SIM Forum

An online medium where ideas and views on The Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) can be shared.


Spring 2024: SIM Educator Newsletter

  • SIM Events & New Overview, p.1
  • SIM Story Corps: Becoming a Better Teacher with SIM, p. 2-3
  • Links to SIM Resources and Tools, p. 4


Fall 2023: SIM Educator Newsletter

  • p1 - SIM Events & Links to New Brochures
  • p. 2-4 - Enacting the IES Evidence-Based Recommendations for Reading Interventions with SIM™ Reading Strategies, Jocelyn Washburn
  • p. 5-6 - Links to SIM Resources and Tools
Using the Decision-Making Routine for IEP and Post-Secondary Goal Development

Darren Minarik, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Radford University
SIM Content Enhancement Professional Developer

How can we help students with disabilities take ownership of their Individualized Education Program (IEP)? Research on transition planning over the last 20 years suggests that active student involvement in transition planning is essential to improve post-secondary outcomes (Martin & Zhang, 2020). One effective strategy to promote more active student involvement is the Decision-Making Routine. This research-driven device helps students narrow down their post-secondary goals and identify the services and support they need to reach them.

The Decision-Making Routine involves higher order thinking and reasoning when there are multiple options or ways to respond to a particular issue (Bulgren, 2018). This approach includes critical thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and judgment. The routine's linking steps spell out the word DECISION (see Table 1), providing an explicit structure that guides teachers and students during the interactive creation of the Decision-Making Routine. The teacher creates a draft routine in advance as a model, and then the device is co-constructed, allowing students to demonstrate their higher order thinking and reasoning skills as they participate in the final creation process. Following the Cue, Do, Review Sequence, the teacher cues the routine, follows the linking steps, and reviews the reasons for the final decision, frequently referring back to the content addressed throughout the course/year.

Table 1. Decision-making DECISION Linking Steps

Decide the issue

Enter options

Create a list of important information

Identify reasons to support each option

Set rank for each reason

Identify compromises or alternatives

Offer a decision

Name reasons for the decision

Source: Bulgren, J.A. (2018). Teaching decision-making. University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

When using the Decision-Making Routine for post-secondary goal development, students first Decide on the post-secondary goal category and ask themselves, "What are my goals and dreams for the future?" Then, the student participates in transition assessments to gather data on employment/career, education/training, and independent living/community participation post-secondary goals. In collaboration with the teacher, the student Enters the options identified through the transition assessment data.

After entering options, the student Creates a list of important information connected to the listed options. These items are typically pieces of information that a student needs to keep in mind, regardless of the option they choose. Then, the student goes through each option individually to Identify reasons to support each option.

The fourth step involves ranking the reasons listed in the options. When a student Sets the rank for each reason, it helps prioritize which option should become a post-secondary goal. A numbered system or pluses and minuses can be used to identify the most valued reasons.

During the first four linking steps, students may come across related topics or alternatives while researching their options. They may also realize that their options might be overly ambitious or will take longer to achieve. In this case, the Identify compromises and alternatives section of the device is used to list related topics or alternatives and to discuss any compromises that might be necessary.

The last two steps involve writing the post-secondary goals and explaining the reasoning for selecting certain goals. In the Offer a decision step, the student takes the selected option and writes a goal using one of the following sentence stems:

  • After high school completion, I will…
  • After graduation, I will…
  • Following exit from age 18-21 transition services, I will...
  • Within one year of completing high school, I will…
  • After high school graduation and graduation from ___, I will….

Finally, the student Names reasons for choosing the goal and creates a series of "I" statements explaining why the post-secondary goal chosen fits with their goals and dreams for the future. The “I” statements also help explain the transition services needed in the next year to support the knowledge and skills necessary to reach their post-secondary goal. The student is answering the question, “What do I need to learn in a year to help me achieve my goal after graduation from high school?” Remember, transition services do not always need to be outside services or even services provided directly by school personnel. Students and their families can also provide transition services to support post-secondary goals.

