Teachers' Views of Student's Self-Determination and Citizenship Skills

Article excerpt

Abstract

This phenomenological study examined special education teachers' views of students' self-determination and citizenship skills. Although the special education teachers in this study maintained that self-determination skills help promote citizenship, only one of them added self-determination goals to her students' individualized educational plans and identified self-determination as an outcome of the schooling process. Findings from this study reveal inconsistencies between the teachers' conceptions of self-determination and citizenship and their implementation of strategies in the classroom.

Keywords: self-determination, citizenship, special education, social studies education

In the American educational system, schools are charged with providing preparation for citizenship (Callahan, Müller, & Schiller, 2008), and this mission has been reinforced by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 which requires schools to "foster civic competence and responsibility" (United States Department of Education, 2001, section 2343, para. 1). Likewise special education teachers seek to implement instructional strategies that assist students in learning academic content and skills while preparing them for active community participation. The concept of self-determination is central to their effort; it serves as the overarching desired outcome of schooling, as a category of skills to be acquired and a process for guiding instructional decisions. As an outcome in the transition to adult life, selfdetermination refers to the students living as autonomously as possible as adult members of society.

For the purposes of this study, self-determination as an outcome specifies that people with disabilities have opportunities to exert control in their lives and that supports be provided to enable them to take advantage of such opportunities in ways that respect their values, their beliefs, and the customs of their family and culture (Wehmeyer, 2004). This definition is particularly useful because it emphasizes that self-determination is both an educational outcome and an educational process. As an educational outcome, it is growth -oriented. As individuals' capacities improve, they are able to exercise greater autonomy; their emerging abilities require continually setting new concrete instructional goals. This growth-oriented perspective highlights the shared responsibility of special education teachers and students in the educational process. If the educational goal is greater personal autonomy for the student, a function of the special education teacher is to evaluate the student's capabilities and to find ways to assist the student in improving performance through collaboration.

As an educational process, a key component of self-determination is increasing student's self-awareness of his or her strengths, needs, desires, and goals. Using the content and activities of an educational program as a foundation, the special education teacher provides the student with opportunities for practice in informed decision-making. In this view of self-determination, the student's role in setting particular curricular and instructional goals is a "critical educational domain for promoting effective transition from school to post school life" (Wehmeyer, 2004, p. 341).

Review of Literature

The goal of teaching self-determination is to prepare individuals to maximize personal choice in the opportunities and tasks presented by daily life in society (Sands & Doll, 1996). The literature divides this goal into skill areas. Targeted skills include choice-making, decision-making, problemsolving, goal-setting and attainment, leadership skills, self-advocacy, selfawareness, and awareness training (Thoma, Nathanson, Baker, & Tamura, 2002). Promoting students' awareness of and ability to apply these skills is instrumental to fostering their autonomy. Anderson, Seaton, and Dinas (1995) explained that students' acquisition of these skills "increases their perception of personal abilities and expectations for future successes" (p. …