Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From the Archives - High Jump Practice

Here is a note from Joan to Theresa from Jun 9, 2003, describing the first group high jump practice:

Tried tagging with high jump yesterday. It was good. We used it during individual jumps when they raised their non-jumping knee to waist level during the take-off. They all did it correctly on the first turn - the coach was very impressed. Then we raised the bar 2 inches (still at a low height that they can all clear) and they fell apart. More than half of them forgot about the knee drive and then they improved after a couple of turns. Major mental component with high jump - the bar is very intimidating. All the kids have got the basic idea of throwing themselves backward over the bar - which is very impressive because it is not easy and they had only had one practice before this. 

Next practice we will work on having them straighten out the knee that they bent. Now that they are into the idea of bending the knee they keep it bent all the way through the jump and this causes their backs to roll rather than arch. We will tag them for straightening the non-jumping leg after the inital knee drive and hopefully this will cause them to be in laid out position as they go over the bar. Then we can work on the arch. 

There are about 16 kids and only 2 half hour practices left before the meet. Even with tagging there is is not nearly enough time to develop all the aspects of the skill. According to what I have read on the internet, 90% of high jump technique is in the curved run and take-off. The athlete is supposed to run a curve for the last 5 strides that is part of a perfect circle (radius to be determined for each individual on the basis of stride length), while leaning into the circle so that at the takeoff the athlete is leaning away from the bar. The translation of power from the curved approach to the vertical jump is supposed to result in the spin in the axis perpendicular to the bar that results in the body going over the bar backwards without specific effort put into the spin. Try explaining this to an 8 year old! I think we will have to use cones to delineate the approach, since most of them (except Jennifer and a couple of the older boys) want to run straight rather than a curve. The coach put up one cone (there were no others available) for them to run around and many of them ignored it and went on the wrong side. The coach was very nice and patient with them. 

As always there are quite a few gymnasts on the team and they were very happy to see me with a clicker! I definitely notice that, like dogs, kids become "clicker wise" and learn faster than naive kids. Some of the kids have now been tagged for gymnastics, volleyball, long jump and high jump and these kids catch on much faster than the others. Of course the gymnasts have super body awareness and coachability, so this is probably also a major factor.

Here is a video showing the final tagging protocol we used for high jump:

Monday, August 8, 2011

You Asked For it – You Got It!
Fresno, California and Toronto, Canada have TAGteach Certification Seminars!

Give yourself and your learners the TAGteach Edge
*Increase success - in less time
*Create positive communication
*Eliminate nagging

Spots are limited and will fill fast so register early.

Fresno, California, November 9-10, 2011.
Early Bird registration ends September 20, 2011.

Toronto, Canada, November 26-27, 2011.
Early Bird registration ends October 1, 2011.

Other seminar sites:
Fredericksburg, VA (9/24-25/2011)
Solothurn, Switzerland (10/22-23/2011)
Verona, Italy (10/29-30/2011)
San Diego, CA (11/12-13/2011)

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!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TAGteach at the Association of Behavior Analysis International Conference

TAGteach will once again host a symposium and a workshop at the Association of Behavior Analysis International Conference. This year the conference is in Denver from May 27-31, 2011.

Symposium: Bridging the Gap Between Response and Reinforcement

Sat May 28, 4:00-5:20 PM

Discussant: Julie Vargas

1. Using Shaping and Student Success to Increase Reinforcement for Teachers
2. Marking What You Want: Using TAGteach With Children With Autism
3.That's It! The Use of Acoustical Markers to Improve Student Responding
Workshop: Using TAGteach to Deliver Instructions and Positive Reinforcement in Various applications Including Precision Teaching

Fri May 27, 4:00-7:00 PM

Click here for conference registration information

Friday, April 22, 2011

TAGteach Certification Requirements

TAGteach offers four levels of certification for TAGteachers:
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
The requirements for each of these is described at this link, or you can download a pdf.