Figure 1 provides a sample Decision-Making Routine examining an employment goal. Through transition assessment data, the student indicated that teaching was a future employment goal. Because the student is nearing graduation, a narrowing of the post-secondary goal was needed as choices were being made regarding post-secondary education. The student examined three options and also considered the possibility of working in a related education career.

Figure 1. Decision Making Routine for Post-secondary Goals

"Decision-Making Routine device example for Postsecondary Goals "

The Decision-Making Routine is an effective tool for helping students write their own post-secondary goals and sections of the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. This is an opportunity for students to exercise self-determination in the IEP process. By better understanding their hopes and dreams for the future and what it takes to reach those goals, students can be empowered to be independent and live dignified lives.


Bulgren, J. A. (2018). The Decision-Making Routine. University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

Martin, J., & Zhang, D. (2020). Student involvement in the transition process. In Handbook of adolescent transition education for youth with disabilities (pp. 120-137). Routledge.

Download the article to share (PDF)

Higher Order Thinking and Reasoning (HOTR) Routines Support Rigor

Craig Wisniewski, SIM Professional Developer

Regardless of if you are newer to the education profession or a seasoned veteran, you have undoubtedly experienced edu-speak—the use of acronyms and overused jargon. Acronyms and jargon such as AYP, RTI, SPED, grit, rigor, growth mindset, etc. are key elements in a student’s success but lose substantial meaning when reduced to edu-speak.

Rigor is an edu-speak term that is overly used in education, creating ambiguity. For some, rigor means increasing the difficulty of assignments, others believe it's providing additional work, and some cannot define it but know it when they see it (Sztabnik). Barbara Blackburn, in Rigor Is NOT a Four-Letter Word, defines rigor as “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each is supported so he or she can learn at a high level, and each student demonstrates learning at a high level

The Higher Order Thinking and Reasoning Routines (HOTR), part of the Content Enhancement Routines from the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, help students engage in the critical skills of higher order thinking and reasoning required by national and state standards. Each routine, in alignment with Blackburn’s definition, uses a familiar Cue, Do, Review instructional sequence to ensure educators are provided with rigorous learning opportunities for their students:

Instructional Sequence

What This Looks Like
in the HOTR Routines

Alignment to Blackburn’s Definition of Rigor

Example via the Concept Comparison Routine


Providing an Overview of the Graphic Organizer and the Steps to Complete It

Creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels

The teacher announces the Comparison Table and explains its use and expectations for student participation


Graphic Organizer is Co-Constructed by the Teacher and Students

Each student is supported so he or she can learn at a high level

The teacher and class collaboratively construct the device using the COMPARING Linking Steps* that “connect” the content to the needs and goals of students.


Teacher Checking for Understanding

Each student demonstrates learning at a high level

Information presented in the Comparison Table is reviewed and confirmed, and the process of exploring similarities and differences between concepts is reviewed.


*COMPARING Linking Steps

Communicate Targeted Concepts
Obtain the Overall Concepts
Make Lists of Known Characteristics
Pin down Like Characteristics
Assemble Like Characteristics
Record Unlike Characteristics
Identify Unlike Categories
Nail Down a Summary
Go Beyond the Basics

As evidenced via the Concept Comparison Routine in relation to Blackburn’s definition of rigor, students demonstrate the following critical thinking skills throughout the Do and Review stages of the Instructional Sequence for each HOTR Routine:

  • utilize their schema to connect ideas,
  • ask deep probing questions about a topic,
  • identify and understand the importance of a topic, and
  • utilize reflective thinking to continuously develop their understanding.

Other routines in the HOTR series include the Cause and Effect Routine, the Question Exploration Routine, the Decision-Making Routine, the Cross Curricular Argumentation Routine, and the Scientific Argumentation Routine. Each of these HOTR routines utilizes the Cue-Do-Review instructional sequence. Using HOTR routines helps educators create a rigorous classroom culture by defining what they want students to experience and achieve and by providing students with productive struggle opportunities.


Blackburn, Barbara R. Rigor Is NOT a Four-Letter Word. New York, NY, Routledge, 2018.

Sztabnik, Brian. “A New Definition of Rigor.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 7 May 2015,