Pairing – When Learning is Fun!

This guest blog post comes courtesy of the wonderful Giulia Longato, BCBA. She is writing about pairing, and I have seen her first hand pair like a pro! Over to Giulia…

Pairing tastes like my nonna’s cakes, sounds like my favourite professor’s lecture, looks like my parents picking me up from the airport and smells like my friend’s hug. Whenever I have such experiences, I know things will get better.

This is Giulia – our guest blogger!

Pairing is essentially rapport-building and it is the first component to good teaching. When pairing, you want to be the provider of everything your child likes. A marble run, playing chase, tickles, sharing a snack, painting, water play… the list is endless! Find what your learner likes (reinforcers), get into your child’s fun and make it more fun when you are there.

Pairing is based on stimulus stimulus pairing, the process by which teachers, the environment, teaching materials, games (neutral stimuli) are established as positive – i.e. approachable and pleasant – by associating them (pairing) with established reinforcers (your learner’s favourite items and activities).

When pairing, you should give the reinforcers freely, without demands, only with the expectation that the learner stays with you (you can’t build rapport if you’re not together!). You should cleanse the environment – this means the fun stuff should be under your control and the child should access it via your mediation. You should feel like a gigantic toy!

Successful pairing teaches the child that you are fun, and that when you show up good things happen. It leads to the child running to you – not away from – as soon as he or she sees you!

Learning occurs more easily and effectively when the teaching environment has been conditioned as an enjoyable place to be.

A great visual explaining pairing from Behavioral Interventions and Solutions

Here are a few tips to become a pairing master:

1 – Have fun! Be silly and think outside the box. Use the toys and the objects all around you like you’ve never done before. A plastic cup can be spun like a spinning top, rolled down the sofa cushion, used as if it was a skittle, for water play, etc.

2 – Be a giver, not a taker – Be a giver of good things for free. When it is time to get the item back, make something else interesting and offer it while taking the other one back.

3 – Play starts with you and stays with you! You are in control of the reinforcers and the integral part of the game.

4 – Go with the (MO) flow – Follow the child’s lead (motivation), see the world through your learner’s lenses, imitate your pupil’s actions.

5 – Observe and plan – See what your learner does (e.g. what is he/she reaching for, what is he/she looking or smiling at?), plan for some activities where you can incorporate established reinforcers with new ideas.

6 – The more, the merrier – Have a variety of toys available, and remember that you can use everyday items and physical play too!

7 – Be a role model – model words, phrases, signs, and play that you want your child to do more of.

8 – Pairing never ends! Pairing is crucial when you first start working with your student, but remember to pair with him/her throughout every session. Pairing leads to instructional control (when the child follows your instructions willingly) and it should always be the foundation of an ABA programme.

Pairing is the core of any ABA intervention because it is the gateway to finding what your learner likes while establishing rapport. It also creates the basis to work on requesting (manding) and teaching other skills, like play and self-help skills, labelling objects, following instructions and much more. 

Fill your pairing bag up with toys and laughter and get ready for new fun adventures!

Teaching Group Responding: Squad School

Teaching group responding skills is super important. It’s a set of skills that most children don’t need to be taught intensively. But when they do, it can be tough! It’s really important for a person to be able to respond to group demands in order to be an independent learner in the classroom.

 

If you really think about it, it’s pretty difficult to think about the skills needed to respond as part of a group. I think most people would assume that if you can answer questions and respond on a 1-1 basis, then you can answer as part of a group. Pre ABA I definitely would have seen that as pretty much the same thing. This is definitely not my experience when working with children with learning difficulties and/or autism. 

 

If you don’t break down skills the way that ABA does, it can be difficult to know what’s ‘missing’. The VB MAPP and ABLLS-R break down skills in this area well. I generally use these assessments to guide which skills need to be taught, especially as the VB MAPP is developmentally sequenced (lists the skills needed in the correct order). 

 

It can be tough to teach these skills in schools. Children often go from 1-1 learning in to a class of 15 or more children, and that jump can be too high. It can sometimes be the case that the learners sit appropriately as part of a group, but sitting with the absence of problem behaviour, and learning as part of a group, are not the same thing, and it’s not enough. Another common observation is that teachers may ask the learner several questions during group time (which is great, we want to encourage active student responding), but they are presented using the learners name, with direct eye contact (so again, essentially a 1-1 response, when sitting as part of a group). It must be presented non specifically such as ‘everybody go and get your pencil case’, or ‘can you all show me clapping’, not ‘Joey, go and get your pencil case’.

 

If group skills need to be taught, it usually needs to start in a small group (maybe even 3 participants to start). Reinforcers should be delivered from the person running the group. It’s important that 1-1’s don’t simply repeat what the teacher says, because even if the learner is sitting in a group and responding, it’s still a 1-1 demand, not a group one. Instead, stand behind the learner, and if they need prompting use physical prompts where possible and fade (no talking). Remember, that when starting out and establishing group responses, it’s good to start with skills that are already fluent on a 1-1 basis, teaching new skills and group responding at same time can increase the effort on the learners part. Provide lots of opportunities to respond in the group, the more responses, the more opportunity for reinforcement; we only learn if we behave. 

 

It’s not always easy for teachers to cater for this within the school day. It may be due to time restraints, lack of staff, or the fact that it’s not necessarily fair to other children to participate in a group that is too easy for them, just to benefit the learner you’re working with; all fair points. It has worked in the past by collaborating closely with teachers, and taking any given chance to squeeze some group time in. You can start out teaching group responses during fun games (like Simon Says, or Befuzzled), so it could be done in golden time, or a break time/free play. The most important thing is working with the teacher to see what can be realistically done. Providing some data can also be useful, showing a simple tally of how many opportunities there were to respond over a given time, and if they were 1-1 or group, prompted or independent. Further down the line, there is some good research for hand raising.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this. All of the above has motivated a colleague and I  (Holly Cowlam, previous guest blogger, check out her website here) to start a group teaching group skills. The group is called Squad School, and will be run out of The Children’s Place clinic in London. If you’re interested in signing up, or finding out more, check out the flyer below. There’s a free drop in day to meet Holly and I at 9am on Wednesday 23rd August, at The Children’s Place Marylebone clinic. Or just comment on the blog/email the address on the flyer if you want to ask any questions! Thanks!

Squad School 2017