We have made some recent changes to the certification process for the Primary level and we have also made some pricing changes.

You can now earn Primary TAGteach certification by taking the online course: Introduction to TAGteach, without attending a live seminar. You must submit your course journals and worksheets for evaluation in order to earn Primary certification. There is an additional fee of $75 if you want to have your materials evaluated. This is payable to TAGteach International at the time of submission for these materials (that is after you have completed the course).

The enrollment fee for the online course is $299.

If you wish to earn Level 1 TAGteach Certification, then you must attend a live TAGteach seminar.

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.

Chicago March 2011

Upcoming Seminars

Detroit MI (5/7-8/2011)
Milpitas CA (5/18-19/2011)
Portland OR (6/11-12/2011)
Calgary AB (10/1-2)
Solothurn, Switzerland (10/22-23/2011)
San Diego CA (11/05-06/2011)

Recent comments we have received about TAGteach...
"Absolutely fantastic. Great mix of backgrounds- human behavior analysts, dog trainers, musician, teachers of all backgrounds... lead to a very enriching environment" - Colleen Koch (veterinarian)
As always, love the practicality of TAGteach. We have time to work through our own scenarios and are ready to use TAGteach when we return to the educational environment the very next day.  Sheila Smith (special education - Arkansas)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How to Use Targets - A Gymnastics Example

We love targets at TAGteach! Whenever we can use a physical or visual target to help a learner find the right position we do it.

Here is an example of using targets to help teach a front roll. There are two hand targets to show where the hands should go. The first tag point is "hands to hands".  Repeat this several times until the athlete places her hands reliably and confidently on the target every time.

The next tag point is "head to circle". Tag only when the head is correctly placed on the circle. Repeat this a few times until the athlete places her head reliably and confidently on the target every time.

Once the head placement is correct, allow the rest of the front roll to happen. This is being done on a inclined soft mat and so the roll with happen easily.

Remove the hand targets and continue with the "head to circle" tag point a few more times. Remove the head target and move on to working on other aspects of the skill

If the hand or head placement becomes incorrect then replace the required targets and go back to practicing with the target-related tag points.

Get creative! You can use targets in many different ways and lots of things can be targets. Send us photos to show us how you are using targets to improve efficiency in your teaching.

Friday, April 8, 2011

TAGteach: Why It Works

By Luca Canever

Here is a question with which we all struggle: if somebody asked me where TAGteach can be useful, I do not know what to answer ... The “standard” answer I use sounds like: "TAGteach is useful wherever there are skills to be acquired." It is a broad answer!

On Sunday morning, I'm in the pool with my son. There is a girl who is taking individual swimming lessons in the small pool where we are splashing. I'm listening to the instructions given by the coach: they are precise but too long and hard to remember: "When you start hold both arms outstretched, do not raise your right arm but keep your back straight and arms outstretched. Do not do this movement (the coach mimics this), do not turn the head but stand firmly with your arms. " They Repeat once, twice, three times; roughly the same instructions are repeated, the task does not improve, the results of such commitment from both parties are not seen. I listen and think, "The tag point is: arms outstretched".

TAGteach works because it uses positive reinforcement, because it eliminates frustration, because what it teaches comes in small fragments easily accessible by anyone. Sailors of deep-sea fishing vessels or young gymnasts, does not matter, there is only one answer: TAG!

Friday, April 1, 2011

TAGteach Around the World

We have TAGteachers all around the world and we have been to many countries for training seminars. In several cases the presentations were done in English with simultaneous translation into one or two other languages. One of the reasons that this can actually work is that the practical aspects of the seminar transcend language barriers. There is so much non-verbal about TAGteach that we can develop relationship and work with people who don't speak the same language as we do. In fact we can work with people who don't speak at all!

