Friday, November 21, 2014

TAGteach in the Classroom: Managing Group Reinforcement

By Luca Canever

Managing the reinforcement for a group of people is one of the major difficulties that we may encounter. Especially if the people in question are 20 kids, 11 years old, with interests and personalities different from each other.

For the last two months I’ve been working in a school as a teacher. For the first time, I have the chance to use the marker with a large group — a group with no particular desire to be at school! How can we reinforce them? Some of the kids enjoy candies, some others like beads or extra time for recess. There are (they exist!) students who find study itself reinforcing, but, they are very, very, very rare.

What I have decided to do is to take a continuous rotation between different schedules of reinforcement: today we work for extra time for recess; tomorrow we will earn beads and bracelets; after that we will earn points for watching a movie, or to enjoy some favorite activity. It may seem an insurmountable obstacle and demoralizing at a first glance to find reinforcers suitable for a group of people. I think it could be done with a little imagination and desire to come up with new strategies. The more we become able to grasp behaviors to reinforce the easier it will be to reinforce these behaviors.

I used TAGteach in different situations; and even if I’m not using the marker, the principles of the methodology are always present (or at least I hope so…).

TAGteach for Writing Skills

PEN HOLDING: Many students have an incorrect pen holding habit. This can cause problems with the joints of the wrist, and difficulty in writing that could translate into, “I do not like to write,” or “I cannot write.” So if we want to educate future Shakespeares properly, holding the pen properly is the first step.

In this case I used two tag points:
  1. Squeeze your thumb and forefinger
  2. Push with the middle finger

The pen must be taken between thumb and forefinger and then it should rest on the middle finger. I found two good targets for these behaviors on YouTube.

First: put the pen on the table with the tip facing you.

Second: use the index and middle fingers of the left hand to position thumb and index of the writing hand to the correct height on the pen: exactly on the edge indicated by the index finger. The two photos show the two targets.

TAGteach for cursive writing and improving cognition

DYSGRAPHIA: One of my boys has some (fortunately light) cognitive problems. He writes in a disorderly manner and has few skills in the area of working memory. Instead of using some fallback strategies such as writing in capital letters or writing with the computer, I decided (respecting the personality and the expertise of the student), to have him write in cursive. I started with a tag point “Letters on Line,” to improve correct writing.The picture shows the first session we had. The red line shows his “standard” writing. Notice all those ups and downs? The blue line shows where I started marking (tagging “Letters on Line). The tagging session lasted throughout the green line. Then he continued on his own.

The difference is immediately obvious. 15 days after this intervention, the writing is still stable on the line, without me having to do other sessions. Not only that. I noticed that the way the boy is able to organize his thoughts for writing is becoming more streamlined and flowing — as if being able to write in order helps him think in order.

TAGteach for reading

READING SKILLS: Punctuation is not something that my kids are confident with. But reading with expression helps with understanding the text; and the positive experience of reading, according to the motto that I’ve just invented is, “If you can read, then you like to read.” Reading without difficulty means having the skills to study better, faster and more proficiently.

So I started to teach how to respect the pauses of punctuation with peer tagging. In peer tagging, two students work together from the same material. The exercise took place as follows: the first student reads, the second student tags his correct reading of punctuated text. The first tag point is “breathe on commas.” But it could be, at the next level, “Pause on dots,” After five tags the second peer starts reading and is tagged by the next student. That’s if you want the whole class to follow along. If you want to liven it up, just form groups of two or three students, setting shifts for the reader and for the markers with the kids doing the tagging!

About Luca

Luca Canaver is a Level 3 TAGteacher from Italy. Visit his website at:

Monday, November 17, 2014

TAGteach: Better than a Jedi Light Sabre!

This is an account by Seany Fdm Pogson, the father of a non-verbal child with severe developmental delay. Seany has been shaping new behaviors with his daughter, Tink, using TAGteach. Former efforts by therapists to teach Tink using hand-over-hand methods had not worked well and in fact Tink had rebelled against this touching by refusing to cooperate and regressing in some previously learned behaviors. Seany has had huge success with shaping many new behaviors and Tink is very tag savvy (and Seany is an excellent shaper!), so when Tink got sick and required oral antibiotics via syringe, Seany was able to avoid force and shape Tink to accept the syringe and happily take her medicine. Here is his account of this process:

TAGteach Jedi moments

Tink's not well and has an ear infection and the flu. Having an ear infection is also amplified by sensory processing problems, so making sure she has her medicine on time is important. Normally Tink's very good at taking her medicine but this morning not a chance. She pushed the syringe away. I tried once more this time Tink pushed the syringe away and avoided any further attempts by hugging her pillow in her play pen and biting it. This she will do when excited, stressed or if she just needs a hug and gets a hug from her pillow because sometimes she can't cope with the sensory of being hugged. So it was a no go, I couldn't even get anywhere near her mouth. Then I had a Jedi moment and a calm reassuring voice popped in my head like Ben Kenobi (Martha Gabler) "use the tag Seany". Straight away my own voice of determination popped in to my head and said "I can do this shit".

So I got the clicker from my pocket and sat near the playpen for a moment till Tink calmed down a bit from her rocking and biting on her pillow. Then I calmly reached over the to her with the syringe of medicine till I was about foot away from her face were she was burrowing it in the pillow whilst biting it. This was the first tag point and clicked and I paired it with praise "did it " (the clicker now has become a conditioned reinforcer). So I moved it forwards again a bit but waited till a brief pause in the biting as I moved the syringe closer and tagged again (clicked ) and verbal praise. This time as I tagged I noticed a brief sideways eye movement in my direction at the sound of the tag, so I seized the day and moved the syringe closer, tagged again and rewarded with "did it". Tink then moved her head up a bit sideways off the pillow, so again I moved the syringe closer about 2 inches from her mouth and tagged her. Then I moved the syringe to her lips were she grabbed it and put in her mouth and I was able to get over half in and tagged her and rewarded her with "did it yeyyyyyyyy ". At this point I was confident that she would do the same as the last time so I moved the syringe to her lips and she did exactly the same and she emptied the syringe so tagged and big "DID IT " and passed her drink to her.

This is how TAGteach and Applied Behaviour Analysis is teaching me to think. As I use it more, the more effective it and my thinking become. It's teaching me to think on my feet and apply it on my feet. This is far greater than any light sabre and more useful than any force. This is teaching me and my daughter at the same time.

Read more about Tink:

TAGteach Tale:  From Sensory Avoidance to Self-Feeding – Tink’s journey to success
TAGteach Tale: Tink rocked her blood tests!

Find out more about teaching a special needs child with TAGteach:

Martha Gabler (autism mother) TAGteach blog - free tips and step-by-step descriptions 
Free ebook by Martha Gabler: Behavior Basics - A Primer for Parents - ABA terminology explained in simple terms for parents