Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 2007, Vol.101(8), p.453-464 [Peer Reviewed Journal]
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.
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 Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen 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 Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen 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 Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen 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 Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen, 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 Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen, 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. (2000) reported that, although 60% of the respondents were familiar with the term self-determination, one-third stated that no goals related to self-determination were included in their students' IEPs, one-third did not involve their students in any kind of Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen educational decision making or planning, and many said that they did not believe that their students would benefit from such instruction.
Self-determination and visual impairments
The importance of self-determination for students with visual impairments has been well recognized (Blankenship, 2006a, 2006b; Lipkowitz & Mithaug, 2003; Sacks, Lueck, Corn, & Erin, 2006). Sacks and Silberman (1998) suggested that self-determination is essential for students with visual impairments. Indeed, Hatlen (2003) recommended that self-determination be added as a skills area of the expanded core curriculum (ECC). Robinson and Lieberman (2004) stated that human development involves a progression from dependence to independence and that Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen students with visual impairments have been denied opportunities to follow this progression. Similarly, Sacks et al. (2006) noted that students with low vision need to be instructed in self-advocacy and assertiveness so they can make their needs known. Last, Sacks, Wolffe, and Tierney (1998) reported that many students with visual impairments are passive learners and appear to be more dependent on others than are sighted students.
Although enhancing the self-determination of students with visual impairments has received national attention in the United States, few studies have been reported on the extent to which these students have been given systematic instruction in Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen self-determination and what types of instructional experiences were provided. Robinson and Lieberman (2004) found that students who were visually impaired were given few opportunities to engage in self-determined behavior in the daily activities of a summer recreational program. For example, others made 40% of the decisions for the students, and most students indicated that they did not attend their IEP meetings. In addition, the students' degree of visual impairment appeared to be associated with the level of instruction in self-determination. That is, students who were totally blind were given fewer opportunities than were students who were legally Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen blind. Indeed, students who were totally blind essentially received no opportunities to be self-determined.
Sacks et al. (1998) compared matched pairs of visually impaired and sighted adolescents relative to their engagement in academic, social, daily living, and vocational activities in school, at home, and in the community. They found that the sighted students had more autonomy and greater opportunities to make choices than did the students with visual impairments, who were more passive and received more assistance than did the sighted students. Relevant to this finding, Powers et al. (1998) reported that many professionals in their study believed that individuals Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen with sensory impairments have difficulty making appropriate decisions and thus that others often make decisions for them. In all, it appears that students who are blind or have low vision are given few opportunities to be self-determined and would benefit from instruction in the content area of self-determination.
Because of the limited research on self-determination and visual impairments, the study reported here investigated the perceptions of a sample of teachers of students with visual impairments about self-determination. Specifically, we sought to obtain information about the teachers' familiarity with the concept, the components and strategies associated with Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen it, how important they believed the concept was for their students, the extent to which they taught their students these strategies, and the reasons why they did not provide such instruction if this was the case.
Teachers of students with visual impairments who were responsible for designing and implementing transition-related services participated in the survey. The survey, described subsequently, was mailed to the 315 teachers who were currently enrolled in the Itinerant Personnel Division (Division 16) of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired because the division is composed of teachers of students with Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen visual impairments and its geographic representation is well balanced. There was a one-time follow-up mailing using postcards to encourage the respondents' participation. For those who needed an alternative method of accessing the survey, an electronic version was available by visiting a web site that allowed them to fill out their responses online and submit them directly without using traditional mail. Such accommodation allowed the respondents who had difficulty accessing print to participate in the study.
DEVELOPMENT AND DISSEMINATION OF THE SURVEY
The questionnaire was adapted from a survey developed by Agran and his colleagues (Agran et al., 1999; Wehmeyer et Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen al., 2000) that was designed to address the self-determination needs of students with visual impairments. Additional consultations were made with professionals who were working in the field of visual impairment and blindness to ensure that the content and language that were used were appropriate for students with visual impairments. Two consultations were completed, including one with the coordinator of a university program and one with an educational consultant, both of whom had previous experience working as teachers of students with visual impairments and had been in the field for more than 15 years. The consultants' feedback was reviewed Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen, and changes were made to the questionnaire as necessary to enhance its readability and clarity. Since the main concern of the consultants was that the ECC needed to be included in the survey, two items from the ECC were added. Once the survey was developed, a cover letter to potential respondents was distributed, which provided an overview of the investigation and a full guarantee of confidentiality and privacy rights.
The survey consisted of two sections. The first section consisted of 12 questions on the respondents' demographic characteristics and educational placements. The second section was made up of 13 questions on the Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen extent to which students with visual impairments received self-determination instruction and the nature of that instruction.
