Interview with a TAGteacher: Occupational therapist Mary Handley on handwriting instruction

Interview Mary


Check out the latest in our Interview with a TAGteacher series. This time we talked to Mary Handley, a school-based occupational therapist who is working with a 3rd grader to improve his handwriting. Noah’s handwriting skills were not functional and this was affecting his grades and his attitude at school. Mary explains with several video examples how she helped Noah to improve significantly in just four sessions using TAGteach applied with her usual method of teaching.


The Three Try Rule – How to Make Sure Your Learners Stay in the Game

3 try rule


How do you feel when you try something and make mistakes over and over? How do you feel when it seems that you are disappointing the person trying to teach you? Do you feel energized and excited to be “learning from your mistakes” or do you feel frustrated and discouraged? For most people and especially kids with autism, repeated failure and “just one more’s” make them anxious, frustrated and wanting to escape to do something less stressful. Sometimes the result of too much pressure to try something too hard results in a full-on meltdown. Once this happens, there is no more learning.

This is why we suggest the three try rule. If a learner fails three times (or fewer) to meet the specific learning goal (the tag point), go to a past point of success and move forward in smaller increments. A point of success is something earlier in the learning process that you are 100% sure the learner can get right. By starting at a point of success and moving forward in small steps you build on existing success instead of searching blindly for a good starting point. Of course the ‘three try rule’ isn’t really a rule. The learner doesn’t HAVE to fail three times. If it is clear the learner will not likely achieve the tag point criterion after the first failure, or the learner is very sensitive to failure, jump right in and clarify or break the skill down further and change the tag point.


How I taught my nonverbal child with autism to read

autism, reading, TAGteach, Direct Instruction, ABA

Reading — From dream to reality

I am the mother of a nonverbal boy with severe autism.

It was very important to me that my son be able to read:

  • I can accept that he has severe autism
  • I can accept that he is nonverbal
  • I could not accept that he would go through life not knowing how to read

It took me a long time and many hours of work. I made many mistakes. Eventually I succeeded. Here are the steps I used to teach my son to read:

  1. Make sure foundation skills are in place
  2. Use Direct Instruction reading programs
  3. Provide lots of supports and lots of opportunities to practice
  4. Use TAGteach to deliver precise, in-the-moment positive reinforcement for correct responses.

Step One: make sure foundation skills are in place

The skills a child with autism will need to begin reading instruction include the ability to sit at a table for at least 15-20 minutes and the ability to respond to questions or complete tasks (this is generally achieved through an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) or VB (Verbal Behavior) program).

During the pre-reading instruction, I focused on increasing the range of sounds my son could produce, and mastering as many labels of objects and actions as possible: such as cat, dog, house, running, sitting, sleeping and so forth.


Great TAGteach ideas for the classroom from Italy!

TAGteach, tag point, teaching, positive reinforcementTAGteach goes international

Around the world people are using TAGteach to help children and adults learn new skills.

This article comes from Luca Canever, an educator and Level 3 TAGteacher from Verona, Italy. He shares his knowledge, dedication and love of positive reinforcement techniques at his website, TAGteach Italia.

Luca tells how he came up with great reinforcement ideas for his entire class (group reinforcement!), and how he used TAGteach to help students with specific problem areas. Here is his story.

TAGteach at school: Reinforcing the group

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.


TAGteach Tale: Turning reading stress into reading success with TAGteach!

autism help, tagteach, direct instruction, reading A friend sent me this uplifting story about one of her students who is learning to read.  She introduced TAGteach in a recent session and her student’s performance soared.

A tired student

“I have been working with a young girl with intellectual disabilities and speech challenges. She is learning to read with the well-known Direct Instruction Corrective Reading Decoding program. Dani (not her real name) came in this week looking tired and dispirited, and struggled with the first few words in the Word Attack practice section.

Using TAGteach for reading practice

This time, instead of cajoling her, I pulled out a tagger and started reinforcing correct and timely responses. For example, we worked on the word “each.” She had to say the sound of the underlined letter combination “ch,” then read the entire word, “each.” After asking her the first question, “what sound?” I sat back and waited for her response. She did not respond so I turned my head slightly away and gazed at a wall. After a pause, I heard a soft “ch” sound. This earned Dani a prompt tag. I asked “what word” and she responded fairly rapidly with “each.”

Direct Instruction So it continued. She earned tags for prompt responses (within 5 seconds of the request), and after working through two or three rows of words, she was responding on cue. I glanced at her and noticed that she was also responding with a stronger tone of voice AND had a smile on her face! We ended up having a terrific reading session. She completed Word Attack in record time with no errors. Her oral reading fluency for the text passage shot up by 23 words per minute from the previous session.


Lots of tags = high rate of reinforcement … and joy!

She earned 124 tags in 50 minutes.  This translates into 2.5 experiences of positive reinforcement per minute! In real time, she was being reinforced about every 25 seconds, so that is a very high rate of reinforcement. With her 124 tags she earned 12 tokens (10 tags per token) which she happily exchanged for prizes from our Reward Bin. Way to go, TAGteach!”

TAGteach: Good for academic skills as well as functional behaviors

This remarkable story shows how tagging Dani’s responses transformed this reading session into a successful, joyful learning experience.  Many people are aware that TAGteach is a proven way to increase functional behaviors. It is also a marvelous way to increase academic behaviors.

What is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

TAGteach enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” the behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior! The acoustical signal is a short, sharp sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger”). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer.

With TAGteach, it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely and quickly. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time. With immediate feedback and learning tasks broken down into small steps, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

box clickers (1)Check out the TAGteach International website.

Join the free TAGteach listserve.

TAGteach taggers are available here.

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or ask a question (with no obligation).

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TAGteacher tale: Skill and faith – shaping behavior in a child with autism

scribblesBy Joan Orr MSc

There are two things that a TAGteacher needs to be successful. These are skill in applying the technology and faith in the technology. The skill comes from having a good understanding of the principles underlying the science of behavior, having a good understanding of the principles of TAGteach and lots of tagging practice. The faith comes from experience and seeing it work again and again and just knowing that it works.

Denise Blackman posted a story to the TAGteach Yahoo group that gives a perfect illustration of the combination of skill and faith resulting in a successful outcome.

Here is Denise’s post (reposted with permission):

I don’t normally post, but I had a fun experience today and want to share it.

I work as a consultant to a preschool program for children with autism. Yesterday we were discussing one of the kids, “Robert”, an almost 4-year-old boy who does not currently speak, make eye contact, imitate, play with others, or follow most directions.

One of the many things “Robert” is working on is writing. His writing goal is to draw a vertical line. Unfortunately he wasn’t making any progress on the goal. Rather than trying to copy the line, he just scribbled on the paper. We decided to try TAGteach with him.