Yesterday, we got real in-depth about skill generalization. One important component of skill generalization is that it lasts over time. The concepts we are teaching are only helpful if our students are able to demonstrate mastery of the concept over and over and over again.
Maintenance means that a student “perform a response over time, even after systematic applied behavior procedures have been withdrawn” (Alberto & Troutman, 2013, p. 405). So that means that once you remove all teaching methods and prompts, the skill continues to occur.
Just like the rest of skill generalization, we can’t assume that the skills we teach will maintain over time. This is something we need to plan for. Prompt fading (that we talked about last week) is really important here. We want skills to maintain over time. That means maintain beyond our teaching. If we never fade all of the prompts, we will never get to skill maintenance.
So much fading, so little time. So in addition to fading your prompts, you will also need to start fading your reinforcement schedule. Reinforcement schedule means how often you give reinforcement. You want your reinforcement schedule to mimic what will happen in the real world. In a classroom of 28 children, does Johnny get called on every single time he raises his hand? Nope. When you are teaching him to raise his hand to get attention, you may start by providing reinforcement (ie. calling on him and giving praise) every time he raises his hand. After a while, only provide reinforcement every other time he raises his hand, then every 5 times.
Make sure to fade reinforcement gradually. If you fade too quickly and your student is suddenly getting no reinforcement, he will likely stop responding. Slowly start giving lower magnitude reinforcement, less often.
Mimic the Natural World in Your Teaching
Just like with the rest of generalization, we want our teaching to be as much like the real world as possible. It is my pet peeve when I see someone teaching social skills to a teenage and they teach greetings by use the cue “hello” and prompting the student to say hello back and shake hands. That’s fine if you are teaching how to greet an adult, but no 17 year old boys say hello and shake hands to each other. Think about how the skills look in the natural environment. This helps create long lasting learning.
Program Maintenance Checks
The easiest and best way to ensure that your teaching is long lasting is to schedule maintenance checks. I like to have “Maintenance Mondays” and start each direct instruction with some quick checks on previously mastered skills.
Download this free Maintenance Check checklist here – Maintenance Check. Write in each skill as it’s mastered along with the date it was mastered and the mastery score. In the empty boxes along the top write in the date and put the score next to each skill. If you see any dips below the mastered score, you know you will need to add in some re-teaching. I recommend adding this in on your lesson plans (so you don’t forget and have maintenance checks that are 4 months apart!). You don’t need to do every skill every week but this will give you a good guide to see how often you are checking in on each skill!