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5.4: Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction

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    As discussed previously, self-determination is a major component of post-secondary transition, thus, this section will discuss an intervention that has been used to improve the self-determination skills of students with disabilities with a great deal of success (Shogren et al., 2012). The method is called the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI; Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mithaug, & Martin, 2000). The SDLMI, according to Wehmeyer and colleagues, includes four important features of self-determined behavior: (a) acting autonomously (choice making), (b)self-regulating behavior (having control over actions), (c) acting in an empowered manner (feeling and acting capable), and (d) behaving in a self-realizing way (internalizing the effect of the actions one takes). While we cannot go into specific detail of the SDMLI model in this chapter, we will describe processes for how teachers can supportstudents in learning and using self-determination skills, setting meaningful goals, working towards goals related to academics and transition, and achieving better outcomes in post-secondary life.

    Participant Roles

    Roles for the participants in the SDLMI differ from the more traditional roles happening in the classroom. For example, the teacher switches from the leader of the class, to a(n): (a) facilitator who provides support, rather than acting as an authority figure, (b) instructor who provides resources to the student, and (c) advocate who provides support and collaboration with the student (Wehmeyer et al., 2007). The student transitions from the typically more passive role to a more active figure it in their education. It would be expected that the student works in collaboration with the teacher to attain whatever goal they are working on. Obviously, the amount of autonomy the student can take in this process would dependent upon the skill level of the students, but the main goal is to allow the student to have as much control and independence in the process as possible.

    SDLMI Necessary Vocabulary

    Problem – something that keeps people from getting what they want (such as getting a driver’s license; a problem might be passing the state driver’s test if you cannot read the test).

    Discuss examples of problems that are not just “bad things” (for example, life holds many different problems one must solve—like learning to complete homework assignments, how to manage one’s time effectively, how to find a job, where to get transportation for getting around town).

    Barrier – something that stands in the way of getting what you want; something that blocks your progress (I want to succeed in math class, but I don’t know how.)

    Goal – something you set out to do, something you work to make happen. (Wehmeyer et al. 2007, pp. 16)

    The Three Stages of the SDLMI Model

    SDLMI is comprised of three stages, containing four student questions each, to guide the student through the development of the plan. The first stage is designed to help the student define actionable goals. The second stage, assists the students in developing an action plan to meet the goal. Finally, the last stage involves selfevaluation of the student’s accomplishment of the goals that they developed (Wehymeyer et al., 2007). While much of the process is directed through the student answering specific questions in a formalized manner, it is important to try to maintain a conversational approach rather than handing out worksheets and having the students fill them out. Additionally, teachers should try to ensure that the student is using the first-person-singular (e.g., “I will eat at Arby’s”) when they are describing the process to ensure that they are thinking about them self when doing developing the process. Similarly, it is important to provide only as much support as necessary, as one of the primary features of this model is to counter-act learned helplessness and have the student build self-efficacy.When attempting to teach the students how to use the SDLMI model, it is perhaps beneficial to start with smaller, short-term goals so the student can experience the methods and give them opportunities to succeed. This could be done through setting a goal that can be accomplished within a month’s time, or shorter, such as a unit assignment in class (Wehymeyer et al., 2007).

    Stage 1: Goal Development

    One of the first things we need to do when teaching the SDLMI model is identify the goal (Wehymeyer et al., 2007). As suggested earlier, when coaching how to use this model focus on a short-term goal. Suggestions could be: (a) how to search the internet to find information on a topic, (b) how to find job resources, or (c) how to find local entertainment.

    In this first stage, the overarching question is: “what is my goal?” and student questions to guide this include,

    1. What do I want to learn?
    2. What do I know about it now?
    3. What must change for me to learn what I don’t know?
    4. What can I do to make it happen? (This is the actual goal for which a plan will be developed in Phase 2.) (Wehymeyer, et al., 2007, pp. 19).

    When conducting this stage with the student, it is important the teacher take a supportive role. It is Okay to ask open-ended questions and slightly change the questions in order to elicit a response. If the student comes up with a number of ideas, help the student prioritize goals and make decisions about which takes priority. Next, label the goals in the order of priority (students should be supported in writing down their answers). Finally, as they go through each of the questions, facilitate discussion of the possible barriers and problems associated with a specific question. For example, let’s say that we are working through this model with Timmy. Timmy is interested in learning how to utilize the internet to find information about a topic in his science class. Timmy is semi-proficient with a Windows PC environment where he only uses Google Chrome to browse the internet. The school computers are Mac and do not have Google Chrome installed on them. Under question two, “What do I know about it now?” (Wehymeyer et al., 2007, pp. 19) Timmy could describe how he knows how to use the internet on his home computer, however barriers that would affect his ability to attain this goal would be learning how to use: (a) the Mac environment, and (b) the Safari browser.

    Stage 2: What is My Plan?

    The second stage of the SDMLI model involves formulating a plan to meet the goal described in stage one. Another set of four questions guide the student’s development of the plan,

    1. What can I do to learn what I don’t know?
    2. What could keep me from taking action?
    3. What can I do to remove these barriers?
    4. When will I take action? (Wehymeyer, et al., 2007, pp. 23).

    The first three questions in the sequence lead the student through a system of thinking about the goal and determining their present level of performance or baseline. For example, in the Timmy scenario we were just describing, an answer to question five could include watching a video on utilizing a Mac-based environment.

    Next, he could identify his propensity to procrastinate, or inability to find a video to show him how to use it. He could then describe how he could schedule times into his day to ask the librarian/media center person to help him find resources on using a Mac. Question eight is then answered once the preceding questions have been answered.

    The teacher’s role in each of these questions is, again, to facilitate the student in problem solving a scenario that would allow him/her to meet their goal. When helping the student to address methods to utilize in creating the action plan, preference should be given to the use of student-directed strategies (e.g., self-monitoring, self-evaluation), rather than those necessitating someone else delivering instruction. For example, with Timmy, we did good in having him establish a schedule, however some of the plan requires the media center person to aide him. Perhaps we could have led him to a scenario where he would’ve scheduled a time to get on a PC and find a tutorial on using Safari on a Mac. However, this gets into the adults tell him what to do, rather than Timmy acting as the causal agent conundrum that we are trying to avoid.

    Stage 3: Self-Evaluation

    The final stage of the SDLMI model is the self-evaluation phase where students ask themselves, “what have I learned?” (Wehmeyer et al., 2007, pp.26). The four questions in this stage can be separated into two categories. The first two questions address whether, or not, the student has been effective in achieving his/her goal, while the second two questions determine whether future action needs to be taken.

    1. What actions have I taken?
    2. What barriers have been removed?
    3. What has changed about what I know?
    4. Do I know what I want to know? (Wehmeyer et al., 20017, pp. 27)

    Within the self-evaluation component of the SDLMI model, teachers should help the students evaluate their progress, not only towards meeting the goal, but also in relation to where they started, taking note of any and all progress that has been made. With regard to the final two questions, one of three possible outcomes should be documented: (a) the goal has been achieved, (b) progress has been made, but the goal has not been achieved, or (c) the goal has not been met. In the event the goal has not been made, students can either revise the goal (go back to stage 1) or the action plan (going back to stage 2).

    When discussing the final stage with the student, teachers should help guide the student towards making a decision that is right for the circumstances. For example, in Timmy’s case, though it’s entirely likely that Timmy will achieve this goal, in the unlikely event he does not, teachers should help him examine whether or not the goal was relevant to his needs or if a new action plan is the right option.


    This page titled 5.4: Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction is shared under a CC BY-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mickey Losinski (New Prairie Press/Kansas State University Libraries) .

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