Report Card Day
Panic. Dread. Fear. These three words strike strong emotions in struggling high school students.
When I was a school psychologist, my appointment requests soared this time of year. Students wanted help with how to bring up their grades. Through discussion, I learned several reasons students did not earn the grades they wanted. One factor was that they did not have the self-advocacy skills to approach their teacher. I discovered another commonality was students avoided writing assignments. Students told me they chose not to write because the assignments seemed irrelevant or the editing process was embarrassing.
In this article, I will share my ideas on how to use writing to teach self-advocacy. Before concluding, I will share a tool teachers can use to change any negative views about editing.
The first step in using writing for self-advocacy is to teach students how to write a letter introducing themselves when they start a new class.
Tell students to begin with their areas of strength and learning style. Next, they should share any areas of academic difficulty or accommodations they have needed in the past. Then, they should state what they are requesting in that particular course. Direct them to conclude their letters with a thank-you and a statement expressing their interest in being part of the class.
Accommodation needs will vary from English to math to history. As a result, it is best if students tweak their letters for each of their classes. Effective introduction letters explain the most important pieces of information the teacher needs to know about the student.
Whether it's high school or college, the information in the letter will help teachers better understand how to support each student's unique needs.
A well-developed sense of self-awareness is key to self-advocacy. Students can increase self-awareness by examining their areas of strength versus needs as they apply to learning.
Invite students to reflect on what impacts their academic performance, then write about these factors. Students may need help to identify "invisible" influences such as working memory, processing speed, and organizational skills. You can use word banks or sample journal entries to help students get started.
Journal writing requires students to share personal information. If they are shy about this, consider allowing students to write about a celebrity or fictional character. In time, and with practice, students could be ready to use the skills they have learned to then write about themselves.
If the class takes to the idea, you can assign journal entries once a week. Continue to remind students to stop and think about factors that influence their learning before they write. Over time, these entries will create a learning profile database.
At the end of the marking period, ask students to review their journal entries and edit their "About Me" letter. What has changed? Is there new information they can include? Ask students to delete information that is no longer relevant. Linking their journals to their introduction letters reinforces the value of editing after learning new information.
A script is a short writing assignment that helps students navigate everyday communication. It can assist students by giving them practice and structure prior to communicating their needs. If a student attempts to advocate for themselves, yet does not express themselves well, it is less likely they will receive what they need.
Students can write a script for a phone call or an in-person conversation. Examples include scheduling an appointment or approaching the teacher when struggling in their class. Since these scripts are short and concrete, they can draw in students who are usually averse to writing.
By writing out what they want to say ahead of time, students with ADHD are practicing the conversation. This makes it more likely they will stay focused on their topic in live time. A script can be a helpful tool for students with autism or social anxiety who may struggle with starting a conversation without pre-planning. Students who need additional time to process information can improve interactions by referring to a script during conversation. Drafting key points of an upcoming conversation is a skill students can take with them to college and/or the workplace.
Whether it is in follow-up to a conversation or the initial step, self-advocacy will often be in writing. Teaching students to write a letter expressing their concern in a persuasive yet respectful tone can be a fundamental piece of learning self-advocacy.
With the marketing industry budding, it is tempting to connect developing this skill with a business major. However, instead highlight the importance of practicing this writing style to a more overarching impact on students' future academic success.
I have worked with several students that made the mistake of voicing their concern using accusatory language. If they offend the person receiving the letter, they are less likely to get the help they need.
Tell students to think about what interferes with their learning. Then, have them consider who might best address their concerns. Many times, students experience a range of emotions when they need to advocate for themselves. Before drafting their true letter, encourage students to draft a letter they do not intend to send. They can be open and express raw emotions. Afterwards, they are ready to draft their true letter.
Remind students that the letter should be factual and neutral in tone. Provide feedback for replacing words to improve the tone of the letter.
Self-advocacy is often more than a single step or interaction. Instead, it is an ongoing process. Thanking support staff or an instructor for their time can be an essential step. A thank-you letter does not have to be long. A simple email expressing gratitude goes a long way.
Encourage students to be specific when stating what was helpful to them. After they have drafted their letter, ask students to make sure they address their email to the correct person, and have them double-check the spelling.
When I met with students to talk about their academic performance, I discovered that some students had developed a negative mindset towards writing before they arrived in high school.
Students said one reason was that they received an assignment back with an overwhelming amount of corrections. Another reason I heard was that their rough draft had been peer-edited: they lacked confidence in their writing skills and felt embarrassed to share their paper.
Instructors can help students avoid these experiences by using ProWritingAid. This robust software points out mistakes without direct feedback from teachers or peers. Eliminating that interaction can reduce shame and allow students the freedom to work on their grammar and voice. Click here to learn more about using ProWritngAid in the classroom.
Students may need to advocate for themselves at any time in high school or college. These writing assignments will help them develop self-advocacy skills.
Practicing writing that focuses on future academic success can lead to a change of heart for students that have previously held a negative outlook on writing. Encouraging students to use ProWritingAid to edit and improve their work removes the potential for a negative experience created by corrections coming from instructors or peers.