The survey was based on a review of the literature on self-determination and on previous research conducted by the first author. Specifically, the respondents were asked to indicate their familiarity with the term self-determination, how they defined the term, what strategies or components were associated with the term, the value of self-determination for students with visual impairments, which self-determination-related strategies they have taught their students, and the factors that prevented or precluded them from delivering self Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen-determination instruction.
The survey questions included both forced-choice and multiple-response options (that is, a respondent could select more than one option for a given question). Also, the respondents were asked to respond to a Likert-type scale for nine items. They were asked to determine how important the specified self-determination strategies were and how significant self-determination was for school and post-school life.
Cross tabulation and graphic charts were used to determine overall trends and responses. Mean scores were calculated and reported because they would be helpful in determining the distribution of responses.
DISSEMINATION AND Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen FOLLOW-UP
Of the 187 respondents who completed the surveys, 183 were from 40 U.S. states and 1 U.S. territory and 4 were from Canada. The teachers' primary teaching groups were diverse--from birth to high school (37%, n = 67), from kindergarten to high school (15%, n = 27), and from elementary school to high school (9%, n = 17). The primary teaching assignments were in elementary school settings (31%, n = 57), middle school settings (5%, n = 9), and high school settings (4%, n = 8). It should be noted that 53% (n = 97) indicated that their primary teaching assignment encompassed more than one setting, which reflects the wide range of age levels and educational settings in which they worked. With regard Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen to certification, 37% (n = 68) were certified teachers of students with visual impairments, and 24% (n = 58) were dually certified (that is, they had orientation and mobility certification as well as certification or endorsement as teachers of students with visual impairments). The primary populations with whom the respondents worked were both students who are blind and those with low vision (n = 45, 25%), students with low vision (n = 30, 16%), students who are blind (n = 15, 8%), and students with multiple disabilities (n = 8, 4%). Almost half the respondents (n = 84, 46%) re ported that they worked with all types of students with visual impairments.
With regard to their teaching location Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen, 20% (n = 37) of the respondents worked in urban areas, 42% (n = 76) worked in suburban areas, and 30% (n = 54) worked in rural areas. In relation to the content-curricula areas they were responsible for teaching, 113 (61.7%) respondents indicated that academics were the primary area of instruction, and 97 (53.0%) identified more than five items other than academics as their primary responsibility of instruction (see Table 1).
The term self-determination was familiar to 62% (n = 113) of respondents and unfamiliar to 36% (n = 66). The primary sources of the respondents' knowledge of the term were professional journal articles (33%, n = 60), conferences or workshops (30%, n = 54), and graduate training (22%, n = 41). With regard to the respondents' perceptions of Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen the importance of the domains to which self-determined behaviors are related, problem solving was ranked the highest (x = 5.5 out of 6) and choice making was ranked the lowest (x = 5.11 out of 6).
The mean scores for the questions on the extent to which self-determination would help prepare students were 5.3 (out of 6) for success in a school setting and 5.6 (out of 6) for success in a postschool setting. In relation to how many students had self-determination-related goals on theft IEPs, 60% (n = 111) of the respondents stated that some of their students had such goals, 10% (n = 19) stated that Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen all their students had such goals, and 27% (n = 49) stated that none of their students had such goals.
When asked to indicate if they had previously taught or were currently teaching any self-directed learning strategies, the respondents indicated they were teaching goal setting or contracting (67%, n = 122), self-reinforcement (66%, n = 121), and self-evaluation (65%, n = 118). With regard to the respondents' teaching experience with selected self-determination strategies (see Table 2), goal setting and self-instruction had the highest frequency and self-scheduling and self-monitoring had the lowest. The reasons why the respondents did not provide instruction in self-determination included the greater urgency of Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen other curricular areas, the lack of awareness of available curricula to teach such skills, the lack of familiarity with the construct, and insufficient time to provide such instruction (see Table 3).
With regard to the type of students whom the respondents served and the respondents' awareness of teaching various self-determination-related instructional strategies, those who identified their primary student group as a combination of all types of students ([bar.x] = 5.3293) rated self-management and self-regulation skills most highly, followed by "blind and low vision" ([bar.x] = 5.28), "multiply disabled" ([bar.x] = 5.25), "low vision" ([bar.x] = 4.86), and "blind" ([bar Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen.x] = 4.80). In addition, those whose students had self-determination--related goals on their IEPs perceived that teaching self-determination would prepare students more successfully for postschool life ([bar.x] =5.733) than those whose students did not have such goals ([bar.x] = 5.20). Similar relationships were observed for the frequency of having self-determination goals on IEPs and the value of self-determination inpromoting success in school.
