Anthony K. Van Reusen, Ph.D.
Department of Special Education
California State University-Bakersfield
Certified SIM Professional Development Specialist
University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning
My Background and Interests
Throughout my 34-year professional career, I have held a variety of instructional and leadership positions at the elementary, middle, junior-high, and senior-high school and university levels. Across these settings, I have been privileged to work with teachers, parents, and administrators in agencies dedicated to serving students with diverse intellectual, academic, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. My primary interest is in preparing personnel to provide quality education programs and services for children, youth, and young adults with and without learning and behavior problems including those with specific learning disabilities, language and communication disorders, emotional and behavior disorders, and mild to moderate mental retardation. I am well versed in language and cognitive development and dysfunction, literacy development, and second language acquisition. The majority of my research and scholarly productivity is focused on the development and use of cognitive, academic, and motivation intervention strategies. To this end, I emphasize and use evidenced-based instructional and professional-development techniques.
The Story Behind the Self-Advocacy Strategy
When I entered the field of education over three decades ago as a young special education teacher, I encountered many children and adolescents who exhibited motivational, learning, and behavior problems that appeared very familiar. What I observed in most of these students were behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that mirrored my own school experiences and led to my decision to drop out of high school seven years earlier. For example, I found students who were capable of learning but had low expectations for success in school. Some of these students expended a minimal amount of effort and time on completing assigned tasks, and they either passively participated during learning tasks and activities or attempted to avoid them altogether. I faced other students who expressed doubts about the value of school and believed that success in school and learning was beyond one’s control. Like me during adolescence, many of these students expressed unrealistic expectations about adulthood and life after high school, and many had not taken the time to identify and explore their learning strengths, needs, and interests. Others did not have any plans for additional experiences or preparation for employment, careers, or college. Still others had no goals or ideas about what they wanted for their futures. In short, like many of today’s students with learning and behavior problems, I found students who viewed school as a place to socialize with friends, and they displayed disinterest in what school had to offer. Many failed to accept that, ultimately, they controlled their own destiny in preparing for the future and for taking responsibility for improving their learning and being successful both in and out of school.
My interest in finding ways to address student motivation became greater as I found many of my colleagues across the grade levels faced similar challenges with their students. This realization became more apparent as I continued to work with students who remained passive in taking responsibility and ownership for their learning even after they had experienced success in learning. Moreover, a majority of these students were equally uncomfortable communicating with their parents, teachers, and others about their interests, dreams, and goals for the present or the future. Given these characteristics and behaviors, I continued to search for ways to address the issue.
As years passed and my own professional development continued, I became familiar with the research literature on cognitive and academic strategies for addressing the needs of students with learning and behavior problems. Subsequently, I began to examine these methodologies and the importance of interactive dialogue with students as a way to bridge or overcome motivational problems toward school and negative beliefs about themselves. I soon discovered that while many students could easily identify general areas in which they had difficulty, they never really spent time reflecting upon or examining their strengths, nor did they use that information to help direct their interests and learning efforts. I also found that providing students with opportunities to choose what skills, abilities, and strategies they wanted to use, improve, or learn had a positive impact upon their involvement in the teaching and learning process. Thus, I focused my dissertation research on the development of an educational planning strategy. Concurrent with this work, I began to examine the research and work of others on the relationship of motivation and self-determination on learning. In short, my explorations and the recommendations of other professional educators and feedback from teachers evolved into the Self-Advocacy Strategy for enhancing student motivation and self-determination.
My Thoughts about Strategic Instruction
Based on my experience as a teacher and my experience teaching strategies, I have concluded that strategic instruction is a very powerful instructional model that can be used to teach students with and without learning and behavior problems in a variety of settings. A close examination of the instructional sequence used in strategic instruction, or learning strategies instruction as it is sometimes called, reveals that the model infuses the best of intensive-explicit and constructivist pedagogy. For example, in using strategic instruction, teachers and others provide students with explanations and rationales about the strategy or skills the students are learning. They describe and model the required learning process that a student or group of students can use to meet a required task or activity. Teachers who use this model effectively help students identify what strategies or thought processes the students are already using. If students are using an ineffective strategy or are unable to develop a strategy, the teacher provides alternative ways or steps for approaching a task in a more efficient or effective way. In addition, teachers who use strategic instruction provide continuous reviews. They teach students how to determine when to use strategies, and require students to consider the contexts where specific strategies or variations of strategies should be used. They engage in teacher-to-student dialogues about the strategies, skills, or content being learned, and they prompt student-to-student dialogues to allow students to talk about and share the strategies they use and find effective. During strategic instruction, teachers ask students process-type questions, and provide students with guided-practice opportunities. They administer teaching probes and provide students with descriptive feedback as students begin to apply strategies. Strategic instruction also emphasizes the use self-monitoring and self-regulation where students are taught how to use cognitive strategies such as self-questioning, self-checking, self-evaluating, self-correction, and self-reinforcement. As students move into more involved practice, a shift is made from teacher-mediated or directed instruction and scaffolding to student-mediated application as the students begin to master the strategies. Teachers who use strategic instruction also program for the students’ generalized use of learned strategies across different settings and materials, and they conduct maintenance probes. This is when students demonstrate what being an independent learner is all about.
Motivation and self-determination strategies, like their learning strategy counterparts, are techniques and procedures that teachers and others can use to further involve students in the teaching and learning process. These strategies focus on helping students identify and make use of their own learning strengths and interests. They help students learn how to identify and prioritize their learning needs, choose and monitor their goals, and successfully work toward attaining the goals. Further, they help students learn how to effectively communicate their needs and goals in a positive and proactive manner. In short, motivation and self-determination strategies refer to specific skills, behaviors, and processes that students can acquire and use to increase their interest in and efforts toward learning while gaining greater control over their own lives. These motivation and self-determination strategies are designed to give students a sense of direction and control over the learning process in settings both in and out of school. They are designed to be used as a component of strategic instruction.
Teacher and Student Feedback on the Self-Advocacy Strategy
Teachers, counselors, parents, and students have reported to me and others that they are very pleased with the results of Self-Advocacy Strategy instruction. Many teachers have indicated that the strategy is one of their favorites and one of the first strategies they like to teach because it helps them learn more about their students and it also allows for students’ involvement in the selection of strategies and skills they want to learn. Other teachers have reported that teaching the strategy and having students actively involved in their IEP and transition conferences has changed the whole dynamic of these meetings to a very positive experience for themselves, their students, and parents. Parent comments have included “I didn’t realize how much my son knew about his learning and career needs,” and “I’m amazed about the number of skills my daughter knows she has and that she can talk about them in great detail.” A probation officer who had taught the strategy to youths contacted me to report about a youth who needed to go to court and plead his case about staying in public school. The probation officer said that the youth impressed the presiding judge at that court hearing because he was able to specify his goals and plans for the future. He said the judge wanted to know how the young man had learned to talk about his future goals and interests in such detail. The youth told the judge about the Self-Advocacy Strategy. A teacher who worked with migrant students indicated that a group of students had learned the strategy and presented their position on the need for expanded funding for their migrant education program at the state House of Representatives. Some of my greatest joys related to hearing about the success of the strategy instruction have come from students who stated that learning how to communicate effectively with their parents and friends had changed their lives dramatically.
My Contact Information
Anthony K. Van Reusen, Ph.D.
Professor of Special Education
School of Education
California State University, Bakersfield
9001 Stockdale Highwa
Bakersfield, CA 93311
Work phone: (661) 654-6828