High school teachers stress self-determination

Woman with a study groupSelf-determination has long been an important educational goal for many students with disabilities. With the mainstreaming of students with disabilities, researchers recently did a  survey of 340 high school teachers to find out how much importance they place on self-determination, reports a recent study in Exceptional Children. Both general educators and special educators were surveyed.

“Our findings suggest that general educators may judge self-determination as having an integral place in the curriculum for all students,” the researchers write.

“That general educators attach considerable value to these instructional domains may bode well for transition-age youth with disabilities whose IEPs (individualized education programs) or ITPs (individualized transition plans) include self-determination-related goals,” the study reports. “These educators may already recognize the importance of such goals and be receptive to adapting or augmenting the curriculum in ways that support acquisition of these skills for their students with disabilities.”

The survey did not refer specifically to students with disabilities but asked educators whether they devoted time and gave priority in their classes to developing seven components of self-determination:

  • decision making
  • goal setting
  • problem solving
  • self-management
  • making choices
  • self-awareness
  • self-advocacy

Certain skills were emphasized more than others, based on this survey. Problem solving, decision making, self-management and goal setting were considered fairly high instructional priorities, even in relation to other curricular priorities, the study reports.

But general educators placed less emphasis on self-awareness (knowing and applying one’s strengths and interests) and self-advocacy (knowing and standing up for oneself and one’s rights) than special educators.

The study found that humanities teachers placed more emphasis on self-determination than educators of other subjects. Foreign language and science teachers consistently place less emphasis on self-determination skills than teachers of other subjects.

The teachers who participated in the study worked within eight ethnically and economically diverse high schools in three districts.

Self-determination skills typically are taught somewhat informally, with limited direct instruction, the authors write. Students with disabilities may need much more explicit, systematic and applied instruction, they say.


“Promoting Self-Determination for Transition-Age Youth: Views of High School General and Special Educations,” by Erik Carter, et. al, Exceptional Children, Volume 75, Number 1, pp. 55-70.

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