Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.
Students with learning disabilities have had many people helping them along the way. Their parents have most likely been their strongest advocates throughout their elementary and middle school years. Most parents have a complete understanding of the nature of the disability, the student's strengths and weaknesses, and the accommodations necessary for their child to succeed.
This is helpful when the child is young, but as the student reaches upper middle school and high school, it is time for them to take on the role of advocate. There are a number of things that need to happen for that 'passing of the torch' to take place.
It is absolutely necessary for students with learning disabilities to be a self-advocate. This means being able to understand the nature of their disability, articulate their strengths, and understand their weaknesses. In order to self-advocate, students need to be able to know what accommodations work best for them, and they need to be able to speak with teachers about these needs in clear and succinct ways.
As a teacher, your role in the acquisition of self-advocacy and self-reflection skills is vital because you can model the best practices and help the student reinforce them by using them. Teaching self-advocacy and self-reflection go hand in hand.
Self-advocacy helps students gain confidence and develop the skills necessary for independence. These are incredibly important for the learning disabled student, because the disability often makes the student feel as though they are less than other students. Our goal as educators is to help the student build on their weaknesses by capitalizing on their strengths. The student who self-advocates is:
- Aware of their strengths and limitations
- Knowledgeable of their interests and preferences
- Able to take action when needed
- Able to set goals
- Able to manage time effectively
- Able to evaluate and regulate behavior
- Aware of their rights
- A problem solver
- Responsible for their actions or decisions
- Able to reflect and review
In order to help the student achieve these skills, we must develop strategies that will help them learn to self-advocate by becoming self-reflective. Taking the time to work with students in a methodical way will allow them to gain the skills necessary to achieve success and gain independence.
To help this student, take the time to have the student work through the process of learning how to self-advocate. Asking them questions that will help them reflect is what will make all the difference.
Resources & Problem Solving
Ask yourself, what does the student need to know to be successful? The list is endless, but the more you try to anticipate what the needs might be the more you can build in opportunities for the student to practice. What would help? Ask the student to consider the situation then tell you what he or she would do. Perhaps you could role play or offer language that might be used.
Try to anticipate what the questions might be so you can help the student understand how to approach the situation. For example, the student might need to know if the professor will allow more time for an assignment as an accommodation.
Help them to problem solve themselves. If the student does not know how to start an assignment, your question might be, 'Who could you ask who might be able to help you?' Give the student the opportunity to solve the problem on their own rather than having you give them the answer. It is possible they will come up with answers like a classmate, the teacher, or the syllabus. Your best bet is to keep pushing until they have exhausted all of the possibilities. This helps them learn that the more possibilities for solutions, the better off they're going to be.
Time and Place
Working with a student to determine when it is best to ask the question is important. Often, boundaries are difficult for the learning disabled student. Try to get the student to stop and consider whether this is a question that must be asked at this moment, even if that means interrupting. There are questions that cannot wait, but there are definitely ones that can. Help the student be able to differentiate between the two.
Help them think about what might be private compared to public information. Should I ask the question in the classroom in front of all the students, or should I wait until I can speak to the teacher privately? It's also a chance for you to talk to the student about reading the signs. Is the teacher in a hurry? Are there just a few minutes of class left? Will you have more time if you speak to the teacher in the office? These are questions that will help the student consider 'when' is the best time.
Deciding how much information to share about the student's disability is up to the student, but we can help them consider how much they want to share. How much information does someone need in order to provide the accommodations that are necessary? Having conversations with the student will help solidify their position so they will know how to proceed.
Self-advocacy for the learning disabled student is being able to understand the nature of their disability, articulate their strengths, and understand their weaknesses. Self-advocacy and self-reflection are a must-have for learning disabled students to become successful, independent learners. As a teacher, using questioning techniques to help the student problem solve on their own and know the right time, place, and amount of information for their questions can help students grow and learn to be engaged self-advocates.
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