Module Four: Students Determined to Take Control of Their Education and Their Lives

Introduction to Module

Life can present challenges and major changes for all young people. Self-determination allows young people to make choices and decisions to direct their own lives. Self-directed learning encompasses choice- and decision-making skills.  Tools to assist all students in the process are Student-led IEPs, One-Pagers, and Student-led conferences.  In addition, a Brookes publication, authored by Thoma, C. & Wehman, P. (2010). Getting the Most Out of IEPs: An Educators Guide to the Student-Led Approach provides research and numerous examples of how students can be involved in their IEPs.

Student-Led IEPs

Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings have often been a source of contention between families and educators as they come together to determine the best ways to educate individual students.  Historically, students did not attend their IEP meeting or if they did they would sit quietly, with little involvement.  In recent years, in Virginia and across the nation, students are “leading” their IEPs in many different ways.  We are going to share with you some ideas, videos, and resources to help to get your student involved in leading his own IEP.

Getting Started

The following is an excerpt from “Why is This Cake on Fire?

Imagine being a small child and hearing your parents talk about your birthday party.  You hear the excitement in their voices as they talk and plan, starting with a theme for the party…And then your birthday comes and goes, but no one ever invites you to your party…Maybe they just forgot to invite me, you think.

Several years later, when you become a teenager, you barely catch a snippet of a conversation about your birthday party.  But since you have never been invited before to your parties, you know that your presence there is not important…But this time you receive an invitation…You are surprised, confused, and even scared.

Now read this excerpt again, but this time, insert “IEP” in place of “birthday parties.”

Resources for Student-Led IEPs

The I’m Determined website has resources to assist IEP teams as they seek greater student involvement in the process.  Tools such as an introduction to student-led IEPs, a brochure for students to learn various ways they can be involved, and tools and templates students can use to share information about themselves with their IEP team are all available on the I’m Determined website. Click into “Student Involvement” for booklets, templates, and video clips to help you get started.

Introduction to IEP meeting

Student-Led IEP PowerPoint

Videos Demonstrating Impact

“Student Involvement in the IEP” (Captioned version available on request)

“Elementary:  It’s All About You! Get to know your IEP” (Captioned version available on request)


Please visit the Student Involvement section of this website to view and download the “IEP Participation Brochure.” 

Tools to Assist Students

In the following booklets, students learn about the parts of the IEP and the input they provide in the development of each part. Download and print out a booklet for each student or use the digital version to make adaptations to meet the learning and communication style of the individual. One booklet is designed for elementary and the other for secondary students.

The cover for All About Me.    The I'm Determined cover.

Sample Student PowerPoint’s

One of the ways in which many students lead their IEPs is to introduce the meeting by sharing a presentation that reflects their preferences, interests, needs, and strengths.  Depending upon the age, communication, and learning styles of the student, the presentation might be in different formats.  These examples include preschool to high school students.



History & Impact

All students regardless of age or disability can be involved in the development of their own IEP.  The One-Pager was developed by a mother/special education teacher/vocational evaluator and her middle school son in order to assist the student in participating in his IEP meeting.  Since second grade when the student was first diagnosed with a learning disability the mother would write a letter to all of her son’s teachers stressing the son’s preferences, interests, needs, and strengths. The letters were long and it was often felt that teachers were unable to really see the purpose in them.  In hopes of condensing the information, the One-Pager was created and it provided a “snapshot” of all the information the son and mother wanted to be conveyed to the IEP team. Utilizing the One-Pager now allowed the student to lead his IEP meeting.

The One-Pager was shared at an I’m Determined workshop and the concept became an integral way of giving students a way to participate in their IEP meetings.  For students who may be reluctant to speak at their meetings, video clips were added to the One-Pagers by the Self-Determination team.  This allowed those students’ voices to be heard.  Now entire schools are utilizing the One-Pagers as a means for all students to share their strengths, preferences, interests, and needs with teachers, guidance counselors, community agencies, and employers.

The One-Pager template is located on this website.  It is also available as a free web-app.

Tools for Gathering Information

The One-Pager represents information about the individual’s strengths, preferences, interests, and needs (SPIN).  Depending on the age of the student, the methods for gathering information and the information itself will be varied.  Sample One-Pagers are also found on the site; simply use the search term “one-pager” in the search box at the upper right corner of this page. Also, watch the video clips for tips on getting started with One-Pagers and some ways to adapt the One-Pager.

Student-led Conferences

“…this practice is the biggest breakthrough in communicating about student achievement in the last century. When students are well prepared over an extended period to tell the story of their own success (or lack thereof), they seem to experience a fundamental shift in their internal sense of responsibility for that success. The pride in accomplishment that students feel when they have a positive story to tell, and tell it well, can be immensely motivational.  The sense of personal responsibility that they feel when anticipating what it will be like to face the music of having to tell their story of poor achievement can also drive them to productive work.”  Rich Stiggins, Phi Delta Kappa, November 1999.

Student-led conferences allow the student to take charge of his/her academic conference with his/her parents. The teacher acts as a discussion facilitator or coach if necessary. The outcome is increased accountability as the student moves from a passive to an active participant in reporting their academic progress.

During the conference, students share their portfolios or data folders, which contain academic and behavioral performance and progress as well as other data collected.

Learn more about student-led conferences by viewing the following PowerPoint presentation:

A School’s Experience Reported in Virginia

Spaulding, S. & Hogsett, A. (Sept. 2009).  Student-led conferences help students become more self-determined. Retrieved January 17, 2011 from VCU TTAC’s Innovations and Perspectives

Highlights of Research on Student-Led Conferences

Student-led conferences are emerging as a way to actively engage students in their learning process, wrote Donald G. Hackmann, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University in an ERIC Digest, “Student-Led Conferences at the Middle Level.” The following are some of the benefits of student-led conferences listed in Hackmann’s article:

  • Students assume greater control of their academic progress.
  • Students accept personal responsibility for their academic performance.
  • Parents, teachers, and students engage in open and honest dialogue.
  • Parents attend conferences at increased rates.
  • Students learn the process of self-evaluation.
  • Students develop organizational and oral communication skills.

Additional Links to Websites/Articles:


Setting up a portfolio-samples and forms/template

After reviewing the module, consider the following questions for further discussion:

  1. Name three ways students can lead or participate in their IEPs
  2. Comment on the effectiveness of the One-Pager to communicate SPIN with others.
  3. What are the pros and cons of implementing student-led conferences?