Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Making Goals Meaningful & Manageable: Goal Guide Allows Parents to Share in This Process and It Allows Teachers to Manage Multiple Students' Goal Portfolios

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Making Goals Meaningful & Manageable: Goal Guide Allows Parents to Share in This Process and It Allows Teachers to Manage Multiple Students' Goal Portfolios

Article excerpt

We're all familiar with goals. Goals enable us to live the lives we want to live. We either have, or we're told we should have, goals for business, for financial planning, for healthier living. Parents of students with disabilities are probably more familiar than they want to be with a certain type of goal--the IEP goal. Fraught with promise, IEP goals can be like organizational mission statements. When asked, an organization member will say, "I know we have one. I'll have to see if I can find it."

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So what makes for a good goal--one you might actually attain? Perhaps the most important thing is that it is your goal--one that has meaning to you. Second, a good goal is one you have control over. You get to decide how it is implemented. Third, you're the one who decides how to measure how well it is going. And finally, you take the lead in deciding what comes next.

But how does this all happen if you happen to be someone with a cognitive disability? There are goal management software applications that promise users a smooth path to success. But what if you have limited ability to use the kinds of goal management apps and systems that are commonly available?

We received federal research and development funding through the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a web-based application, Goal Guide, to help students and others create and track personal, academic, and vocational goals that matter to them.

What is Goal Guide?

Goal Guide is designed to be a cognitively accessible tool to enable users to: create their own goals; monitor their own performance; designate incentives for goal achievement; and instantly see a chart of their progress. Goal Guide allows parents to share in this process and it allows teachers to manage multiple students' goal portfolios. Teachers and parents can get email updates on students' interaction with their goals. Information sharing and external accountability can be key aspects of successful goal accomplishment.

We developed a prototype of Goal Guide in collaboration with a school district transition program for students aged 18-21. These students were earning modified diplomas and receiving extended special education services to enable them to find work or attend community college classes, and to settle into independent living. Most students had some reading ability. All were challenged by the concept of goal management. Prior to our involvement school personnel worked within a program model through which they met with each student on a weekly basis to develop personal, academic, and functional goals and to discuss their progress. However, the process relied on paper and pencil and was largely managed by the teachers and educational assistants.

We first met with students, staff, and parents to get their ideas on what a web-based alternative might look like and what features it should have. After rapidly prototyping a minimum viable version of the application, we instituted weekly classes where students learned about goal management by using the application. They also gave us valuable feedback on how it worked for them on the variety of mobile devices they were already using.

How Does it Work?

Goal Guide involves a series of clearly defined steps each with corresponding screen pages. Every step in the process is designed to enhance user autonomy--and each step includes options for sharing with critical support persons--teaching staff, family members, or friends.

The steps for creating a goal are simple. The user picks a category-School, Work, or Personal; enters a description of the goal; picks an icon that symbolizes the goal; and chooses a method for tracking the goal--a Yes/No response or specific units of measurement. Once the goal meets the user's approval, he or she saves the goal. …

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