Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TAGteach Defined

by G. David Smith, PhD.,  BCAB-D, Psychologist, Board Certifed Behavior Analyst

What is TAGteach?

Previously I have learned and practiced clicker training (see Karen Pryer, Don’t Shoot the Dog, 2002) and observed the use of TAGteach with learners who have autism. Though the founding principles and logic of these practices are compelling I have more often than not observed inconsistent application and (not surprisingly) erratic results. Until now I have had nagging misgivings about the efficacy of TAGteach with human learners. My recent participation in a TAGteach Primary Certification Seminar ( see www.tagteach.com) has remedied these concerns.

TAGteach is a system for teaching (and changing behavior) which relies heavily on the use of positive reinforcement. It emphasizes the acquisition of new (adaptive and desirable) responses to improve behavior. The acronym TAG stands for “teaching with acoustical guidance” and it is the delivery of a distinct sound (at the moment a learner performs a targeted response) that distinguishes this method from other learning-based behavior change techniques. In addition to positive reinforcement, TAGteach artfully incorporates the use of other scientifically established principles and practices of learning/teaching including; task analysis, shaping by successive approximations, discrimination training, differential reinforcement of alternative responding, errorless discrimination, generalization, behavioral momentum, modeling/imitation, vicarious reinforcement, extinction, and negative punishment. TAGteach advances the technology of teaching beyond clicker training by incorporating principles of human motivation, self awareness, and the judicious use of language.

To be effective, the TAGteacher must clearly conceive and articulate the learner’s new behavior as an observable response so that they and the learner will reliably recognize it. This is referred to as the TAGpoint. When TAGteaching, the “teacher” engages with the learner in a uniquely alert and interactive manner so the teacher is able to deliver a “tag” every time the learner performs the designated response.

Though there is a dearth of published research on the efficacy of TAGteach, its faithful incorporation of already established behavioral principles and practices and a large body of anecdotal evidence lend it credence. There are many questions (e.g. Does the acoustical marker act as a conditioned reinforce?) about which variables (exactly) give this technique the power to effectively and efficiently improve behavior. These can and should be addressed experimentally. Nevertheless, my own experience and study suggest that the most powerful effect is on the teacher’s behavior. Using the technique requires a degree of precision (conceptualizing and articulating the “target” response) and attention (to the learner’s responding) that is commonly avowed by teachers and other behavior analysts but is seldom practiced. Informed use of TAGteach promises to improve teacher/intervener effectiveness. TAGteach provides a tangible format that has the potential to efficiently prompt and support optimal intervener behavior and to improve learner outcomes. These prospects call for systematic study and replication.

TAGteach provides a concrete, straightforward, and readily acquired methodology contrasting with common practice which tends to be overly complicated, poorly focused, and inconsistently applied. By using TAGteach as a core teaching technique, instructional strategies can be streamlined and intervener skills strengthened as they have repeated opportunities to practice and refine a discrete set of powerful teaching skills.

TAGteach Defined 

TAGteach is a behavior change technique that emphasizes the use of positive reinforcement and incorporates several well established behavioral principles and practices. Though its purpose is to improve learner behavior, its first effect is on teacher behavior. In TAGteach the first “learner” is the teacher who learns to deliver a stimulus immediately upon detection of a predetermined learner response – the TAGpoint. Faithful implementation and thorough understanding of TAGteach call for systematic study of the teacher’s actions. In order to facilitate systematic study, I propose the adoption of a standard name and concise definition of teacher actions critical to the efficacy of TAGteach.

Because it describes an action, the focal TAGteach event is best named by use of a (gerund) form of the verb, “tagging.” Dictionary (www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definitions/tag) definitions of the verb “tag” include;
  1. Attach a tag or label to.
  2. Touch a player while he is holding the ball.
  3. Provide with a name or nickname.
  4. Supply (blank verse or prose) with rhymes.
  5. Go after with the intent to catch; “The policeman chased the mugger down the alley”; “the dog chased the rabbit”.
  6. To fit with, or as with, a tag or tags.
  7. To join; to fasten; to attach.
  8. To follow closely after; esp., to follow and touch in the game of tag.
  9. To follow closely, as it were an appendage; — often with after; as, to tag after a person.
  10. Base verb from the following inflections: tagging, tagged, tags, tagger, taggers, taggingly and taggedly.
Drawing upon these definitions, “tagging” as used in the context of TAGteach may be defined as follows;
Tagging – To produce a stimulus (that the learner detects) as soon as a learner performs a specified response (the tag point)
This is a function-based definition (Cooper et al, 2007, p 65) as it designates a class of responses (tagging) which have a common effect on the environment (production of a sensory stimulus). This class of responses may comprise topographically distinct actions all producing the same outcome including, for example;

The teacher depresses the surface of a clicker with his thumb causing it to make a sound….
The teacher blows into a whistle causing it to make an audible sound….
The teacher makes a clicking sound with her mouth…

Assuming that the teacher produces a clicking sound with her mouth to tag and the tag point is “hand on cup,” the following illustrates application of this definition to describe teacher tagging.
The teacher makes a clicking sound with her mouth as soon as the learner places either hand on the cup.
 Posted with permission from http://gdsbc.com/blog/

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