May 13, 2015

Self-advocacy before finals: getting what you need to succeed

In school, developing academic self-sufficiency often requires a skill called self-advocacy, or a student’s ability to “effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs, and rights” (VanReusen et al., 1994). Most importantly, self-advocacy “involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions,” usually independently or with minimal help from parents and school authorities. Sooner or later, every student will grow into adult, and will need to use their skills, intellect, manners and morals on their own terms. So why not start practicing now? And why not start with self-advocacy in the classroom and at home?

Self-advocacy is ibull-hornmportant for students all year round, but becomes even more important as final exams approach. To succeed on their cumulative finals, students need to be self-aware enough to understand what help or tools they need. They also need to advocate for those needs far enough in advance of their test days for the assistance they receive to make a difference. After all, researching information in a textbook or receiving input from teachers the day before the exam won’t be so useful; by then, it’s already too late.

As students get older, their finals increase in their demands, meaning that studying for finals becomes a lengthier and more comprehensive process with each passing year.  Often, students find themselves surprised by the amount of work that goes into reviewing whole semesters of content. Usually, their sense of surprise (or even resentment) comes from anxiety and lack of preparedness: If they had started sooner, and gotten what they needed, finals would be much less worrisome!

Self-Advocacy Tips

Executive function coaches, parents, and teachers can all help students self-advocate early and get on track for finals. We suggest starting now, gathering the proverbial troops, and marching into battle with confidence. Try these tips below and help your child come out of finals week victorious:

  1. Find out what to expect from the exam itself: A lot of students wait for their teachers to provide them with crucial testing information. However, one way for your student to get the information he needs for a test, sooner rather than later, is simply to ask for it. Encourage your child to meet with teachers after class and to bring a list of questions like, “Will the test be cumulative for the whole year, or just second semester?” or “What question types will be included on the exam?” To be self-advocators, students need the “know-how” to ask for what they need AND the follow-through to actually ask for it.
  2. Organize class notes to aid study process: Once your child knows what his exam will cover, he can begin organizing and assembling notes from those units. Help your child to organize his notes chronologically and identify gaps in his materials. During this stage of the process, a self-advocating student takes responsibility for any missing notes and makes strong efforts to get copies from classmates or teachers. He might also make notes about which units were hardest for him, developing a plan to get extra help or make time for additional studying.  
  3. Develop KWL Charts for every subject: With all his notes in order, your child can progress to the next stage of finals preparation by making KWL charts. KWL stands for “Know, Want to Know, and Learned” and can be used as a system to determine areas of strength and counteract areas of weakness. KWL charts help your child develop a list of questions for his teacher, inspired by his “Want to Know” column. To read more about how to set up and use a KWL chart, read our blog detailing their many benefits and uses!
  4. Review past exams and pay attention to former mistakes: Many students falsely believe that, once they have finished an exam, they never have to use that material again. So when they make mistakes on test day, they don’t follow-up to remedy their errors or learn the correct methods, since the test is over! When finals arrive, the mistakes they once overlooked become extremely problematic. However, a self-advocating student makes sure to seek out the correct answers to his past exams and practices the correct methods.
  5. Seek out extra help at after-school study sessions: To find answers about the exam, to gather missing notes, to ask what he truly “Wants to Know,” and to remedy past mistakes, your child can attend his teacher’s after-school study sessions or office hours. These additional help sessions provide your student increased one-on-one attention, which gives educators greater ability to help personalize your child’s assistance, tools, and plans.  
  6. Develop a plan and stick to it: When your child understands his own needs, he can begin to make the “informed decisions” that are characteristic of self-advocacy. Self-advocating provides him a foundation on which to build a plan for his work moving forward. When your child determines his needs, he can create a plan to have his needs met. When he assembles the right tools and resources, he can better determine and adjust his future study plans on an ongoing basis.

Self-advocacy is only the beginning, but it is an important start. Although finals may be weeks or even months away for some students, it’s never too early to start asking for help, answers, notes, and resources.