Pairing with a side of Spongebob

There’s a reason all those fancy restaurants that I never go to anymore because tuition has me living off of photosynthesis and espresso these days have a ‘recommended pairings’ section on their menu. Like a good combination of wine and cheese, some things are just made to be together because they enhance the experience. When we talk about pairing in ABA we don’t usually talk about wine, though let’s face it, after the odd session it seems to be a perfect match for a long soak in a tub full of bubbles, but why is pairing so relevant? How often do we use pairing every day? And what have we paired for ourselves?

I work in 1:1 sessions with kids with autism and always, always, always start off with a brief period of pairing. When we pair with clients, we find ways to plug ourselves into the equation of their MO, and by association, become reinforcing too. We play with them, engage with their toys, add tickles and snacks and bubbles and all sorts of fun shiny excitement to the day to not only build the relationship and rapport, but to establish ourselves as the Gateway to Entertainment. We’re fun, we’re the access to all the fun stuff, and now, magically, the client sees value in our interaction. The way I always look at it is pairing is the “so what” factor in our client relationships; be motivating enough that they want to work with you, or you’ll have a hard time getting them engaged. Pairing procedures build good happy relationships with more than just therapists. Using the same methodology of building associations between happy fun reinforcing things and aversive stimuli, desensitization occurs. So what the knick-knack-paddy-whack does this have to do with anything? Can you think of anything you might want to desensitize yourself to? Something anxiety-inducing, overwhelming, that you don’t feel motivated to do?

Oh right. There’s that exam coming up.

Real talk, folks. Technology is a beautiful thing that has brought us so far and beyond what Ye Olde Schooling of Yore has been able to do for us, but it isn’t the be-all-end-all. Schools love to boast that bringing your laptop to class or your fancy shmansy keyboarded tablet are the stupendous touchscreen vehicles to your academic success; while they type a mean assignment and graph like a dream, and provide endless youtube content for lame lectures you can’t stand to be in, typed notes don’t do your learning justice, according to a study by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California. One of my favourite study tips has always been recognition =/= recall, and this is no different. While typing is statistically faster than handwriting, lecturers always tell you not to write it out word for word, but it’s almost reflexive to transcribe it all in one go. It’s the keyboard equivalent of accidentally highlighting the entire textbook for the important stuff when you only need a few lines at a time. You recognize all the things they had to say, but you may not recall the most important parts of the lecture. But is the effort of writing out notes worth it over the convenience of having ALL the information readily available at the touch of a button? Is it worth the hand cramp and the bajillion sheets of paper?

Spoiler alert: it totally is.

Taking your notes by hand accomplishes two critical things for retaining information – you have to be selective with what you write down and how you write it, mindfully filtering information for what’s most important, otherwise known as “encoding information”, and the “external storage hypothesis” which relates to preserving the information you’ve already encoded. TLDR – your brain has a better iOS than your macbook, sorry not sorry. Ultimately, research indicates that writing your notes out by hand has more value for building “conceptual application” in your studies. The research in Mueller and Oppenheimer’s work strongly suggest that reviewing physical notes, even if they aren’t yours, lead to better test scores than reviewing from laptops. Some other studies have also suggested that muscle memory for the writing process, or, for those with stronger visual perceptive skills, the style of note-taking and layout of the notes themselves as a study prompt and memory cue.

But what about the response cost of writing by hand? What’s reinforcing about handwriting your notes, other than knowing it’s probably better for you? How can you make it visually stimulating and worth the extra work?

Believe it or not, our entire Instagram legacy was born from Liat’s own creative note-taking as her reinforcement for studying for the big exam. Here’s where we get creative ourselves and pair reinforcing stimuli with the aversive hand-writing notes to make the process more fun, more stimulating, and more motivating. Often, I re-write my notes from the sloppy in-class handwriting to a neater and more cohesive version that I can pretty up however I please. I may post notes that look Super Extra ™ on our page, but believe it or not, my own study guides are usually pretty linear and minimalist! I, personally, remember things in a weird alien shorthand that usually only makes sense to me, and usually use a bunch of tables and charts to sort my thinking. I colour-code, compartmentalize, and use a shitload of arrows to connect the dots between my points. But how do you find what works for you?

Most importantly, above all else, and with vim, vigour, and vitality, PLAY! Play with your layout, your colours, your short-hands, your lettering. Find something that makes sense to you, as a learner, and run with it. Make your notes something you want to look at, not something you have to. Pretty pens, quirky pen-toppers, midliners in your favourite colours, washi tape, post-it notes – whatever brings you joy and makes your notes pop. Not sure where to start? We curated a selection of our favourite things for you, A good notebook doesn’t hurt either. If you still aren’t convinced that paper notes are the way to go, check out Whitelines notebooks for their nifty grey paper with, as the name suggests, white lines. The groovy folks at Whitelines have a groovy app that’s free to download that allows you to scan all your notes without any visual interference from the lines on the page; the paper is easy on the eyes and makes your notes super-duper shareable- perfect for flaunting your handwriting swagger on our Instagram page.

Make it yours, make it lovely, and own it with all your might. Happy studying, you got this!

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