CA Dept. of Education


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Secondary Issues Archive 2003


Priscilla Harvell, M.A., CCC-SLP
Secondary and Speech/Language Specialist

Priscilla Harvell's expertise is supported by over 20 years in the field of Special Education as a Speech and Language Pathologist, Special Day Class Teacher and eight years as a Secondary Specialist for the Northern California Diagnostic Center.

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  • Where to start when creating a transition library.


I work in small school district as a special education middle and high school resource teacher. I realize the importance of Transition, i.e., school to work, as my students prepare for life after high school. Our school resources are limited and so one of my goals is to create a Transition library so students have ready access to various research materials through books, the Internet, and each other. Could you suggest a few of your favorite books and Internet website to get me started? Thanks.


What a GREAT idea! My resource list keeps growing as I research ways to help students become more involved in planning for the future. I hope the following list of some of my favorite books and Internet web sites assist you in your initial stages of developing a Transition Library. Good luck and feel free to contact me if you need further assistance. 

Books and Internet web sites

Transition (what, why, who, when, where) 

Transition to Adult Living: A Guide for Secondary Education, (2001). California Department of Education. Order through CalSTAT/CIHS, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, 707-206-0533. This document can be downloaded at version is also available at 
A great site for information on everything you wanted to know about disabilities, IDEA/Transition requirements. Resources in Special Education (RISE) Library. This library is located with Parents Helping Parents of Santa Clara. Books, tapes, videos, etc. on a variety of issues are available free of charge for you to borrow. 

Transition Curriculum 

Patton, J.R. et al. (1999). Infusing Real-Life Topics into Existing Curricula: Recommended Procedures and Instructional Examples for the Elementary, Middle, and High School Levels, PRO-ED, Austin, TX 78757 

Developmental Guidance Classroom Activities for use with the National Career Development Guidelines (1992). edited by Rogala, J.A. et al. Grades 6-12, Madison, WI, 53706; 
This web site titled, District Office of Transition Services for Teachers

Field, S. et al. (1998). A Practical Guide for Teaching Self-Determination, CEC, 707-620-3660, 

Field, S. et al (1998). Self-Determination Strategies for Adolescents in Transition, PRO-ED, Austin, TX 78757 

Career choices 

Young Person's Occupational Outlook Handbook: Descriptions for America's Top 250 Jobs. For the most current publication, go to the There is also a version for elementary and high school and beyond. 

COIN Career Guidance System. Includes interest surveys for students from elementary through high school. One example is the COIN Career Targets: A Career Exploration and Educational Planning Guide (1994). Published by COIN Educational Products, Toledo, Ohio, 800-274-8515. Contact person and author: Rod W. Durgin, Ph.D. 

Transition and Self-Advocacy 

Hartwig, L., Meredith, G. (2001) Get on Top of It! Teaching Students to Problem Solve, Sopris West; Longmont, Colorado 80504; 
Disabilities Awareness: Articles by high school students 

Martin, J.E., et al, (1996-97). Self-Directed IEP, Sopris West, 303-651-2829, 

Benson, P.L., et al, (1998). What Teens Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Shape Your Own Future; Free Spirit Publishing Inc.; Minn., MN 55401; 


In a previous Ask a Specialist Q&A, I provided a list of adult agencies important to the Transition process. Please go to the following web site for this information.

Family involvement 
This web site page provides information, resources and support to parents, guardians and families of children with disabilities 
Is My Child Too Young? A parent online training about Transition services mandated by IDEA. Information is provided for parents and their child so both can actively participate in the Transition IEP. 

A question and answer discussion forum featuring specialists in the following areas: assistive technology, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavior, school related medical issues, and transition. 
Home page for the Diagnostic Center North. Visits to this web site will provide descriptions of the many services offered by the center to special education students, their families, and school districts.

  • Providing quality transition goals/activities for 10 students in 6 months.


I recently attended one of your Transition trainings and while I found it useful, I still have a question: How do you provide quality Transition goals and/or activities for ten students in a six months period of time?


Thank you for attending our training and submitting a Transition question. This question is challenging because there are many missing pieces of information, e.g., age of students, type of class, middle or high school, and current activities. However, I'll give it a try. 

Reflecting on the following areas may address some of your time related concerns. 

  • In your question you focus on six months, why is that? Any Transition goals and activities you develop can be ongoing, e.g., self-knowledge, self-advocacy, as you prepare your students for post-secondary opportunities. You do not HAVE TO cover specific areas everyday, week, or month. See how much you CAN cover, bring closure to, and revisit over a period of time. Follow this approach as often as is needed. Be flexible. 

