The nature of cognitive strategy instruction: interactive strategy construction.
Cognitive learning (Methods)
Special education teachers (Practice)
Constructivism (Education) (Methods)
Harris, Karen R.
Pressley, Michael
Pub Date:
Name: Exceptional Children Publisher: Council for Exceptional Children Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage Copyright: COPYRIGHT 1991 Council for Exceptional Children ISSN: 0014-4029
Date: March-April, 1991 Source Volume: v57 Source Issue: n5

Accession Number:
Full Text:
The Nature of Cognitive Strategy Instruction: Interactive Strategy Construction

Our purpose here is to illustrate the basis and nature of good cognitive strategy instruction and its contribution to the education of students with learning disabilities and other learning problems. Specifically, we first address the concern of some that cognitive strategy instruction precludes active construction of knowledge, that constructivism and the practice of cognitive strategy instruction are mutually incompatible (cf. Poplin, 1988). We then present research to illustrate self-instructional and other cognitive strategy instruction approaches. Finally, we discuss critical areas of concern, including obtaining maintenance and generalization.



In this century, constructivism has been at the heart of a number of theories, including those of Dewey, Piaget, and Kohlberg. These theorists view the child as an inherently active, self-regulating learner intelligently acting on a perceived world rather than passively responding to the environment (Meyers, Cohen, & Schleser, 1989; Paris & Byrnes, 1989). Constructivists believe real understanding occurs only when children participate fully in the development of their own knowledge, and describe the learning process as self-regulated transformation of old knowledge to new knowledge (Poplin, 1988). The child's intrinsic motivation to learn is seen as resulting from an intrinsic need to reflect on one's self, behavior, and knowledge. A concept critical to teaching and learning, according to constructivists, is Vygotsky's (1962) "zone of proximal development," the area between what a learner can do independently (mastery level) and what can be accomplished with the assistance of a competent adult or peer (instructional level).

Previous knowledge and experiences are the starting point for new learning; instruction is best when it takes place within the zone of proximal development, just a bit beyond what the child knows already, but not so far the child cannot learn when provided appropriate guidance by teaching adults. Instruction is scaffolded (D. J. Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976) in that the adult provides support sufficient for the child to carry out the strategy, with guidance diminished as competence increases, just as the scaffolding on a building is dismantled as the structure becomes self-supporting.

Cognitive strategy instruction has recently, and mistakenly, been described as failing to be constructivist in nature and thus an approach that should be abandoned by educators of students with learning problems (cf. DuCharme, Earl, & Poplin, 1989; Kronick, 1988; Poplin, 1988). Some researchers characterize strategy instruction as involving little more than telling children what to do and expecting them to memorize and reproduce the steps of a strategy procedure exactly. Kronick described cognitive-behavioral approaches as "the training of ostensible processes of the mind in a rote fashion, out of context with the expectation that such training would generalize to context" (p. 15). The role of the teacher in cognitive strategy instruction has been described as manager and controller of content, with the learner a passive participant; students have been described as working on tightly controlled skills and strategies they neither care about nor understand (Poplin, 1988). Such conceptualizations and descriptions of cognitive strategy instruction are inaccurate. The perspective developed here--one supported by ample theoretical and empirical literature--is that good cognitive strategy instruction encompasses all the principles of constructivism noted thus far and more.

Furthermore, we wish to clarify the point that constructivism is not the antithesis of practice, rehearsal, direct instruction, or explicit strategy instruction--a confusion that Poplin and her associates, as well as Kronick, seem to share. Rather, as Resnick (1987) has eloquently argued, constructed versus instructed knowledge, understanding versus rule following, and discovery versus drill and practice are all false dichotomies. We can no longer accept the simplistic supposition that when children construct their knowledge they reach understanding, and that discovery alone promotes construction and understanding--while on the other hand, sharing knowledge explicitly through procedures such as drill or direct instruction produces rote learning, rule following, and failure to understand (Isaacson, 1989).