I thought that you might be interested in knowing about some TAGteach translations in case you know someone who would like to learn more, but doesn't speak Enlgish. Here are the links: (German) (Swedish)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

TAGteach With Toddler Video

Watch great mom Keri Gorman using TAGteach to help her toddler accept saline nose spray. You will see the "before" situation, which every parent will recognize is leading to trouble and possibly a full blown tantrum. Keri skillfully changes her son's motivation using TAGteach methods and soon he is happily cooperating. Please note that Max is very TAG savvy and has had lots of great experiences with TAGteach. If you want to use TAGteach to help with something that might be scary or uncomfortable or you want to change a longstanding behavior, it is best to start first with fun things and activities that don't matter. The tag gains power with a strong reinforcement history and so you want a lot of fun and positive reinforcement associated with the tag before you start using it to change more difficult behavior.

more about Keri

TAGteacher Winner in Video Contest

Congratulations to TAGteacher Madeline Gabriel for winning second place in the 2010 Canis Film Festival. Madeline's video illustrated a wonderful combination of the clicker training for dogs and TAGteach for kids to teach about safety around dogs. She showed a unique approach to teaching both child and dog the appropriate behaviors in interacting with each other.

Watch Madeline's video, entitled "Dogs Like Kids they Feel Safe With"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TAG Teaching to TAG Thinking – A Path of Training for Dancers and other Performing Artists

By Ann Aiko Bergeron MFA

It all began with a Border Terrier named Ninja. Then a clicker in my hand. Now it’s simply a way of life. As a university professor who trains dancers, TAG teaching came as a natural progression of my obsessive interest in clicker training. At first I was hesitant to bring the techniques into a professional adult training program. Would my students think I was crazy? Would my university colleagues think I had gone off the deep end? Encouraged by Theresa McKeon, who sent me a box full of clickers after we had discussed the possibilities at a Clicker Expo, I told my classes that they were going to be my guinea pigs – that I had no idea where TAG teaching was going with them, but please humor me. Fortunately, I’m not known as the most conservative dance teacher, so they moved forward with goodwill and playful curiosity.

Before beginning TAG teaching in the dance class, I first had to set the foundation for the work, attempting to extinguish the foundation of fear-based training, which, unfortunately, traditional dance training has been steeped in for centuries. Dance classes were (and often still are) a place where you needed to be “good” or you would generally feel humiliated (either externally or self-imposed).  Many performing artists are severe type A’s. They can’t tolerate the idea of not being “good enough” or “right” and spend incredible amounts of wasted energy in self-denigration and negativity.  From day one I make it very clear that “wrong” and “right” don’t exist in my class – there are only focus points.

The fear of “failing” needed to be completely erased from the students’ mind.  The first thing the student needed to learn was “letting it go” when they didn’t achieve something they intended to. They learned to stay in the moment and move forward to the next moment rather than to dwell in their “failure”. I’ve discovered it takes a good year of “practice” to make this habit rather than a purposeful effort, but the result is a happier dancer who learns exponentially faster. Usually a smile and a deep exhalation from me will get them back on track until they learn to do the same signal for themselves.

Then of course, comes the tagging. Tagging with the clicker is great fun, and the students always ask  “can we tag today?” or confirm, “we need to tag the passé in the pirouette!” and on and on. But success tagging physical skills is already well documented. Those of us in the TAG and Clicker training community are pretty well convinced it works and depend on it on a daily basis. As a teacher of adult pre-professionals, the new questions for me became, how can I adapt the work so the student doesn’t depend on me to tag them all the time (yes, this can be time consuming!) and how can these concepts be re-shaped to help them in the future when they move on into the professional world? How can TAGteaching shape detail beyond basic skills that transform dance technicians into dance ARTISTS?

And so I introduced the concept of TAG thinking to my students. I think the best part about it is that it has taught the dancers to be very active, thinking learners (do I hear my dog saying “duh?), rather than passive, “teach me, teacher” machines.

