First impressions: Advocacy, student self-advocacy, special needs and personalised learning

My initial impression from looking at the literature on personalized learning is that there is no clear concept of what self-advocacy within personalized learning involves. First, the term self-advocacy if rarely used. There is talk of the student voice, consultation, etc. but not of self-advocacy.

It appears that the term self-advocacy is predominantly  linked to students with special needs (which includes both physical and learning disablities as well as gifted pupils). And in that context there is a very good definition available:

Self-advocacy is the process of recognizing and meeting the needs specific to one's learning ability without compromising the dignity of oneself or others (Brinckerhoff, 1994). It includes four key elements: understanding one's rights and responsibilities; developing one's learner profile by assessing abilities and interests, strengths and weaknesses, learning styles and habits; becoming aware of available options and opportunities; and connecting with advocates who can help accomplish what needs to be done. The typical adolescent urge for less dependence on parents makes it particularly important for students in the middle grades to learn to advocate for themselves. Yet as the research indicates, most students must be taught how to self-advocate.

Deborah Douglas, “Self-Advocacy: Encouraging Students to Become Partners inDifferentiation.,” Roeper Review 26, no. 4 (Summer 2004).

Self-advocacy in this sense  even merrits its own Wikipedia entry which also includes advocacy of patients' rights.

But there is more that can be learned from this research for personalized learning. Strong or deep personalization of learning in effect means that we need to treat all students as having special needs (not just those who need to overcome specific challenges or are not challenged enough). In that, I imagine that the passages in bold in the above definition would be most relevant and most important to explore. This also provides a good starting point for the investigation of online tools to promote and encourage self-advocacy.

One area that the above definition does not cover is the advocacy of institutional position of student rights that is represented by student unions, class representatives, etc. These are only included obliquely under 'becoming aware of available options'. However, these institutions are fairly established and frequently engage in advocacy of external causes and mostly engage with instances of self-advocacy where regular avenues have broken down. It is not clear whether these institutions will be flexible enough to support and sustain the continuous self-advocacy that seems to be necessary for a successful implementation of personalized learning.

NOTE: As I learned from searching Google and bibliographic databases, it is important to differentiate between advocacy and self-advocacy. Advocacy almost exclusively refers to the advocacy of social issues within the classroom or the broader instutional context of the school. Self-advocacy, on the other hand, refers to the speaking out of students with special needs. There are instances where those two overlap (advocating for one's rights as a person with special needs is afterall to advocate for everyone with similar needs) but the literature seems to be fairly consistent at distinguishing the two. However, as I noted above some institutions designed to promote self-advocacy (e.g. student unions) frequently engage in advocacy, as well, and it may not be always clear which is which.