Promoting the Self-Determination of Students with Visual Impairments: Reducing the Gap between Knowledge and Practice

By Agran, Martin; Hong, Sunggye et al. | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, August 2007 | Go to article overview

Promoting the Self-Determination of Students with Visual Impairments: Reducing the Gap between Knowledge and Practice


Agran, Martin, Hong, Sunggye, Blankenship, Karen, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


Abstract: Despite current interest in promoting self-determination, the extent to which self-determination instruction is provided to students with visual impairments remains uncertain. The purpose of this study was to investigate the perceptions of a sample of teachers of students with visual impairments about issues that are related to self-determination.

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There is increased attention to the realization that professionals must maximize the active participation of students with disabilities in decisions and actions in school that affect their lives, promote their learning, and enhance their independence, that is, enable students to become more self-determined (Agran, King-Sears, Wehmeyer, & Copeland, 2003; Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998; Test, Fowler, Brewer, & Wood, 2005). Self-determination, or student-directed learning, involves teaching students strategies that allow them to regulate and direct their own behavior (Agran et al., 2003).

Student-directed learning strategies have demonstrated educational efficacy for students with a wide age range of learning and adaptive skills and a variety of disabilities, and have been well validated and supported in the literature (see Algozzine, Browder, Karvonen, Test, & Wood, 2001; Mason, Field, & Sawilowsky, 2004; Wehmeyer, Agran, & Hughes, 2000). Such strategies aim to teach students to set appropriate goals for themselves, monitor their performances, identify solutions to present or future problems, verbally direct their own behaviors, reinforce themselves, or evaluate their own performances. For example, Hughes et al. (2000) investigated the effects of goal setting and self-monitoring instruction on the conversational skills (such as initiation of conversations) of five high school students with extensive needs for support because of severe intellectual disabilities or autistic-like behavior. These students were taught to refer to an illustrated communication book in which they would verbalize a question that was pictured in the book and then point to that picture as a self-monitored response. Prior to instruction, the students did not perform the target behavior (0%). After recurring instruction, their performance increased dramatically, ranging from approximately 60% to 100%.

Gilbert, Agran, Hughes, and Wehmeyer (2001) taught five middle school students with significant disabilities to self-monitor their performance in a number of classroom "survival skills" (such as greeting teachers and students, using a day planner, and asking and answering questions). All the students increased their levels of performance of target behaviors, and all reported that the instruction they received made them feel a part of their classes and increased their level of classroom participation. Copeland, Hughes, Agran, Wehmeyer, and Fowler (2002) taught four high school students with intellectual disabilities a set of self-regulation strategies (goal setting, self-monitoring, and goal evaluation) to increase their level of performance of specified study skills (for example, responding to worksheets and reading comprehension). The self-determination instruction produced immediate effects and increased the report card grades of all the students to satisfactory levels.

Although the need to promote students' self-determination has been advanced in the professional community for more than a decade, the reported data suggest that relatively few students are being instructed in self-determination. Agran, Snow, and Swaner (1999) reported that 55% of teachers in their sample indicated that self-determination-related skills were not included in their students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and 59% stated they spent little or no time discussing issues pertaining to self-determination with their students. In a national survey conducted in the United States of more than 1,200 respondents, Wehmeyer et al. …

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