DTT Retention Checks Made Easy With These 7 Steps


By Jennifer Fisahn, M.Ed., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

In order for our students to learn and function as independently as possible, they must possess the ability to retain/maintain skills over time.  Response maintenance is defined as the extent to which a learner continues to perform the target behavior after a portion or all of the intervention responsible for the behavior’s initial appearance in the learner’s repertoire has been terminated (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). For example:

  1. Teacher utilizes discrete trial training (DTT) to teach a student to label (tact) a staff member by name (3-D – actual person).
  2. The student meets designated acquisition criteria (e.g., tacts the staff member by name correctly on the first probe for 3 consecutive days).
  3. School closes for winter break (1-week) and the student does not have the opportunity to practice the skill of tacting the staff member by name.
  4. On the first day back to school after winter break, the student is asked to tact the staff member by name and does so correctly on the first probe without any prompting.

In this example, the student maintained the target behavior (tacting staff member by name) even after termination of the intervention (absence of DTT during winter break; no interaction with staff member during winter break). While the above scenario is a welcome one, a student’s ability to retain/maintain skills over time should be carefully monitored and not left to chance.  Managing initial retention data and continued maintenance data for multiple students can be difficult when time and staff are limited.  A teacher will need to know which target behaviors are being checked for retention and when retention checks should take place for each student.  An efficient system that allows for quick access to this information will be necessary. Consider the system pictured below and follow these 7 steps to create and implement it!

  1. Place index cards (vertically) on a wall/board with each student’s initials.  Numbers or colors can also be used for confidentiality.Fisahn DTT Retention
  2. Next to each student’s index card, place 5 clear sandwich bags horizontally. Label each bag with a day of the week (Monday through Friday).
  3. Decide on the time delay between teaching and testing (e.g., 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week).  This should be individualized and not a “one size fits all” time delay. 
  4. Write the target skill on an index card and put in the appropriate sandwich bag (e.g., If today is Monday and you want to check 1-week retention, put the target skill index card in the ‘Monday’ sandwich bag.).
  5. Refrain from providing intervention or practice for the target skill(s) in bags during the decided time-frame.
  6. Each day, check to see if any students will require retention checks.
  7. Document outcomes and utilize the data for analyzing individual student programs.

Utilizing this suggested system will allow the teacher to quickly access information in order to answer the following questions:

  • Are there any retention checks scheduled for today? – If it is Monday and all of the ‘Monday’ bags are empty, no retention checks are scheduled for today.
  • Which students are scheduled for retention checks today? – If there are index cards in a bag, the teacher can quickly see which student the bag belongs to. 
  • What target behaviors are scheduled for retention checks? – Removing the cards from the bag and inspecting them will reveal the specific target behaviors being checked for retention. 

Do you think this system would work for your class?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L.  (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson.

Jennifer FishanJennifer Fisahn, M.Ed., BCBA has worked with individuals with autism and their families for seventeen years.  She is a certified Teacher of the Handicapped, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®), and parent of a child with autism.  Jennifer has public school experience teaching preschool through high-school aged students as well as extensive experience as a school district consultant, direct service provider and supervisor for home-based ABA programs.  She currently serves as the training coordinator for the Foundation for Autism Training and Education (FATE) and conducts workshops on the topics of ABA and autism.  Jennifer regularly contributes to a resource-rich blog for teachers, therapists, and caregivers and also created the S.T.A.R.S. Network, a group aimed at supporting teachers and paraprofessionals working with individuals with autism.  You can contact her at [email protected].

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