Thursday, June 16, 2011

ECC Resource for Self-determination Skills


Here's a pretty good resource from our friends over at TSBVI. This resource is the Empowered Curriculum. You can order it from TSBVI at

What is it? Here's an excerpt (from the TSBVI website)--
At the heart of everything we want to teach our students lies a set of skills that helps them become successful members of our communities. Self-determination instruction is part of this set of skills, and is based on the premise that students must acquire specific knowledge and skills and have many opportunities to practice them. Self-determination involves knowledge of self and others, decision-making, problem solving, goal setting, personal advocacy, self-control and knowledge of how to interact with the environment to achieve desired outcomes.

The emergence of self-determination as a concept all its own allows us to target the specific skills that must be taught. Since students with visual impairments must often be explicitly taught skills before they can use them spontaneously, the Empowered curriculum, comprised of an Introduction and 23 Units, has been developed to guide the instruction of Self-determination skills. Also included is a disc that can used for making large print or embossed copies of the student activities.

Why self-determination?
As with all the components of the ECC, self-determination is one of those skills that develops best through experience and role plays. I learned at a social skills conference from well-known educator, Dr. Sharon Sacks, that "students who volunteer in middle school and high school were more successful at employment." Children with severe vision impairments need to expand their understanding how the world works. They need to understand that they are contributing members of their families and communities. This is an active skill to develop.

Parents, reach out to your TVIs and ask them for guidance for teaching this important skill. This is not just another thing your child has to learn. This is a vital concept! We want our kids to be internally motivated, have the skills to initiate, problem solve their own problems and be empowered to live independent.

I really like this line from the TSBVI excerpt of The Empowered Curriculum, "Self-determination involves knowledge of self and others, decision-making, problem solving, goal setting, personal advocacy, self-control and knowledge of how to interact with the environment to achieve desired outcomes." Parents, read this quote a few times and let it sink in. Many of my parents know that this skill should be developed but get lost as to how, what and where it fits in their child's life.

Need a few quick ways to provide opportunities for self-determination:
*Volunteer (even the preschool age kids can get in on this). Volunteering helps expand their knowledge of self and others.
*Problem solving: LET YOUR CHILD FIGURE PROBLEMS OUT ON THEIR OWN! I know I used all caps on this one but it's because I mean it! No immediate rescuing!! Teach appropriate question words (they need to be specific when requesting help). Let them try something and fail (it's the only way they are going to know that something doesn't work). And most important, parents and education teams, give them time to process their choices! Remember that vision is instant so immediately you and I can determine if what we see isn't right. Our students need to touch and tactually evaluate what they are doing. Get what I'm saying? I get fired up on this one :)
*Goal setting: Exactly what it sounds like! Set some goals: fitness goals, chores, homework, family goals, individual goals!
*Non-verbal emotion gauge--I do this with my quiet Braille readers at meal times. I do it when we are all sitting at the table. I ask them before I initiate the conversation, "what's the emotional climate of the table?" They answer and tell me what they think people are feeling and if it's okay to start a conversation. We point out things like: if it's all quiet after a long class, what can we assume about everyone at the table? They are all eating and are hungry. Everyone is laughing and chatting--what can we assume? Play it at dinner. Blindfold other family members, take turns and see if they can guess correctly!

Have fun teaching self-determination! Always remember, teach skills in isolation but practice them in the real world!

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