with and without autism) would benefit from learning about TAGteach!

I just completed the e-learning TAGteach program and I was extremely impressed! I believe the e-learning program is very comprehensive and a great starting place to learn more about TAGteach. After completing the course I feel I'm ready to use Tagging in many different areas of my life including helping my 13-year-old son with autism write better and my 11-year-old son improve his soccer skills! I feel every parent, teacher, and coach would benefit from the TAGteach e-learning program.
Click here to read an article about Mary's work with autism and the verbal behavior approach.

Find out more about the TAGteach online course

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TAGteacher Spotlight - Maggie Ouillette

Maggie Ouillette is a nurse, a dog trainer and a certified Level 2 TAGteacher. Maggie volunteers at the Michigan Humane Society helping to implement the Pawsitive Start Program. This is an enrichment program for shelter dogs to help them develop life skills that will make them more adoptable and will also improve their lives at the shelter. The dogs are trained using clicker training by volunteers. Before the volunteers can work with the dogs they must learn the necessary dog handling and clicker training skills.

Maggie has worked to develop tag points for the various skills that the volunteers need to learn. She presented the results of this work at a TAGteach seminar in Tonawanda NY in August 2009 for completion of the requirements for Level 2 TAGteach Certification.

You can download Maggie's project report from the files section at the TAGteach Yahoo discussion group to see all the tag points, what worked and what didn't.

Here is a video that shows some of Maggie's presentation:

Here is a video showing how TAGteach is incorporated into handler training. The dog gets a click for looking at the handler. It does not matter what else he is doing, if he looks he gets a click. He gets a treat after each click. The handler places the treat on the floor and after doing so, takes one step forward. The targets on the floor are to guide the handler so that she know where to step. After placing the treat on the floor, the tag point is step on the target. The tag sound for the handler is a different sound from the clicker used with the dog. The handler does not get a treat after each tag, her reinforcement comes from knowing she did the correct thing and from seeing the dog improve.

Here is what the finished skill looks like. The handler does not need to be tagged here, because she knows the skill (dog looks, click, treat on the ground, walk on):

For more information about Maggie please visit Serendipity Dog Training.

For more videos visit
Maggie's YouTube channel and the Pawsitive Start YouTube channel

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And the Oscar Goes to...

Paula, Miranda and Tracie

We have a ton of fun at our TAGteach seminars! This is partly because TAGteach is fun by its very nature and partly because of the terrific people who come to these seminars. People come from all kinds of different backgrounds and so everyone has lots to learn from each other.

There is lots of time for hands on practical application of the TAGteach techniques and those who wish can demonstrate to the group. Participants at the seminar held in Tonawanda earlier in the fall particularly enjoyed the antics of the group from Purrfect Paws Animal Behavior Center (who also hosted the seminar).

The assignment was to come up with some tag points to help teach something from your daily life or work that has posed a challenge. The groups had some time to work on this and then they demonstrated to the rest of the group (if they wished). Check out these Oscar-worthy performances...

Thanks again to Miranda Workman and everyone at Purrfect Paws Animal Behavior Center for putting on a fantastic seminar!