Among the respondents who answered the question of whether students with visual impairments had a greater need for self-determination than did students with different disabilities, 1% (n = 2) stated that students who are visually Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen impaired have a lesser need for self-determination, 43% (n = 79) stated that these students have an equal need, and 48% (n = 87) stated that these students have a greater need. One respondent said that students with visual impairments may not have a need for instruction in self-determination because "they are involved in self-determination activities as members of their regular education classes." On the other hand, some respondents indicated that acquiring self-determination was an equally important goal for students with any type of disability and thus that students who are visually impaired do not specifically have greater needs in this Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen domain. One respondent remarked: "I believe all students could benefit from the promotion of self-determination." However, the majority of the respondents indicated that students with visual impairments have a greater need for self-determination and that such an emphasis could greatly benefit the students' school and postschool lives. As one respondent put it:
I think they have a greater need
for self-determination than
other students because they
have to learn to do what they
need to do to succeed in a
sighted world. Many things
will challenge them, but they
need to become advocates for
themselves and be determined
that they can succeed and accomplish
whatever they want.
This study Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen examined the professional opinions of a sample of teachers of students with visual impairments about the content area of self-determination and the perceived needs of their students in relation to it. The results suggest that the majority of the respondents understood and valued the concept of self-determination and that approximately two-thirds provided some instruction in self-determination to their students. These findings are similar to those reported by Agran et al. (1999) and Wehmeyer et al. (2000), who also reported that approximately 60% of their respondents provided such instruction to their students with cognitive and learning disabilities Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen. Our findings suggest that self-determination instruction is provided to students with visual impairments to about the same extent as to students with cognitive and learning disabilities. These findings suggest a somewhat equivocal situation. On the one hand, they indicate that students with visual impairments learn self-determination to the same extent as do students with other disabilities. Given the relatively low priority of self-determination for students with visual impairments (Robinson & Lieberman, 2004), it is encouraging that students served by two-thirds of the sample were receiving such instruction. Clearly, a limitation of the study is that we Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen do not know what type of instruction the students received, how much time was committed to it, or how mastery was assessed. Nevertheless, the fact that two-thirds of the respondents indicated that their students had some self-determination goals on their IEPs suggested that the respondents understood at some level the importance of providing such instruction. This finding was supported by the fact that the majority of the respondents were familiar with the term self-determination and indicated that self-determination is important for success in school and postschool settings.
Despite the positive findings just discussed, the results are also discouraging Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen in several ways. First, approximately one-third of the respondents indicated that they were not familiar with the term self-determination, and one-third stated that none of their students had such goals on their IEPs. Clearly, these findings suggest that a sizable number of the respondents' students received no instruction in self-determination. Because these findings are specific to this sample, future replications of the study are needed to suggest a general case. Nevertheless, if the findings are representative, many students with visual impairments are not learning to be self-determined, and this represents a Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen serious omission in their education.
Second, the findings suggest that the respondents believed that self-determination is more important for students with low vision than for those who are blind. These findings are similar to those reported by Robinson and Lieberman (2004), who reported that the degree of blindness is related to the extent to which self-determination instruction is provided. Although discouraging, this finding is not surprising, since other research has suggested that professionals appear to believe that self-determination instruction is more important for students with mild disabilities than for those with more extensive support needs (see Wehmeyer et al Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen., 2000). In our study, we found the same outcome for students with visual impairments; that is, the value of self-determination may be differentially rated, depending on a student's degree of blindness. The unfortunate aspect of this finding is that students who are blind may require more supports than may students with low vision and thus are in greater need of self-determination instruction if teachers want to promote their independence and autonomy.
Although self-determination has been identified as a valid predictor of positive learning outcomes, it has just recently been added as a content area in the Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen ECC (Hatlen, 2003) for students who are blind or have low vision. Consequently, few studies have explored self-determination for students with visual impairments (Lipkowitz & Mithaug, 2003; Robinson & Lieberman, 2004), and the curriculum in this area is still at a pilot stage (Sewell, 2006). Wolffe et al. (2002) found that teachers of student with visual impairments were still providing instruction in the academic areas instead of the content areas of the ECC. Hatlen (1996, 2003) continues to advocate for teachers of students with visual impairments either to provide instruction in the ECC content areas or to facilitate instruction in needed content areas. Teachers of Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen students with visual impairments are the only collaborative educational partners with the skills that are needed to teach the ECC content areas or to provide the necessary accommodations for instruction in the general education curriculum. Wolffe et al. (2002) suggested that little change in professional practice has occurred in the past few years in teaching ECC content. The findings of our study suggest that teachers of students with visual impairments are still ostensibly teaching academics, but the majority of them at least are providing some instruction in self-determination.