  • Any goals and/or activities you select for your students should be meaningful and based on their abilities, dream(s), and interests. Give them a voice in the process. 

  • Providing quality Transition goals and activities means planning. If your planning focuses on connecting your academic curriculum with Transition, you can cover two requirements (California standards and Transition requirements) at the same time. This will help you prepare activities across both areas that are meaningful to your students and prepare them for the challenges and demands of adulthood. Keep in mind that Transition activities can occur inside and/or outside the school community, e.g., community learning projects, job shadowing, and interviews.

Remember that successful Transition involves these key elements

  • assessment
  • planning
  • implementation of a plan of action
  • follow-through/up
  • coordination

Finally, I know you are aware of the many barriers in place that prevent successful Transition goals and activities from being implemented, e.g., you mention time, however, equipped with the knowledge of what could be and motivated by what is important for your students, you have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives right now. 

When you have time (no pun intended), take a look at the following resources: 

  • (a previous Ask a Specialist question where I discuss a portfolio concept for helping students learn self-awareness.)
  • Patton, J.R., Dunn, C. (1998). Transition from School to Young Adulthood: Best Concepts and Recommended Practices. Pro-Ed, Inc.,
  • Patton, J.R., Cronin, M.E., Wood, S.J. (1999). Infusing Real-Life Topics into Existing Curricula: Recommended Procedures and Instructional Examples for the Elementary, Middle, and High School Levels, Pro-Ed, Inc.,

Let me know if you found this information helpful.

  • Developing self-determination skills.


I am a secondary teacher of learning disabled students in a SDC/LD Program. With the beginning of another school year, I want to start off with a focus on helping my students develop self-determination skills necessary for success at school and in the real world. I also want to help them effectively move into life after high school. Please give me some ideas and any resources you may have. My class has access to the Internet as a research tool. 

Thanks in advance, a proactive teacher.


It is wonderful that you are beginning the year with a proactive outlook. Encouraging a sense of self-determination (S-D) during the transition process is critical to promoting successful transitions for students whether they are disabled or non-disabled. For starters, remember that the key to a basic understanding of self-determination is self-awareness. Your students will need a basic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, preferences, values, and belief system. This will be their foundation or driving force for future choice and decision-making, leading to successful goal achievement. Our DCN web site online parent training at offers options for your students to explore self-awareness. 

Imbed self-determination skills into your existing curriculum so that your strategies become a natural part of the learning process. Remember, too, that many special needs students retain information best through hands-on activities. Consider practicing self-determination strategies through the use of peer-to-peer activities, role-play, videotape and student evaluation. Here are some tips for you: 

A. Help your students define self-determination 

They should know that self-determination can be defined in a variety of ways: 

  • Having attitudes, abilities, and skills that let people figure out goals for themselves and then take the initiative to reach them
  • Having the ability to make informed choices
  • Determining their OWN course of action without being influenced by negative peer pressure
  • Defining and achieving their goals based on self-awareness, self-knowledge, and personal values
B. Teach your students the characteristics of a self-determined individual 
Paul Wehmeyer lists several components of self-determination for those who work with students to consider when developing classroom and community activities. His model includes: 
  • Choice making Bullet
  • Decision-making
  • Problem solving
  • Goal setting and attainment
  • Self-observation skills
  • Self-evaluation skills
  • Self-reinforcement skills
  • Internal locus of control
  • Positive attribution of efficacy and outcome expectancy
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-knowledge
C. Create an environment that encourages self-determination 
It is up to you to create an environment that encourages self-determination by providing opportunities for choice making and decision making, chances to learn from experiencing consequences of their actions, and to support risk-taking. A supportive environment will provide that very important safety net your students' need.

