By Fanna Easter CPDT-KA, ACDBC, KPA CTP, ABCDT-L2
It sounds like a good problem, right, but I wondered if my students were learning as much as they should. After adding TAGteaching into my classes, either teaching pet parents or Dog Trainers, I noticed we zoomed through our daily course material. Interestingly, this allowed additional break periods, which increases learning, I think. Was I doing something wrong? But why were we moving so fast? Were students learning and retaining? What to do with all that extra time?
Why were we moving so fast?
Since learning about and adding TAGteaching, to classes I teach (entire world actually!), I speak less and practice more. Now, I’m a talker, really, I am! Speaking less means I need to be very prepared, so I don’t ramble on, to make my point. Rambling is very reinforcing to me, as it redirects my “non-prepared” energy somewhere else, however, I see my students’ eyes glaze over (not very reinforcing to me). Now, on average, I speak/instruct 30-40% of the time, during a four week class session. Before, I spoke/instructed 75% of the time - eek! Usually, there’s more chatter on the first day, as everyone is excited and we have a new things to cover.
During a one hour class, I divide into “review” and “new” sessions, with “well used” tag points for common learning curves (think loose leash walking, there’s a lot going on and tag points are fabulous). During “review”, we cover what was taught last week, or if teaching fellow dog trainers during a seminar, what we covered the day before. We have plenty of time to practice, add duration, distance and distractions and create behavior chains to strengthen previously learned cues. Then we move on to the “new” session covering four new behaviors, with practice, under using distractions, adding duration and distance. Now, I don’t “over do” practice sessions, as it can get boring quickly. If I see students are successful 80% of the time, during a 1-2 minute practice session, we move on, either to the next “review” or “new” behavior.
Are students learning and retaining?
Well, I closely observed my students, to confirm they are learning and retaining. On week one, I explain “if you don’t understand something, this is my fault, I’ve not explained it correctly”, and pet parents interrupt this as “if my dog is confused, I’m not clear, so I need to take a moment and figure this out”. And I do think this calms students, by teaching that the pressure off, I’m not judging, we are in this together. By Week 3, students were answering their own questions. Ah ha, they are learning and retaining! A pet parent may ask about loose leash walking, in a park, and then say “Oh, that’s right, I need to move slower and reward often in a new situation. Never mind, I think I got it!” YES!
Hum, so then I looked at class retention. I would start a new class with 7-8 students and end with 7 students by graduation day, some dropped due to personal reasons, which is normal. 88% retention, on grad day, is not bad! I remember my 50% retention rate, back in 1998, and I thought that was good! Now, I have clusters of 100% retention, and then I know I was rocking it and review my previous notes so I continue this great behavior! Hum, so retention is good, they are learning at lightning speed, is this success? My gut says yes, and classes fill quickly, within one week of advertising, but I wanted to know more.
After class, we always ended with “questions for Fanna” time and no one had any questions! Now, that freaked me out, as someone always has questions. I assumed most would stay after class, to ask their question in private. Nope! They thanked me, hugged my neck and left- WOW! I remember the old days, when people lingered and asked multiple questions, which I know we covered in class already. And, no “email questions” during the week either - DOUBLE WOW!
What to do with all that extra time?
Usually, we ended each class session 10-15 minutes early. Yikes, what to do? Folks want that extra 10-15 minutes they paid for, right? This puzzled me, we could practice more, I guess. We added games, but my gut was saying I was “overdoing it”. Oh Oh, I noticed people sitting down, not participating as much, and offering a “we’ve done this already” face. Speaking less and practicing more has worked, but practicing too much was punishing. Now what??? We started voting! If you want to leave early, you are welcome to. If you want to stay and practice a new trick, you are more than welcome to stay. WOW - this really seemed reinforcing to students, and usually one person would stay, and was usually the overachiever. But by Week Three, even the overachiever did not stay after class. The only question, on graduation day, that pops up “what class should I take next, we want to keep going”. Music to my ears!
I’ve learned, students staying after class, was reinforcing to me. I do miss the long line of students, waiting to get a few “extra” minutes of my time; it makes me feel rather important, like a Rock Star. And I’m a bit jealous, gazing at the long line my fellow dog trainers accumulate after class. Then, there I am, alone, left with sticky treat fingers and dog hair fluff, from class. Guess I need to reward myself with going home early too!
Fanna Easter, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, KPA CTP, ABCDT-L2, is very passionate about the power of positive training for dogs and humans! With her past experience, as PETCO’s National Dog Training Expert, where Fanna and her team, tirelessly developed and launched positive reinforcement training methods in all PETCO's 1250 stores and training over 2000 Dog Trainers. Fanna is currently teaching at Dogs and Kat Behavior Counseling and Training Center, in Nashville TN. She teaches everything from Positive Puppy Manners to Relaxed Rovers classes. Fanna is the Managing Supervisor of Dog Training Nation, and launching their website soon at www.dogtrainingnation.com.