Self-advocacy is a broad topic that refers to students’ ability to make decisions that affect their daily lives: what friends to choose, what to study in school, what kind of job or career to pursue (Rinehart, 1995). Research on the contributory factors in student success clearly indicates that a student’s ability to set goals, make choices, and constructively regulate her own behavior to promote learning is critically important. (Brandon, 2007) Promoting students’ ability to self-advocate requires an institutional wide commitment to provide students with the support they need to gain the self-confidence and self-understanding necessary to become an effective self-advocate. Course instructors can contribute to this effort by implementing some procedures and practices in their classes and curriculum.
Here are some classroom practices and expectations that support students in their development of independence and academic success.
- Set the expectation that students will communicate with the instructor. Tell them how and why they should contact the instructor. Ask students if they have concerns about the grading criteria or other course expectations. Check in with students either through email or short meetings in class. Regular communication with students fosters their ability to monitor their own progress and to know when they may be having difficulties.
- Ask students to reflect on their use of learning strategies or other classroom practices. Encourage open discussion about what students think works best for them in learning the course content. Assign self-assessment and self-reflection activities in order to give students the opportunity to evaluate what learning strategies work for them and which do not.
- If students are interested in exploring the way they learn best, encourage them to take a learning styles inventory. There are a number of learning style inventories on the internet, and here are two that students may find helpful:
- Make expectations for the course explicit. Everyone does better when they know exactly what is expected of them, but struggling students need clarity and structure even more; often they don’t have the internal organization to structure their own learning. When students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, they are more likely to know when they are in difficulty and seek help from the instructor. Other helpful classroom practices include:
- Write the day’s agenda on the board, as well as the day’s assignment and review these with students at the start of class. Involve students in this review by asking them to identify any concerns about the assignment or the previous class before moving forward with the lesson.
- Require students to maintain a class notebook, where they can take notes, keep a record of strategies learned, and review for tests.
- Where appropriate, provide a grading rubric for course projects. Here is an example of a rubric for quadratic equations:
Self-advocacy and self-regulation are inextricably linked. Self-regulated learning involves the development of a set of behaviors that positively affect one’s learning. Research shows that students who have a high ability to self-regulate more often achieve their goals and have a better sense of control over the attainment of their goals. There are three areas of self-regulation in academic learning: (Zimmerman, 1989)
- Behavior – how students manage their resources, such as time, study environment, and faculty or their peers to help them.
- Motivation and affect – how students adapt to the demands of a course by controlling or changing their goals and managing their motivation. This area includes how students control their emotions, such as anxiety, in ways that can improve their learning.
- Cognition – how students manage the use of cognitive strategies for learning that can improve their performance and their learning.
Self-regulation strategies can be taught, modeled, and integrated into the course curriculum. Many of the classroom practices reviewed in the section on supporting students with working memory deficits are also excellent strategies to promote self-regulation. Here is a summary of the beneficial practices to improve student ability to self-regulate.
- Provide an opportunity for students to engage in goal setting at the beginning of the course. Encourage them to consider both short and long term goals (i.e. goals for the course and goals for future degrees and jobs).
- Require that students keep a course notebook, where they can file their notes, handouts, and learning strategies for reference.
- Teach strategies and provide templates to help students orient themselves to the problem and prioritize what steps they must take to solve the problem.
- Provide a mix of verbal and visual strategies.
- Provide frequent reminders to students in the form of daily, weekly, and semester agendas.
- Teach checking strategies to help students focus their attention strategically to self-correct their errors.
- Provide an opportunity for students to reflect on what strategies work best for them.
Brandon, A. (2007). [Promoting Self-Advocacy & Metacognition]. Unpublished PowerPoint presentation.
National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Increasing Academic Achievement Study: Self-Regulation. Retrieved April 23, 2008 from http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/SelfRegulation/ .
Reiff, H. (2007). Self-Advocacy skills for students with learning disabilities. Port Chester: Dude Publishing.
Rinehart, P. M. (1995). Students learn (and teach) self advocacy. The Exceptional Parent, 25(11). Retrieved April 23 from Infotrac OneFile database: Article A17862124.
Roditi, B. (2007). The strategic math classroom. In L. Meltzer (Ed.) Executive function in education: from theory to practice. New York: Guilford Press, pp. 237-260.
Wehmeyer, M. (2007). Promoting self-determination in students with developmental disabilities. New York: Guilford Press.
Zimmerman, B.J. (2000). Self-efficacy: an essential motive to learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 82-91.