After learning the concepts of TAGteaching in a practical, audibly-tagged manner, the students learn to establish their own tag points and approximations. At first I might offer them a list of choices, but eventually they become extremely observant of their own actions and are able to self-impose tag points that I could not have ever perceived! I will often repeat an exercise “across the floor” and ask each dancer to identify their personal tag point, and ask them to change it each time they are successful. And I encourage them to celebrate their successes – forget humility. I have been known to “spontaneously combust” (Jumping high in the air with my arms up shouting “yes” at the moment a student makes a very specific breakthrough - jackpotting). And I encourage them to do the same for themselves and others.  This keeps everyone positively invested in each individual’s progress, which is great distance away from the competitive negativity that is often prevalent in the dance classroom.

Another major TAG Thinking skill is the ability to judge one’s success ratio and know when to personally decrease or increase the criteria for success. Of course they learn this first by training each other so they fully understand how the dynamic works. I will often offer students a range of criteria for a certain step and let them shape their execution dependent on their self-knowledge of their current skills. There is absolutely NO stigma about doing the “easier” choice, and often a student progresses through increased criteria by the time we are finished with that particular exercise.

And here is where my heart really starts beating. I came upon a neurologically based explanation that moves far beyond my empirical observations in the classroom. Daniel Coyle’s THE TALENT CODE explores how talent grows in the brain.  In a nutshell, Coyle suggests that many neurologists now consider the neural insulator MYELIN to be the “holy grail” of acquiring skill. Coyle affirms, “Myelin’s vital role is to wrap those nerve fibers the same way that rubber insulation wraps a copper wire, making the signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out. When we fire our circuits in the right way our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed.”

Practicing “deeply” is at the core of developing myelin, but what TAGteachers can identify with most closely is that to practice deeply, you train in small increments.

“The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities, to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does.” Sound familiar?

Robert Bjork, the chair of psychology at UCLA says: “It’s all about finding the sweet spot. There’s an optimal gap between what you know and what you’re trying to do. When you find that sweet spot, learning takes off.” I am barely scratching the surface of this study here, but one can infer its significance on the scientific validity of TAGteaching and TAG Thinking.

In my classes, I call it “riding the myelin wave”. It is training deeply on that edge where the student is highly conscious of small increments of progress.  In order to stay on the optimum edge of this wave, the student must train without fear of “failure.” Any fear puts the student on the safe side of the wave and progress does not occur. In fact – it is a rule in my classes that when someone falls, we applaud them. We applaud them for riding the wave, going for that extra off-balance dynamic, going for that extra pirouette…this is what the classroom is for. It is a place to grow, a place where students are fully confident to take risks with only positive consequences.

Since integrating TAGteaching and TAG Thinking, every day in the classroom is exhilarating for me. I have seen so many young people find their confidence and personal voices, not only as artists, but also, more importantly, as human beings.

Ninja was the inspiration that changed my teaching life and philosophy.  We now “team teach” a special lecture for Introduction to Psychology students on learning theory called “FROM PUPS TO PIROUETTTES.” He’s a terrific teacher.


TAG Thinking affects dancers in the following ways:
1. A Dancer learns to stop dwelling on “Getting it right” and takes risks, riding the “myelin wave” which accelerates the neurological path to skill improvement.
2. At advanced levels, a Dancer learns to train him/herself in all situations and becomes less dependent on direct teacher feedback.  They can stay focused on personal approximations and decrease or increase of criteria in an effective manner.
3. A Dancer learns the joy of communal energy that happens in a TAG Thinking classroom. They often rediscover that dancing is FUN even when working extremely hard.

“One of the biggest changes I have seen in myself is my way of thinking. I have learned to let go any imperfections, lower the stakes, and shake it off. Most of this came about when we learned about TAG teaching. Being a perfectionist in most things, I want to always “get it right” and with dance there are so many elements to focus on. With the tagging aspect, I allow myself to focus on one improvement at a time (Slow and steady wins the race). I also learned to celebrate the accomplishments and simply ignore anything else. I started seeing this change in me near the second half of the semester. I try to smile as I cross the floor, knowing that I have nothing to lose and so much to gain. There isn’t a chance to fail, just a chance to learn and improve. That aspect of just clicking good behavior and ignoring all others is a great way to keep self-confidence and really focus on learning rather than success or failure.”

