TAG Teaching

Terry's Tips > TAG Teaching

T Teaching by
A Acoustical
G Guidance

I was fortunate to be able to attend one of Karen Pryor's annual clicker training expositions in Orlando, Florida in November 2004. A three-day event, there were beginners, intermediate and advanced tracks. There were many seminars on clicker training with animals other than dogs. I was fascinated by TAG - a means to teach skills to children of all abilities. There were many cases of autistic and otherwise handicapped children learning life skills by use of the clicker. I saw demonstrations and videos of a gymnastics teacher coaching children in various skills.

We have language...So why the clicker with children?

What follows is the dialog gymnastic coach Theresa McKeon used to explain TAG teaching to a new staff member during a demonstration. Please think of your dog as you read the gym teacher's explanation:

"The clicker provides a language free communication system that has precision, clarity & consistency. There can be no emotion or judgmental tone of voice, The clicker is an impartial third party.

We break down a skill into "TAG points". A TAG point is a single response, action or position (RAP). The RAPS join together to make a complicated move in gymnastics.

Coaches tell you what you did wrong...The clicker tells you what you did right! The TAG can only be used as a positive. The sound from the clicker is an instantaneous messaging system that has no other meaning but "yes, you have it." It should never signal "No, that's wrong" or "not enough."

The clicker marks the correct response, action or position the moment it occurs delivering instant information and reinforcement that facilitates the development of long-term memory. The absence of a click tells the student that the agreed upon response (TAG point) did not occur. The onus is on the student to think and correct and make the coach click the next time. Coach and athlete become equal partners, communicating with each other in a positive way.

Breaking It Down to Build Success

In order to master complex objectives, the teacher must break things down into manageable pieces. In TAG teaching, this means the teacher and student agree to focus on a single response, action or position. We call this a TAG Point. A TAG Point must be clear, concise and have a Yes or No answer as to its completion. As this tag point is correctly performed, it is audibly marked or "tagged" by a small plastic and metal device called a clicker. If the tag point is performed incorrectly or not attempted, it is simply not tagged. If the student does not receive a tag, he can try again or continue to search for the correct position until he gets the tag. If after three tries the element has not been tagged, the teacher takes responsibility and backs up one step on the difficulty level and teaches the element again. The student quickly begins to associate a correct performance with the sound of the clicker and therefore the click becomes a conditioned positive reinforcement.


Gymnast - TAG point 1 - point toes in handstand
As she points her toes, she receives a tag (instant information and motivation).
"Yes, I did it right!"
If the toes never attempt to point, no TAG (instant information and motivation).
"No TAG, my toes did not point, I need to try that again."

The One and Only

Don't put conditions on your TAG point. The point should be clear and easily obtainable. While learning a skill, only one criterion of an element should be tagged at a time.

Commitment to a single TAG point creates trust and focus for student and teacher. Any other lapses in the performance of that skill should be must be noted and worked into a future tag point."

The next time you watch the Olympics, you can wonder if the athletes were clicker trained - like your dog.

For More Information Go to TAGteach International

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