Many cognitive scientists today acknowledge the pervasiveness of knowledge construction in human mental functioning and generally share the assumption that human learning involves individual construction and invention of knowledge (Resnick, 1987). Recent research, such as the research on children's learning of mathematics reviewed by Resnick, indicates that the processes of knowledge transformation and construction occur even when children engage in drill-and-practice activities. For instance, children engaged in the rehearsal of mathematics operations may construct new procedural forms, such as arithmetic shortcuts, while practicing. As students develop skill and proficiency, they do not do exactly what they have been taught. This construction of personalized learning has been well recognized among strategy researchers, who have begun to document and investigate the active and purposeful modifications and adaptations of strategies among students engaged in strategy instruction (cf. Graham & MacArthur, 1988; Harris, 1985; Meichenbaum, 1983; Meichenbaum & Asarnow, 1979; Pressley, Borkowski, & Schneider, 1989; Wong, 1985; Wong, Wong, Perry, & Sawatsky, 1986).

Thus, constructivist instruction is not synonymous with a discovery-only, "hands off" approach; in fact, such an approach can hardly be expected to adequately guide and constrain knowledge construction or to allow children to learn all that they need to know efficiently (Resnick, 1987). Further, while Piaget and others have established that to understand one must invent (i.e., construct new knowledge), Resnick has identified the confusion evident among some constructivists who conclude that therefore when children invent/construct new knowledge, understanding follows. In fact, errorful knowledge construction is common among children, and can indicate either partial understanding en route to true comprehension, or incorrect knowledge and misunderstandings that will lead to further learning problems.

In short, educators need not choose between constructed and instructed knowledge, but, rather, recognize that active mental construction is a part of all human learning and that instruction therefore must "provide the material on which learner's constructive processes can operate" (Resnick, 1987, p. 47). General recognition of the active role of the learner has been accompanied by the integration of previously diverse theories of learning and development (Harris, 1985; Meichenbaum, 1977; Resnick, 1987) and has set the stage for the development of educational interventions that allow children to construct accurate knowledge and powerful procedures. We believe that cognitive strategy instruction is one such intervention.

Many precepts of constructivism have existed as a part of cognitive strategy instruction since its inception. Meichenbaum's (1977) seminal text on cognitive-behavior modification and the research leading up to it has strongly influenced contemporary strategy instruction. He emphasized the importance of the student playing an active, collaborative role in the design, implementation, and evaluation of strategy interventions, and the gradual transfer of strategy ownership to the student (i.e., "scaffolding"). As Meichenbaum noted, "the child ... is not 'passive', not merely the recipient of the thoughts and behaviors modeled...." (p. 95). He further emphasized the importance of a give-and-take exchange between students and teachers, which he termed Socratic dialogue; he suggested that the instructor ask the child how he or she would do the task and then provide feedback and build on that advice. He noted that during this dialogue, the purpose of the task, the strategy most likely to facilitate performance, and the way the strategy could be executed most effectively are discussed.

Alternatively, Meichenbaum noted the teacher can "provide the conditions through which the child can discover for himself what strategies to employ" (p. 101). He stated clearly that "central to this give-and-take exchange ... is an appreciation that the modeling or observational learning that is taking place should not [italics in original] be equated with mimicry, exact topographical matching, or superficial imitation," and that cognitive-behavioral approaches "should not be viewed as regimented or austere but, rather, individually tailored and highly responsive to each child" (p. 98).

Like Vygotsky, Meichenbaum (1976a, 1976b, 1977, 1983; Meichenbaum & Asarnow, 1979) appreciates the social origins of cognition and emphasizes prescriptions consistent with teaching in the zone of proximal development. In particular, the importance of understanding the learner's predilections, needs, interests, and current performance was stressed in Meichenbaum's discussions of cognitive-functional assessment as a prerequisite for strategy instruction, and he described the zone of proximal development as "consistent with the presently proposed cognitive-functional approach" (1977, p. 243). Cognitive-functional assessment requires a thorough affective-behavioral-cognitive assessment of both the task and learner with these analyses conducted from a reciprocal determinism viewpoint and sensitive to developmental and ecological parameters (Graham, Harris, & Sawyer, 1987; Harris, 1982, 1990). Aspects of motivation, such as attributional beliefs, have become well-recognized as critical in both this assessment and in intervention (cf. Borkowski, Estrada, Milstead, & Hale, 1989; Garner & Alexander, 1989; Harris, 1985; Kendall & Braswell, 1982; Pearl, 1985; Wong, 1985, 1988). Such an assessment hardly leads to the conclusion that students should work on tightly controlled skills and strategies they neither care about nor understand; nor does it result in teaching the same strategies to all students (cf. Harris, 1982). Rather, such assessment results in instruction tailored to the needs and capacities of the individual child. The objective of strategy interventions is the development of planning and self-regulation of goal-directed behavior, or in other words, of self-regulated learners (Harris, 1990; Harris, Graham, & Pressley, in press).