“My mind set has changed during this course from fearing I would do something incorrect to knowing I could make a mistake but know exactly what to do to make it better. TAG thinking in this course I would give lots of credit for my improvement. TAG thinking has enabled me to grow as a dancer because you are able to make mistakes and move past them. It allows you to use our intuition and trust yourself when performing a move. Trust your body; trust that you’re able to succeed by tweaking that one detail each time you perform it."

“TAG thinking has been a huge aspect of my new way of thinking. It is so great to find a particular area to focus on while doing a routine, and it is even more gratifying when I “click” myself for being able to do it. This way of thinking is revolutionary by eliminating frustrations with dance, and turning them into tag points, or goals."

“I think TAG thinking is a genius idea. Focusing on one specific element of a piece of dance, such as a turn, really helped us this semester. It made me identify something I needed to improve on, learn how to do it correctly, have the focus to try it, learn when I was doing it correctly and what it felt like when I was, and eventually perfect that specific element. I truly think we should start to incorporate tagging in all of our dance classes because I think it could help us learn more efficiently and faster. “

Ann Aiko Bergeron is a Morse-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Dance at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  She and her husband Dale live on the shore of Lake Superior and are owned by their two Border Terriers, Ninja and Banzai.

Monday, March 7, 2011

TAGteacher Tale - Junior Basketball

By Robin Sallie

This morning The Kidlet, age 8, is playing in the State Basketball tournament for 3rd place. She is a 3rd grader playing on a team with 4th graders.

On her own today, she got up early and started making a "TAG MAP." The fourth graders run very simple plays that it has taken my 3rd grader most of the season to figure out. Anyway, she made diagrams of where she needs to go on each play and put an X where she wants me to tag her.

We use a thumbs up during the practice, but I don't tag her during the games. That is the coach's job (and he ALMOST gets it.) I say that because yesterday they were down by a lot. At half time the coach called me over and asked me to tag the The Kidlet for stealing the ball. I gave her one tag point for defense - Stop the Ball Every Time - and one tag point for offense - Hustle to Your House.

She ended up with 9 steals and her team went from losing by 22 to losing by 2 points.

We started tagging The Kidlet when she arrived on our door step at 18 months old.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TAGteacher Tale: Nursing Skills Practice

by Maggie Ouillette

Here's the latest on the tagging project I have been working on.

I needed more practice with placing long term IV catheters in home care patients, and wanted to set myself up for success. I decided to use TAGteach to help me to be successful.

The first step was to review the procedure and identify tag points. It's very tempting to want to have errorless learning by tagging everything.

A few months ago, I was working on developing tag points for teaching medication injections.I learned from that experience that tagging every individual step isn't practical or necessary.
My goal was to identify the tag points that were most important for me to perform the skill successfully.

In analyzing the previous practice session, it was very apparent that my anxiety played a role in my performance. I decided that the first tag point would address that issue.

Exercise One:

The first exercise involved a behavior that would enhance my ability to remain calm and focused.
Walk to doorway, stop, take two deep breaths before entering the room. My husband tagged me for this one.

The instructions " After you stop at the doorway, the tag point is TAKE TWO DEEP BREATHS".

Rationale:This behavior will help learner (me) to maintain focus and relax prior to interacting with the patient.

I practiced walking to the doorway, stopping and taking two deep breaths. My husband Jim tagged me. I repeated the exercise five time, was successful each time.

Applications for medical and nursing students.
This deep breath behavior could be used for the multiple 'first' experiences, such as hands on procedures. Students could work in groups in the classroom setting, taking turns tagging one another.

