Metacognition & Self-Advocacy
Self-understanding (metacognition) and self-advocacy are critical for student success. In both our upper and middle school, we place great emphasis on empowering our students for that "next step." Our academic program's emphasis on skills and strategies equips our students with a firm understanding of how they learn best, what they need to do to overcome their specific challenges—and the language and courage to successfully articulate their needs to others.
In the Upper School, we use the Academic Support Continuum to communicate the individualized individualized levels of support students need across the curriculum. Students receive feedback on their level of support from each teacher in each subject - and these levels are communicated to the students and their parents on a regular basis.
It is crucial for our students to understand the processes involved in learning, often referred to as executive function (organizing, planning, prioritizing, beginning and completing tasks, managing time, etc.). Several components of our academic program in all grades support the executive function development of our students. Every student is assigned an academic advisor, who functions as a key advocate and organizer for students. Students meet in an advisory of 6-8 students twice daily (in the beginning and the end of the day), giving the advisor opportunities to process and strategize with the students around general and specific learning issues. We also explicitly model and teach executive function strategies throughout our content areas. One example is the use of a "master binder" to support organization of papers and tests. Another example is the modeling of strategies for taking and organizing notes.
As students develop an understanding of their executive function strengths and challenges, they also learn what they will need for more successful learning and academic performance. For many of our students this may include using compensatory strategies or requesting an accommodation (examples include: extended time for quizzes and tests, voice dictation software to aid in writing, the ability to record lectures while taking notes, the use of audio to support the reading of text, etc.). Students are free to "try out" (at the request of teachers or of themselves) various strategies or accommodations, and are highly supported in doing so.
As students mature in their understanding of how they learn and what tools and strategies best support their process, they are expected to evolve beyond understanding to self-advocacy. The ability to explain their particular learning difference and the challenges that difference may present, as well as the confidence to ask for what they need to be successful is a critical skill set in their preparation for college and career.
The relationship between DVFS students and their teachers/advisors is key in producing a stronger student voice about their individual learning needs. They are encouraged by the faculty to advocate for themselves, and they become comfortable doing so—to the point that we often hear stories from visiting graduates about how comfortable they are advocating for their needs at the collegiate level.