While content describes what students learn, strategies give them options for how to get there. Content and strategies work hand-in-hand to help your students succeed.
What Are Strategies
Strategies help students to learn, to master new material and to successfully complete challenging tasks. You can use strategies to help you comprehend a text, to help you solve a problem, or even to help you study for an upcoming exam.
When teaching students to write, you teach them basic strategies such as preparing an outline before they start writing. As they get older, you teach them genre-specific strategies such as characterisation, red herrings and opening hooks to help them write stories; and you teach them how to use authoritative statements, modality and logical reasoning to write more persuasive texts.
When students learn to add, they learn to look for signal words such as altogether – this is a strategy. In a similar vein, when students learn to subtract, they also learn to look for key words such less, how many left and even how many more – these are different examples of the same strategy. A different set of strategies that students are encouraged to use with all operations involve estimating (before working it out) and checking the reasonableness of their answer (after working it out). You could also teach students problem solving strategies such as creating an organized list, working backwards and using logical reasoning.
Some strategies cut across subject boundaries. Putting off pleasure until the work is done is a common strategy to help with study, homework and assignments. Other general learning strategies include note taking, rehearsing and concept mapping.
What Are Meta-Cognitive Strategies
There are also meta-cognitive strategies, which refer to ways that students can go about selecting the best strategies to use, monitoring the effectiveness of those strategies and adjusting them as needed. These meta-cognitive strategies have many different names, but they can be broken down into four simple steps:
- Gain an UNDERSTANDING of the task: What do I need to do?
- Create a PLAN of action: What strategies will I use?
- MONITOR how well your plan is working: How am I going with this task?
- ADJUST your plan when needed: Do I need to change what I am doing?
From the early through to postgraduate education, research shows that there is a positive relationship between is a positive relationship between a student’s level of metacognitive awareness and their level of academic achievement1.
The studies have shown that students who are taught to use a variety of cognitive and metacognitive strategies have greater gains in metacognitive awareness and academic achievement than students who do not receive the training. Successful outcomes have been obtained in reading, writing, mathematics, and science, from early primary grades to secondary and tertiary education levels2.
Intervention effects were stronger at primary and secondary levels when metacognitive reflection was included in the training3.
It is not enough to instruct metacognitive strategies; students also need feedback about their strategy use, knowledge about effective strategies, and conditions under which they are most useful.
Effects at both levels were stronger when cognitive strategies and metacognitive strategies were the joint focus of instruction4.
Explicitly Teaching Strategies
While some students learn to use strategies intuitively, many students don’t.
Research shows that students who have been taught strategies and the meta-cognitive processes involved in using them, achieve better results at school. When students are taught comprehension strategies, they show better understanding of what they read7 and when students are taught note taking, they perform better when tested on the material being studied8.
It is worth taking the time to explicitly teach your students useful strategies.
When doing so make sure to:
- Teach them when, where and why, as well as how to use the strategy
- Help them as they start to practice using the strategy, but give them independent practice as soon as they are ready
- Give them feedback on their attempts to use the strategy
- Keep using the strategies over a prolonged period of time (spaced practice)
Teaching strategies is quick and easy, but learning to use strategies takes time. Revise strategies regularly – both explicitly and incidentally.
Teaching strategies is a key part of evidence based teaching. Yet, it is just one part.
To learn more, return to our Crash Course In Evidence Based Teaching homepage.
- Hattie, J., & Anderman, E. (2013). International Guide to Student Achievement: Educational Psychology Handbook. Routledge. [↩]
- Dignath, C., & Buttner, G. (2008). Components of fostering self-regulated learning among students. A meta-analysis on intervention studies at primary and secondary school level. Metacognition and Learning, 3, 231– 264. [↩]
- See Note 2 [↩]
- See Note 2 [↩]
- Baker, L. (2008). Metacognition in comprehension instruction: What we’ve learned since NRP. In C. C. Block & S. R. Parris (Eds.), Comprehension instruction : Research-based best practices (2nd ed., pp. 65– 79). New York: Guilford. [↩]
- Beesley, A. D., & Apthorp, H. S. (Eds.). (2010). Classroom instruction that works, second edition: Research report. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning; Manset-Williamson & Nelson, 2005). [↩]
- Graham, L. & Bellert, A. (2004) ‘Difficulties in reading comprehension for students with learning difficulties’, in Wong. B. (ed.) Learning about learning disabilities, pp. 251–279, Elsevier Academic, San Diego, CA; Manset-Williamson, G. & Nelson, J. M. (2005) ‘Balanced, strategic reading instruction for upper elementary and middle school students with reading disabilities: A comparative study of two approaches’, Learning disability quarterly, 28, pp. 59–74. [↩]
- Hamilton, S. L., Seibert, M. A., Gardner, R., III, & Talbert-Johnson, C. (2000). Using guided notes to improve the academic achievement of incarcerated adolescents with learning and behavior problems. Remedial & Special Education, 21(3), 133–140. [↩]