Self-Determination: Setting IEP Goals

By Courtney Tabor-... on Jan 01, 2017

One of the ways that students with vision impairments can build self-determination skills is through participation in their IEP.  Participating in an IEP encourages students to learn about self-advocacy; to better understand their own strengths, challenges, and accommodations; and to set and articulate their goals. When students take charge of one or more components of their IEP meeting, they are in effect taking ownership of their own education.

Active Participation in IEP Meetings

There are a number of ways that students can begin to participate more actively in their IEP meetings. For students who have taken a very passive role in the process until now, leading a meeting on her own will be challenging without practice. Students can be introduced to this leadership role by first taking an active role in smaller components. By taking this approach, they will build their sense of confidence and competence, and set themselves up for success.

Working on Setting Short-Term Goals

One way that students can become more active participants in their IEP meetings is to work on setting goals. As instructors and family members, we are often inclined to ask students about their long-term goals. Students with and without disabilities who are on the cusp of transition out of high school constantly hear various versions of the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. However, we often do little to encourage students to think about their short-term goals. When students can work with members of their education team to set and comprehend their IEP goals, the special education process becomes something they are taking part in, rather than something that is happening to them. It also helps students to become more aware of the steps needed for them to accomplish the things they are aiming for long-term. This activity encourages students to take part in IEP goal development.


  • Copy of the student’s IEP
  • Tools for writing or note taking


  1. Student picks a member of her education team to work with, preferably one from whom she receives direct service. Many students may do best at first if they choose a person they feel comfortable with.
  2. Student and instructor meet to discuss IEP goals in that instructor’s area (e.g. Orientation and Mobility goals with an Orientation and Mobility instructor).
  3. Together with the student, the instructor reviews the current IEP goals in that area. Goals should be explained in a way that students can understand them. Discuss the following:
    • What is the goal and what does it mean?
    • What is the purpose of this goal? What will it help the student to learn or accomplish?
    • How does this goal relate to transition skills?
    • What is the progress toward achieving this goal so far?
  4. Talk with the student about what she would like her new IEP goals to be. Use the following questions/strategies to help her articulate what her goals are:
    • Do you like what we have been working on together? Do you think it is helpful to you?
    • What are some things you would like to learn? (Many students may benefit from some options here). Why do you want to learn it? How will this skill be helpful to you?
    • What can you identify as some skills you can work on here that will help you as you transition out of school?  For example, “You say that you want to live on your own someday. What are some things you will need to be able to do to make that happen?”
  5. Instructors should endeavor as much as possible to include or incorporate the goals of the student into future IEP goals. Instructors can challenge students to talk about some of these short-term goals with the group at her next IEP meeting.


  • For students with complex needs, instructors can help students learn about making choices and setting short-term goals through concrete rather than abstract terms. An instructor can give the student a choice on what they will work on together based on her current goals. For example, an occupational therapist working with a student might give a student the option during one lesson of working with her feet (gross motor activities) or with her hands (fine motor).
  • Alternatively, an instructor focusing on one specific goal can involve the student by giving her a choice about how to accomplish that goal. In this instance, it is still helpful to define the goal you will be addressing. For example, an O&M instructor might say, “Today we are going to work on using your cane safely on the stairs. Do you want to work on stairs inside or outside?
  • Goals can be set and tracked through a tactile and/or visual board. Students working on setting short-term goals can choose a goal for the week, which can be written on a paper or board that the student can access. Students and instructors or family members can mark progress toward the goal each week by using stickers or tactile markers. This will help the student to learn about her own progress and take ownership in her accomplishments.

Collage of setting IEP Goals

Total Life Learning by Wendy Bridgeo,‎ Beth Caruso,‎ & Mary Zatta

Cover of Total Life Learning

The Total Life Learning curriculum was developed for students ages 3 to 22 who are blind, visually impaired including those students who have additional disabilities or are deafblind. The focus is on the development of life and career goals that enable student to maximize independence, self-determination, employability, and participation in the community.