Exercise Two: 

The second exercise involved naming each of the items listed. I wrote a list of all the supplies (fourteen items) needed for the procedure, including extra items that might be needed.

The instructions: "the tag point is NAME AN ITEM ON THE LIST".

Rationale: Immediate recall of all items needed for the procedure will help the procedure to go smoothly.
My husband tagged me each time I named an item. If I hadn't named all listed items, my husband waited a few seconds, then said "try again"

I performed the exercise four times. By the third time I was naming all items on the list without hesitation.Its amazing how good I felt that I was able to rattle off the items on the list.

Applications for medical and nursing students.

This exercise could be used to help familiarize students with supplies needed for procedures. A hands-on version would be easy to set up in a classroom situation, with students tagging one another for retrieving specific items.

I realize that these exercise may seem oversimplified. They are valuable because they start the learner at a point of success which can be built upon. Tag points should always be individualized for the specific learners.

The other behaviors that I will work on will be: advancing the introducer into the vein, handling the catheter with sterile forceps, and removing tourniquet immediately after veinpuncture.

More to come

Maggie Ouillette
Whitmore Lake Michigan

Monday, February 28, 2011

TAGteacher Tale: A Child Who "Gets It"!

Thanks to TAGteacher Lucas Canever from Italy for sharing this wonderful story about his young son. This is what happens when you start them early with TAGteach! It spills over into other aspects of their lives.

Tonight, after his bath, Alexander asked me for the clicker and some kibble to"work" with the dogs. they usually play a "look for!" game.The dogs are in the kitchen with me Alexander places the kibbles around the house, comes back to the kitchen, and screams "look for!" (cercacerca in Italian). The dogs rush out of the kitchen followed by a laughing Alexander.

Tonight he took one kibble and threw it to Akira (the border collie). I gave him this instruction: "Alexander, if you want, you can say "Akira, seduto (sit)", click and then give the kibble". I helped him for a couple of throws. After this I let him try alone. He worked pretty well for two or three repetitions.

Then with my BIG surprise Alexander said:"Akira The TAG is: seduto!" very very clear and with a good TAG phrasing.LOL!!!

He repetead this till the end of the kibbles!!! At the end the phrasing was this "Akira, my friend, The TAG is: seduto". This was absolutely AMAZING!!!

All the best, un abbraccio

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TAGteacher A Finalist in Video Competition

Congratulations to Level 2 TAGteacher Madeline Gabriel, for being chosen as a finalist in the Canis Film Festival video competition! This competition showcases the skills of top clicker trainers who use positive-reinforcement to achieve amazing training results. Madeline's video shows how to use TAGteach with the kids and clicker training with the dogs

Here is the link to the Canis Film Festival finalists. Enjoy all these terrific videos and it you want you can vote for your favourite:

TAGteacher Tale: TAGteach Was There When I Needed It

We were touched by this post from TAGteacher Leanne Smith from Australia who shared an intimate story of using TAGteach during a very difficult time.

It's all still very raw but I wanted to share a few key points with you all.

This weekend has been the worst one in my life with having to make the heartbreaking decision to put my gorgeous 8 1/2 year old German Shepherd Dog Merlin to sleep on Saturday. That's not so much what I want to share it's more the following two points that helped me through that day, sitting with him as he went and the past two days of tears.

1. TTouch taught me to do two things that helped here - first to listen with my heart and act on it, to use my intuition. This is what enabled me to make this decision and know that it was right even while my brain continued with the what if scenaris. Second - to breathe, to consciously take a deep breath and exhale allowing my body and mind to relax.

2. TagTeach taught me how to rewire my brain/develop new habits that were better for me than holding it all in and trying to deal with it. My TAG Point is exhale. I do it whenever I feel the distress building up - and it really helps.

Thank you Theresa for bringing this to us here in Australia - it was there when I needed it.

Leanne Smith