Self-determination drives the transition education process. “The process of assessing and teaching self-determination skills, then providing opportunities for students to use their learned self-determination skills, represents the engine driving secondary transition education” (Martin et al., 2020, p. 53). The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Career Development and Transition (CEC DCDT) strongly believes self-determination instruction needs to be implemented as a transition service. Self-determination instruction should support transition-age youth to attain their annual goals, which in turn, are necessary to achieve students’ postsecondary goals (Field, et al., 1998).
Field et al. (1998) consider self-determination as the skills and knowledge that enable students to set goals based on understanding their strengths and limits. Self-determination skills may perhaps be best defined by describing what a self-determined person does. Self-determined people make choices, set goals, develop plans to attain their goals, take action to implement the plans, solve problems, evaluate progress, and adjust the plan or strategies as needed to attain goals (Rowe, Alverson, et al., 2015).
Self-determination skills enable students with disabilities to increase academic school performance (Fowler et al., 2007; Konrad et al., 2007) and improve their likelihood for meaningful post-high school education, employment, and community access (McConnell et al., 2012; Shogren et al., 2015). Using self-determination lesson packages, such as the Self-Directed IEP, increases student self-determination skills (Seong et al., 2015) and increases student participation in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings (Sanderson & Goldman, 2020). Increased participation in IEP meetings predicts postsecondary employment and enrollment in postsecondary educational programs (Burnes et al., 2018).
Self-determination can be embedded within core content instruction aligned with state standards (Rowe, Mazzotti, et al., 2015). For example, the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) contains three parts: set a goal, make a plan, and adjust your goal. The SDLMI can be used in conjunction with Illinois Learning Standards (e.g., SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions [one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led] with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, text, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively; Illinois State Board of Education, n.d.). In addition, research encourages teaching self-determination within Multitiered Systems of Supports (MTSS). MTSS involves providing instruction at three tiers to promote student success. Tier 1 is provided to all students, Tier 2 includes small group instruction for students who need more support than Tier 1, and Tier 3 provides intensive individualized instruction for students that extends beyond what they receive in Tier 1 or 2. Shogren et al. (2016) identified several ways in which self-determination instruction can be implemented within an MTSS framework. They suggest teaching skills like self-advocacy and choice making at Tier 1. At Tier 2, they advise teaching the same skills as Tier 1 but in small groups and documenting student growth using self-determination assessment and progress monitoring. At Tier 3, they recommend using individualized self-determination curricula (e.g., ChoiceMaker, Whose Future is it Anyway?).
To teach students needed self-determination skills, the CEC DCDT believes assessment, specific lesson materials, and the educational environment need to provide opportunities for students to learn and practice self-determination skills (Field et al., 1998). DCDT suggests educators teach students skills and provide them with opportunities to:
Numerous lesson packages exist to teach students self-determination skills. Educators may download most of these at no cost and almost all have one or more research studies supporting their effectiveness.
Burnes, J. J., Martin, J. E., Terry, R. McConnell, A. E., & Hennessey, M. N. (2018). Predicting postsecondary education and employment outcomes using results from the Transition Assessment and Goal Generator (TAGG). Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 41, 111-121. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/216514341770535
Field, S. S., Martin, J. E., Miller, R. J., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). Self-determination for persons with disabilities: A position statement of the Division on Career Development and Transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 21(2), 113-128. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/088572889802100202
Fowler, C. J., Konrad, M., Walker, A. R., Test, D. W., & Wood, W. M. (2007). Self-determination interventions’ effects on the academic performance of students with developmental disabilities. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 42, 270-285. https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/stable/23879621
Konrad, M., Fowler, C. H., Walker, A. R., Test, D. W., & Wood, W. M. (2007). Effects of self-determination interventions on academic skills of students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 30, 89–113. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.2307/30035545
Martin, J. E., Pulos, J. M., & Sale, P. (2020). Assessing and teaching critical self-determination skills to transition-age youth with disabilities. In P. Wehman & J. Kregel (Eds.), Functional curriculum for elementary and secondary students with special needs (4th ed., pp. 53-74). Austin, TX: Pro Ed.
McConnell, A. E., Martin, J. E., Juan, C. Y., Hennessey, M. N., Terry, R. A., el-Kazimi, N. A., Pannells, T C., & Willis, D. M. (2012). Identifying nonacademic behaviors associated with post-school employment and education. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 36, 174-187. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/2165143412468147
Rowe, D. A., Alverson, C. Y., Unruh, D. K., Fowler, C. H., Kellems, R., & Test, D. W. (2015). A delphi study to operationalize evidence-based predictors in secondary transition. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38, 113-126. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/2165143414526429
Rowe, D. A., Mazzotti, V. L., & Sinclair, J. (2015). Strategies for teaching self-determination skills in conjunction with the Common Core. Intervention in School and Clinic, 50(3), 131-141. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053451214542043
Sanderson, K. A., & Goldman, S. E. (2020). A systematic review and meta-analysis of interventions used to increase adolescent IEP meeting participation. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 43(3), 157-168. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/2165143420922552
Seong, Y., Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., & Little, T. D. (2015). Effects of the Self-Directed Individualized Education Program on self-determination and transition of adolescents with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Children, 38(3), 132-141. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/2165143414544359
Shogren, K. A., Wehmeyer, M. L., & Lane, K. L. (2016). Embedding interventions to promote self-determination within multitiered systems of supports. Exceptionality, 24(4), 213-224. https://doi.org/10.1080/09362835.2015.1064421
Shogren, K. A., Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., Rifenbark, G. G., & Little, T. D. (2015). Relationships between self-determination and postschool outcomes for youth with disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 48(4), 256-267. https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/0022466913489733