Some school environmental variables (classroom and school-wide factors), affecting self-determination include: 
  • Availability of self-determined role models
    Modeling can be formal or informal. For example, you sound like the type of teacher who models a proactive, positive, and problem solving style in your classroom which in turn allows your students many opportunities to learn about self-determination. Don't forget to use mentoring programs, peer tutoring, and cooperative learning strategies to promote positive lessons about self-determination through modeling.
  • Curriculum variables 
    Your students will benefit by acquiring their self-determination skills in the context of their curriculum. Remember, I talked about informal/formal role modeling? Well, self-determination skills should be imbedded and modeled in your daily curriculum, not as a separate entity. Several curricula have been developed to promote self-determination in students. Examples include Laurie Powers' Take Charge curriculum (see web site at end of this section), Steps to Self-Determination and A Practical Guide to Teaching Self-Determination. Visit for descriptions of these curriculums.
  • Opportunities for choice 
    Your students need opportunities for choice if they are to practice and acquire their self-determination skills. Making choices can be risky for students so you want to minimize the risks in a supportive environment. Start by having the students make choices about small decisions (e.g., what to eat, what to wear) and gradually let them assume more responsibility for larger decisions (e.g., what course to take, which career to pursue).
  • Patterns of response to student behaviors 
    How do your and other school personnel's responses to your students actions affect their level of encouragement to express themselves, initiate actions and take risks. In other words, "What do you say or do when they make inappropriate decisions?" Do you over react or have you created an environment that communicates, reinforces, and supports self-determination? For example, is active listening, appropriate use of humor as a communication device to deflect criticism used to encourage student responsibility and risk taking?
  • Availability of student supports 
    Your students will need support and guidance that offers information, active listening, identify\ies options, and asks open ended questions to helps them reflect on and learn from self-determination strategies.

For an exhaustive list of self-determination/self-awareness curricula, visit

One more resource before I conclude this section is titled Steps to Self-Determination: A Curriculum to Help Adolescents Learn to Achieve Their Goals.Find more information on this curriculum at 

E. Evaluate yourself 

  • Evaluate your teaching style by completing a Teaching Style Inventory (one of many such tools) located at You will be surveyed on the following teaching methods: 
    1) Instructional planning
    2) Teaching methods
    3) Teaching environment

    3.1 student groups

    3.2 room design

    3.3 teaching environment

    4) Evaluation techniques
    5) Teaching characteristics
    6) Educational philosophy
While I am not promoting this or any other inventory, I have found this format offers you a way to determine how your teaching style impacts your students learning. Based on the results, you can create an environment that supports the development of self-determination in your students. You may want to expand this idea by keeping a journal as part of your ongoing self-evaluation of what is or is not working. Your teaching style profile can serve as a baseline. 

Best of luck as you begin your new school year.
  • Modifying the middle and high school transition portfolio.


Dear Transition Expert: 

I teach middle school special day class for students with severe handicaps, e.g., physical, cognitive, speech and language, and other health impaired. The WorkAbility Director in our district shared the Diagnostic Center North's Middle and High School Transition Portfolio, which seem to be geared more to the resource student. My students are capable, I think, of working on such a document if modifications are made. I would like to adapt the self-awareness section to my student. Is this a possibility? What are some activities I can do to help my students create a Middle School Transition Portfolio that reflects who they are and what they want to become. I would also like them to be able to talk about their self-knowledge information at their IEP meeting. Thanks for any suggestions you might have in your repertoire of resources.


Your timing is great! I have just finished providing consultation and demonstration teaching services to a middle school special day class teacher of severely handicapped students. Your programs sound similar, e.g., some students are more capable than others. The Middle School Transition Portfolio(MSTP) was used as the curriculum tool. What made the MSTP project a success this year really involved the DCN's focus: 

  • to provide student-focused strategies/activities that help students develop self-awareness skills. 
  • to help the teacher learn ways to connect existing curriculum standards to Transition requirements for students 13 and older.

My first step was to determine how to modify the MSTP so the students could understand the concept of self-awareness, e.g., strengths, challenges, interests/favorites, etc. My goal was for them to have similar experiences like their less disabled peers. So, after discussions with their teacher, we modified the MSTP using pictures rather than having the students spend too much time writing. Students selected pictures from their favorite magazines, newspapers, and used personal photos to represent their self-awareness information. We used disposable cameras for the personal photos, e.g., snapshots of themselves depicting activities in the community and at home. Gathering information in this manner also allows the parents to become involved in the development of the MSTP by helping the students complete certain activities at home. You may be able to obtain the cameras through your school district, parents or business donations. Other tips to get you started include: 