While all areas of the ECC are important for positive learning outcomes, we suggest Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen that self-determination is one of the most important content areas to promote learning and independence. Several researchers have documented that children and youths with visual impairments have a lower level of self-esteem, are more passive, and experience greater learned helplessness than do other children (Sacks, 1996; Sacks et al., 1998; Tuttle & Tuttle, 2000; Wolffe & Sacks, 1997). The need for self-determination instruction for students with visual impairments is well acknowledged.
Although this study was the first to investigate the opinions of teachers of students with visual impairments about self-determination, there are several limitations that warrant attention. First, as with much Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen research in the field of visual impairments, the sample was too small to allow for a generalization of these findings to a larger population. Although the respondents were all members of the largest professional organization for such teachers, many of the members we contacted did not participate and may have represented professionals who were providing high-quality instruction in the area of self-determination. Future replications of this investigation with a larger sample are warranted. An additional limitation related to sample size is that a larger sample may have allowed for a statistical analysis and revealed statistically significant differences Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen across the survey items. The self-report data described in the study represent an important source of information, but may have been contaminated by subjective bias.
Second, the fact that the majority of respondents worked in multiple settings prevented us from knowing if self-determination instruction is more important for one age group than for another or easier to deliver in one setting than in another. These variables need to be examined more fully. Third, as we mentioned previously, information was not obtained on how instruction was delivered. Such information could have revealed which instructional procedures were the most Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen frequently used and found to be most effective.
Fourth, and most important, no information was obtained on the effects of self-determination instruction on the students' learning, independent functioning, social interactions, or social acceptability. Self-determination instruction that does not produce positive changes across these dimensions has limited practical utility, and it is critical for future research to address this need. Furthermore, it is essential that future studies obtain the opinions of all relevant stakeholders (including students, teachers, peers, parents, and siblings) on the delivery and effects of this instruction.
Despite these limitations, the study was the first Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen to examine the extent to which students with visual impairments are being provided instruction to promote their self-determination. The findings suggest that although self-determination is valued as an ECC content area, many students with visual impairments continue not to receive such instruction. The failure to provide this instruction will only perpetuate these students' dependence and helplessness-outcomes that professionals clearly want to change.
This study was supported, in part, by a grant from the Iowa Department of Education and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Iowa Department of Education.
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Martin Agran, Ph.D., professor and head, Department of Special Education, University of Wyoming, McWhinnie Hall 222, 1000 East University Avenue, Laramie, WY 82071; e-mail: . Sunggye Hong, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Special Education, University of Northern Iowa, Schindler Education Center, Cedar Falls, IA 50614; e-mail: . Karen Blankenship, Ph.D., consultant for visual disabilities, Bureau of Children, Family, and Community Services, Iowa Department of Education, Grimes State Office Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen Building, Des Moines, IA 50319; e-mail: . Address correspondence to Dr. Agran.
Curriculum-area responsibilities of respondents.
Curriculum area Number Percentage
Academic 113 61.7
Compensatory or functional
academic skills 145 79.2
Orientation and mobility 63 34.4
Social interaction skills 110 60.1
Independent living skills 101 55.2
Functional life skills 102 55.7
Recreational and leisure skills 73 39.9
Vocational or transitional skills 70 38.3
Technology 129 70.5
Visual efficiency skills 144 78.7
Other 22 12.0
Experience of teaching self-determination strategies of respondents.
Self-monitoring 175 67 36.6
Self-evaluation 176 118 64.5
Self-reinforcement 176 85 46.4
Self-instruction 176 121 66.1
Goal setting or
contracting 176 122 66.7
Self-scheduling 175 63 34.4
regulation 174 88 48.1
Self-monitoring 108 59.0
Self-evaluation 58 31.7
Self-reinforcement 91 49.7
Self-instruction 55 30.1
Goal setting or
contracting 54 29.5
Self-scheduling 112 61.2
regulation 86 47.0
Reasons why the respondents Agran, Martin ; Hong, Sunggye ; Blankenship, Karen do not provide instruction.
Number of of
Reason respondents respondents
Already have adequate self-determination 52 28.4
Someone else is responsible for instruction 45 24.6
Don't have the time to provide instruction 69 37.7
Don't have the latitude to provide 53 29.0
There are other areas in which students 94 51.4
need instruction more urgently
Students would not benefit from 54 29.5
instruction in these areas
Haven't had sufficient training or 63 34.4
Not aware of available curricular or 70 38.3
None of the above 18 9.8
Agran, Martin^Hong, Sunggye^Blankenship, Karen