A Model for Aligning Self-Determination and General Curriculum Standards

Article excerpt

Ms. Smith and Ms. Alvarez, special education teachers at Harris Middle School, have had many conversations about how to balance all their responsibilities. They are accountable for teaching academic content standards, and they also must address their students' individual needs, including self-determination skills. They often wonder, "How can we do it all given our limited time and resources?"

Researchers and practitioners have emphasized the importance of teaching self-determination skills to students with disabilities for more than a decade (e.g., Algozzine, Browder, Karvonen, Test, & Wood, 2001; Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998; Wehmeyer, Field, Doren, Jones, & Mason, 2004). For example, Wehmeyer and Schwartz (1997, 1998) and Wehmeyer and Palmer (2003) outlined the postsecondary benefits for students who exhibited self-determination skills. The field has also begun to examine the benefits of self-determination for students while in school (Martin et ah, 2003; Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mithaug, & Martin, 2000; Wehmeyer et al., 2004). For example, evidence shows that students with and without disabilities can be taught self-determination skills in conjunction with academic skills (e.g., Konrad, Fowler, Walker, Test, & Wood, 2007; Palmer, Wehmeyer, Gipson, & Agran, 2004; Wehmeyer et al., 2004; see box, "What Does the Research Say About Self-Determination and Academic Skills?"). Further, although The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) does not explicitly call for instruction in self-determination skills, the law does require that students' strengths, needs, preferences, and interests be considered when developing individualized education programs (IEPs). Thus, the importance of self-determination is implied in special education legislation. Dual objectives in teaching may allow teachers to continue to teach self-determination, which they view as important, in an era of greater accountability for academic instruction (Wehmeyer, Agran, & Hughes, 2000).

One major barrier to teaching self-determination in recent years has been teachers' not knowing how to focus on reading, writing, and mathematics and simultaneously teach self-determination skills. Thoma, Nathanson, Baker, and Tamura (2002) found that the majority of teachers they surveyed taught self-determination only informally and had never heard of published curricula and instructional methods for teaching self-determination. Not knowing how to teach self-determination skills was echoed in the findings of a survey of teachers regarding self-determination goals in students' IEPs (Mason, Field, & Sawilowsky, 2004). Teachers in the Wehmeyer, Agran, et al. (2000) survey indicated that not enough time was available to teach students self-determination skills and the other skills they were accountable for teaching. With higher stakes for demonstrating academic skills, teachers and districts need models of how to integrate other relevant skills into teaching the important academic content (Konrad et al., 2007; Wehmeyer et al., 2004). A dual focus on self-determination and academic skills is crucial for all students' success (Benz, Yovanoff, & Doren, 1997; Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999; Thurlow, 2002; Wehmeyer et al., 2004).

Description of the Model

In response to these concerns (i.e., not having enough time to do it all), we have developed a model to help practitioners integrate self-determination skills into the general academic curriculum (see Figure 1). Planning worksheets guide teachers through the process and can be applied to instructional decisionmaking for an individual student (see Figure 2) or for a group of students (see Figures 2 and 3). The model is designed for teachers to begin using immediately, even before they have adjusted their IEPs to match the model. However, the process is recursive: Eventually, when teachers become more comfortable with the model and when they more fully involve their students in the IEP process, they will more naturally develop IEP goals that make this process even easier. …