Paraprofessional Involvement in Self-Determination Instruction for Students with High-Incidence Disabilities

Article excerpt

Over the past 2 decades, self-determination has emerged as an important construct within the field of special education and secondary transition services. This emphasis on promoting students' self-determination is now evident within legislative and policy initiatives (i.e., Field & Hoffman, 2002; Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, 2004), state standards (Konrad, Walker, Fowler, Test, & Wood, 2008; Wehmeyer, Field, Doren, Jones, & Mason, 2004), and professional competencies (Council for Exceptional Children, 2009; National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition, 2005). Concurrently, mounting empirical evidence suggests that self-determination is strongly associated with improved postschool outcomes (Test, Mazotti, et al., 2009; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003), and numerous studies have demonstrated that self-determination can be effectively taught to students with high-incidence disabilities (Carter, Lane, Crnobori, Bruhn, & Oakes, 2011; Test, Fowler, Brewer, & Wood, 2005; Wehmeyer, Palmer, Lee, Williams-Diehm, & Shogren, 2011).

As a result, best and recommended practices now highlight the importance of providing students with disabilities with meaningful opportunities to develop the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can enhance their self-determination (Carter, Lane, Pierson, & Glaeser, 2006; Cobb, Lehmann, Newman-Gonchar, & Alwell, 2009; Landmark, Ju, & Zhang, 2010). Instructionally, self-determination is often addressed at the level of the following component skills: choice making, decision making, problem solving, goal setting and attainment, self-advocacy and leadership, self-management and self-regulation, and self-awareness and self-knowledge (Wehmeyer, Agran, & Hughes, 2000; Wehmeyer & Field, 2007). Opportunities to develop greater capacities in each of these areas can be provided formally and informally through an array of curricular materials, instructional strategies, and naturalistic approaches embedded throughout the school day (Konrad et al., 2008; Wehmeyer et al., 2004). However, relatively few studies have explored the avenues through which students with high-incidence disabilities are provided opportunities to develop these skills through school.

Prior descriptive studies are consistent in their findings that self-determination is a highly valued instructional domain among both special and general education teachers (Cho, Wehmeyer, & Kingston, 2011; Mason, Field, & Sawilowsky, 2004; Stang, Carter, Lane, & Pierson, 2009; Wehmeyer et al., 2000; Zhang, Wehmeyer, & Chen, 2005). For example, Carter, Lane, Pierson, and Stang (2008) found more than two thirds of high school teachers rated teaching problem solving, self-management and self-regulation, decision making, and goal setting and attainment skills as very important relative to other instructional priorities in their classroom. Moreover, some of these same studies suggest teachers regularly focus instructional efforts on this educational domain. Stang et al. reported that more than 85% of elementary and middle school teachers said they sometimes or often taught each of the seven self-determination component skills in their classrooms. Given the challenges many students with high-incidence disabilities experience in the area of self-determination (Carter et al., 2006; Carter, Trainor, Owens, Swedeen, & Sun, 2010), identifying promising avenues for teaching and reinforcing self-determined behavior remains an important endeavor.

Although general and special educators hold primary responsibility for making instructional decisions, paraprofessionals are playing an increasingly prominent role in reinforcing and augmenting these teachers' efforts within the classroom (Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Data from the 2007-2008 school year indicated that 455,820 special education paraprofessionals worked in public and charter schools in the United States (Keigher & Gruber, 2009). …