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

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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.

The best-designed tag points move the learner forward but don’t ask him to teeter on the brink of failure.

A tag point is a specific learning goal that, when achieved, will earn the learner immediate positive reinforcement. With TAGteach we use a marker (a click sound usually) to tell the learner, “Yes, that was right.” This is crystal clear communication that comes at the exact moment the learner meets the goal (the tag point). If the learner doesn’t meet the tag point, then the teacher doesn’t tag and the learner knows to self-assess and try again.

Are Mistakes Essential for Learning?

Some people have remarked after watching a TAGteach session or seeing some of our videos, “They got a tag every time, don’t they need to make mistakes to learn?” The answer is, no they don’t need to make mistakes to learn. A TAGteacher will always try to set the learner up to succeed and never purposely make things too difficult. The whole point of using TAGteach is to create clear communication, encourage focus and build a desire to succeed. When the fear of failure is reduced, the learner can focus on the task at hand. Learners gain skills quickly and without an undue amount of stress.

Video Example #1

Watch this video of the three try rule in action. The learner makes three mistakes in a row. Instead of asking him to try again and risk frustration (and a full-on meltdown) the teacher goes back to a previous tag point and starts to build up again from there.

Video Example #2

Here’s another example. Watch these excellent coaches break down the moves for this athlete. Note that as soon as the learner misses her tag point or starts to show signs of frustration, the coaches make it easier and start from a point of success to build up again.


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, quickly, and intensively. 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 (and adults) can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

To learn more about this effective, low-cost method visit TAGteach International or Chaos to Calm

Join the free TAGteach for Learning, Behavior, and Autism Facebook group

TAGteach taggers available here and i-Clicks available here

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

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Joan Orr

I am a co-founder of TAGteach International and co-founder of non-profit Doggone Safe. I am co-owner of Doggone Crazy!, which produces the Doggone Crazy! board game, the Be a Tree teacher kit, the Clicker Puppy training DVD and several ebooks. I am co-author with Teresa Lewin of the book: Getting Started Clicker Training with Your Rabbit. I was a member of the faculty of the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Clicker Expo for 9 years and was a consultant and content creator for the Karen Pryor Academy for Dog Trainers.

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