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Creating Meaningful Goals Toward Student Independence When Writing an IEP

By Karen Kaplan, MS

I frequently hear special education teachers consider which goals to make for their elementary classrooms of moderate to severe students. I frequently suggest educators focus on creating goals that develop student independence. Students develop independence when taught to problem-solve, make choices, and motor-plan through tasks.

So, when composing the Individualized Education Program (IEP), it may be beneficial to write a goal that sounds something like this:

By the end of the school year, John will engage in 5 to 10 classroom independent activities with visual prompts. By the end of the first quarter, John will engage in 5 to 10 classroom independent activities with visual, verbal, and physical prompts. By the end of the second quarter, John will engage in 5 to 10 classroom independent activities with visual and verbal prompts.

Here is a list of possible classroom independent activities that the teacher and/or paraprofessional can help the student engage in and learn to do without support at some time or with at least minimal support:

  1. Hang up their own coat and or backpack

  2. Use a locker if that is provided

  3. Keep their desk organized

  4. Wipe off the top of their desk or table

  5. Sharpen their own pencil

  6. Complete classroom chores

  7. Hand in their homework on time

  8. Use the school library

  9. Use the school cafeteria

  10. Use a school bathroom

  11. Successfully move through a fire drill

  12. Learn recess activities and the social skills that go along with those activities

  13. Carry recess equipment out and return appropriately

  14. Help a classmate

  15. Carry scissors safely

  16. Successfully wait in a line

  17. Use the water fountain at recess


  19. Obtain and use art materials successfully

  20. Learn where the office is and deliver messages, tools, or supplies

  21. Greet classmates, greet office staff, and learn to make requests

Engaging in these independent activities can profoundly impact a student's development. It can enhance problem-solving abilities, decision-making skills, expressive language modes, social interactions, motor skills, and even personal responsibility. It's a comprehensive approach to learning that can also introduce students to new vocabulary and concepts.

Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in speech pathology and audiology. She minored in special education and obtained her speech therapist and special education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges.


Karen founded a non-profit, Offerings, which helps cultures globally to understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an annual Autism Awesomeness event. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. Karen has authored three books: Reach Me Teach Me: A Public School Program for the Autistic Child; A Handbook for Teachers and Administrators, On the Yellow Brick Road: My Search for Home and Hope for the Child with Autism, and Typewriting to Heaven… and Back: Conversations with My Dad on Death, Afterlife and Living  (which is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love).

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