  • Establishment of ground rules. REMEMBER, less is more. Mutual respect was my main rule. Let the students help select other rules. Some that worked for this class: raise your hand before speaking, practice good listening, and treat your portfolio with respect (no scribbling on pages).
  • Introduce the MSTP to the class. Give each student a copy, let him or her hold it, make comments, and ask questions. This is more of a show and tell time. Afterwards, they can complete the personal information on the cover page: write their names, birthdates, and the rest of the page. Provide assistance as needed to complete this and other tasks.
  • Most student in this population have limited experiences about what they know, so help them explore "who they are" by using words they understand, e.g., "easy for you" vs. strengths, or "hard for you" vs. challenges/barriers. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up. One student in a wheelchair wanted to be a ballerina. This was an opportunity for "Joan" to search for ballet dancers with physical disabled individuals on the Internet. She was excited when she found a picture to include in her MSTP depicting her dream to become a ballerina. Take a look at this web site to see the picture she chose: The students I worked with used The Shield page in the MSTP to record their self-awareness information.
  • Learning styles When discussing learning styles, use role-play to help the students understand the concept; associate the anatomical part of the body, e.g., ear, eyes, and/or hands with how one might use them to learn. For example, you might play music while students are working to show that some of people can still finish their work while listening to music while others cannot. Or, have them cover their eyes and attempt to "read" a book without seeing the words and/or pictures. They can give you other examples.


  • Always introduce each section in one large group then have students work in subgroups with you or a paraeducator. 
  • Always brainstorm
  • Remember that there are no set times limits to completing each section of the MSTP. Take your time with each section; know that you have flexibility.
  • Never underestimate the abilities of your students! They can be full of surprises!
  • You can separate the student portfolio, hole punch each page, and place in a notebook to accommodate additional activities.
Once the students accumulate their self-awareness information, have them practice (role-play) in a large group the following: full name, age, school, interests, vocational dream. This activity is video taped and reviewed by the class. They look for the following behaviors in themselves and their peers: mutual respect, listening, eye contact, and speech volume. The final outcome is for your students to share their MSTP with their IEP team. What better way for your students to have a voice in the planning process! 

You can bet your students will develop improved self-awareness, build their confidence/self-esteem, and develop stronger social and communication skills as you guide them through the portfolio. These are characteristics they will use as they transition through school and into post-secondary and/or adult living opportunities. 

This answer to your question is not an endorsement of the DCN's Middle and High School Transition Portfolio. If you have access to various portfolio samples, look them over and choose what will work best for your students. Remember, the implementation of a portfolio as a tool to document your student's self-awareness skills is an excellent beginning to their having a voice in the planning of their future. 

For more specific activity ideas, contact me at (510) 794-2500 ext. 136.
  • Preparing for life after school with realistic goals.


Dear Transition Expert: 

My 16-year-old is behind other students her age, mentally, emotionally and socially. She is in special education classes now, but I am very concerned about what she will do after she finishes school. Her goals change from day to day and are always unrealistic. For instance, this month she plans to take pictures for a fashion magazine, while last month she planned to be a model. As you may guess from these examples, she likes art and is particularly interested in things like clothes, accessories, and jewelry. How can I help my daughter develop more realistic plans? How can her school district help her prepare for her life after school?        

A worried Mom


Dear Worried Mom, 

Wow! Now the challenge is on to prove the "expert" status you have bestowed upon me! 

Usually the question from parents is, "What will my child do after high school?" I think your focus on how YOU can HELP your daughter develop realistic plans is very appropriate considering your daughter's age. There are numerous books and articles on the subject that you can access through a web site at the end of my response, but for now, let me offer a few planning tips for you and the district. 

Number one priority, as I see it, is home and school collaboration. This includes developing an IEP/ITP (Individual Transition Plan) that is driven by your daughter's dreams, preferences, and abilities as a key to her success after high school. It may mean accepting and valuing your daughter's dream(s)/goals and helping her explore work related options. One web site that many parents have found useful is This is a student, parent, school, and agency reader friendly document with great suggestions. 

Ok. This is how you can work with the district. Now, the important thing is to make the quest of helping your daughter develop realistic plans, FUN (caps/bold). We all know teens will do the opposite of what parents suggest, so, consider actively involving her in the discovery process. Here are some beginning steps.

  • Listen to and value your daughter's opinions without being judgemental. You may even need to humor her.
  • Explore her interests in art and fashion by finding out what options are available through school or outside agencies, e.g., school fashion academy, Regional Occupational Programs (ROP), visiting a fashion design school. Use the Internet to discover additional ideas.
  • Make phone calls to friends and ask if your daughter can shadow them at work or if they know someone in the art or fashion industry. Help her develop interview questions and arrange on site interviews with various staff in her related field. Perhaps the entire family can role-play with her.
  • Contact her teachers and make sure they are addressing her interests in her Transition IEP. Ask HOW and WHAT is happening to make this happen so you understand who may be involved in helping your daughter explore vocational options and how they are involved. ·
  • Help your daughter learn about her disability and explore the impact it may have in a career in the fashion world. You can educate yourself at the same time by becoming aware of the job accommodations helpful to people with similar disabilities as your daughter's.
  • Give her responsibilities for chores at home and help her develop simple budgeting strategies (purchasing make-up, clothes, etc.) The newspaper or magazines offer excellent media advertising the allows the two of you to discover the costs of items, prioritize necessary vs. unnecessary purchases, and figuring amount of money needed to purchase make up or clothing.

