Transition Time Self-Determination, Part 3: Explicit Instruction

by Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

"Self-determination, as one aspect of human behavior, is one of many learned behaviors. Parents and significant others in children's lives begin very early in teaching certain aspects of self-determined behavior. Some of the teaching is a result of conscious and unconscious modeling. Some results from natural learning that comes out of both structured and unstructured environmental conditions. Some results from direct instruction" (Cronin, 2000, p. 257).

Cronin (2000), drawing primarily from the work of Field and Hoffman (1994), has enumerated five themes that comprise basic self-determination teaching content. Briefly, instruction related to these themes teaches students with disabilities:

1. How to accept and value themselves, including

  • Admiring strengths that come from uniqueness

  • Recognizing and respecting their own rights and responsibilities

  • Taking care of their physical and emotional well-being
    2. How to be a self-advocate ... at school or in the community, including

  • How to describe the disability/disabilities they have that require(s) special education or related services in order for them to be able to experience success at school
  • How to communicate needs for accommodations or supports

  • How to solve problems related to barriers they experience in pursuing their goals

  • How to defend a position related to their rights

  • How to handle conflict or disagreements over preferences and interests

3. How to make plans for themselves, including

  • How to set realistic goals

  • How to plan actions to meet goals

  • How to anticipate results

  • How to be creative in planning actions to meet goals

  • How to visually rehearse a plan of action
    4. How to participate actively in their own transition planning, including

  • Completing individualized assessments and futures planning procedures
  • Gathering information on options

  • Reviewing past goals and performance

  • Asking feedback from others who know them

  • Negotiating IEP goals and objectives

  • Gaining skills in conducting their own IEP meetings

5. How to experience outcomes of planning and learn from the experience, including

  • How to compare actual outcomes to expected outcomes

  • How to compare performance and actions to expected performance and actions

  • How to determine what factors influenced performance and actual outcomes

  • How to accept consequences of decisions and actions

  • How to adjust plans when results are not satisfactory (pp. 259-260)

Direct instruction provides a systematic approach to teaching these self-determination concepts. Cronin (2000) explains the following stages of direct instruction identified by Deshler, Ellis, and Lenz (1996):

*Present and obtain a commitment to learn. Obtain a measure(s) of current student functioning in the area and discuss with the student how the strategy will improve performance. Make the student aware of ineffective or inefficient learning habits.
*Describe the strategy. Give a rationale and situations in which the strategy could be used. Help the student set goals for the strategy's use.
*Model the strategy. Talk out loud and model each of the steps of the strategy using a real-life example.
*Verbally rehearse each of the steps of the strategy. Use rapid-fire verbal rehearsal of all of the steps until the student acquires mastery.
*Provide controlled practice. Provide feedback to the student while supervising practice in easy materials. Require mastery.
*Provide advanced practice and feedback. Provide feedback to the student while practice occurs in general education courses or the workplace. Require mastery.
*Confirm acquisition of the strategy. Document the student's mastery of the strategy. Make the student aware of the progress.
*Provide opportunities for and monitor generalization. Obtain the student's commitment to generalize to other classrooms and community situations. Make the student aware of situations in which he or she can apply the strategy, and discuss cues that may signal the need to use the strategy. Discuss adaptations that can be made to the strategy and make periodic checks to be sure the student is using it.
*Conduct ongoing evaluation of the strategy instruction process. Collect ongoing data on the effectiveness of the process used in working with the student (p. 265).

"Self-determined individuals know what they want, where they are going, how to get there, and when to make changes. Teaching self-determination skills while students are still in school is one way to help ensure success after students leave school" (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998,
p. 24).


Cronin, M. (2000). Instructional strategies. In P. Stitlington, G. Clark, & O. Kolstoe (Ed.), Transition education & services for adolescents with disabilities (pp. 257-265). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Deshler, D., Ellis, E., & Lenz, B. (1996). Teaching adolescents with learning disabilities: Strategies and methods (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: Love Publishing.

Field, S., & Hoffman, A. (1994). Development of model for self-determination. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 17, 159-169.

Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide for teaching self-determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Date: February/March 2005