You ask what the school can do to help your daughter. Actually, the school can offer many of the ideas I have shared with you. In addition, schools can teach students about their civil rights under the law and provide your daughter with step-by-step activities that teaches her empowerment and active participation in planning for achieving future realistic goals. 

Between the school and you, your daughter should be prepared for post-secondary endeavors. You may also want to view a previous Transition question in the Ask a Specialist archives at

You will find additional information regarding career exploration, self-awareness, and decision making, much of which can be shared with your daughter. 

Good luck!

  • Adult services available to students.


Dear Transition Specialist,

I am very embarrassed to admit this but I have little to no information on what adult services are available to the students I serve. I teach a high school special day class/SH program and my students' function at the primary level academically. Our district has an 18-22 Transition Program that, in my opinion, does little to prepare this population for adult agencies. Please help me broaden my knowledge with as many resources and websites as possible. Thanks!


First of all, don't be embarrassed! Right now, you are taking the important step towards your own self-awareness and how to deal with preparing your students adult living. It just so happens that next week, I am providing training on Transition Essentials that includes a section on the primary service providers in the transition process and the need for interagency collaboration among service providers. I will be discussing the role of the common community agencies listed below and the Transition services they MAY offer. If you have any other questions after checking out this list, just email me via the Ask a Specialist web site. 

Vocational Rehabilitation Agency/Department of Rehabilitation 
This agency assists individuals with cognitive, sensory, physical, or emotional disabilities to attain employment and increased independence. It is funded by federal and state money and typically operates regional and local offices. Examples of employment services include medical, psychological, vocational, and other types of assessments to determine vocational potential; apprenticeship programs, usually in conjunction with the Department of Labor; and housing or transportation supports needed to maintain employment.

Mental Health and Mental Retardation Agencies 
This agency provides a comprehensive system of services responsive to the needs of individuals with mental illness or mental retardation. Funding is a combination of federal, state, and local levels. Services are provided on a sliding payment scale. Types of services include employment support from supported/sheltered minimal employment assistance; case management services to access and obtain local services, therapeutic recreation including day activities, clubs and programs; and respite care.

Independent Living Centers (ILCs) 
This agency helps individuals with disabilities achieve and maintain self-sufficient lives within the community. Centers are operated locally and serve specific regions. Some ILCs charge for classes but advocacy services are typically available at no cost to clients. Examples of services include information and referral services, connecting students with mentors with disabilities; advocacy training, peer counseling services, housing assistance, training in skills of independent living, and auxiliary social services (developing and maintaining a list of personal care attendants). 

Social Security Administration 
This agency operates the federally funded program that provides benefits for people of any age who are unable to do substantial work and have a severe mental or physical disability. Their programs include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), Medicaid and Medicare. Several work incentive programs exist: cash benefits, Medicare or Medicaid - both while working, and assistance to begin a new line of work. Individuals can also receive medical benefits and can use income as a basis for purchase or rental of housing. 

Regional Center (RC) 
Regional Centers are nonprofit private corporations that have offices throughout California. They provide local resource to help find and access services available to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The auspices of the Regional Centers fall under the Department of Developmental Services that funds, coordinates and designs a wide range of services for California residents with developmental disabilities. Examples of the services provided by RCs include:

• information and referral
• assessment and diagnosis 
• counseling 
• lifelong individualized planning and service coordination 
• purchase of necessary services included in the individual program plan (IPP) 
• advocacy for the protection of legal, civil and service rights
• family support 
• and much more! 

National Organizations and Resources 

• National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)

• Parents Helping Parents

• Transition from School to Young Adulthood: Basic Concepts and Recommended Practices by J.R. Patton and C. Dunn (1998); ProEd, Austin, TX

• Adult Agencies: Linkages for Adolescents in Transition by G. Cozzens, C.A. Dowdy, and T.E.C. Smith (1999); ProEd, Austin, TX