Meichenbaum's current classroom-based research program is strongly influenced by constructivism and the concept of "directed discovery" (personal communication, May 12, 1989). So are a number of other strategy intervention models, including Palincsar and Brown's (1984) reciprocal teaching; Deshler, Schumaker, (1988) and colleagues' learning strategies; Harris and Graham's (1985) self-instructional strategy development; Meyers et al.'s (1989) directed discovery; and Siegel's (1982) distancing strategies.

To be fair to the critics of strategy instruction, however, some researchers and teacher educators do not incorporate constructivist principles into strategy instruction, and strategy instruction sometimes has resembled the imposition of static routines on passive learners. In addition, much of the early laboratory-based research involved somewhat contrived tasks administered by unfamiliar examiners in artificial settings. Finally, simplistic, naive conceptualization and construction of strategy interventions, as well as inadequate learner and task analysis, can and has led to ineffective interventions (Harris, 1985). Most critically, however, strategy instruction at its best is much better than this.

Good cognitive strategy instruction encourages students to construct powerful cognitive strategies. Such instruction is carried out by teachers who are responsive to the instructional needs of learners varying in cognitive capacity, relevant conceptual knowledge, motivation, and other characteristics (Harris, 1990; Pressley et al., in press). They tailor and reshape instruction in light of particular student difficulties and do a great deal to make certain that students understand the nature of the task and the use and significance of the strategies they learn. Good strategy instructors keep learners active and involved with tasks requiring understanding, meaningful processing, and the development of cognitive representations of new behaviors, rather than task-specific response sets. Gradual transfer of strategy ownership and regulation is a critical characteristic of good strategy instruction; good strategy instructors provide experiences that help students construct and personalize the strategies they use.

Effective strategy instruction involves teaching students procedures that empower them to accomplish important academic tasks. Thus, educational researchers have identified strategies promoting reading comprehension, word decoding, composition, arithmetic computation, problem solving, and other skills. Effective strategies have been determined through both task analyses and study of how competent students perform reading, writing, mathematics, memory, and other tasks. The evidence is overwhelming that teaching such strategies can meaningfully improve performance among students both with and without disabilities (e.g., Gagne, 1985; Graham & Harris, 1989a, 1989b; Mayer, 1987; Symons, Snyder, Cariglia-Bull, & Pressley, 1989). What strategy instruction does is to inform all students about cognitive tools often invented by or informally taught to outstanding readers, writers, and mathematicians. Strategy instruction provides students with their culture's best secrets about how to obtain academic success, strategies many students either would not discover at all or would discover only after a great deal of frustration and failure. Illustrations of such instruction follow.

Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies

Suppose a teacher is interested in promoting reading comprehension in a sixth-grade class. The teacher is concerned about a group of students who are able to decode text, but seem to have great difficulty understanding what they read. In particular, they seem not to integrate the material read, often failing to make inferences routinely constructed by skilled readers. At the same time, the teacher wants to offer all students in the class a procedure to improve their reading comprehension. One thing this teacher might do is search out information on empirically validated comprehension strategies, hoping to find one matching her students' predilections and needs.

In reviewing the various strategies (cf. Pressley, Johnson, Symons, McGoldrick, & Kurita, 1989; Pressley & Associates, in press), the teacher would discover that different strategies accomplish particular purposes, and only some promote inferences and are known to be helpful to students with reading problems. One such strategy is creation of representational images when reading text. A student using this approach would construct internal images coding the content of the text being read. This imagery procedure increases memory of facts presented in text (e.g., Pressley, 1976) as well as improving inter-sentence integration of text content (e.g., Gambrell & Bales, 1986). Representational imagery is particularly helpful in facilitating children's recall of expository text containing many facts (E. J. Wood, Pressley, & Winne, in press).

How does the good strategy teacher instruct imagery? It is taught as part of ongoing reading instruction, with students practicing the procedure on materials normally read as part of the sixth-grade curriculum (Graham & Harris, 1989a; Pressley, Borkowski, & Schneider, 1989). The strategy is first modeled by the teacher and then explained in terms that make sense to the students. The teacher might construct a "picture in the head" for some section of text being read and then explain how this image depicts all important relations specified in text. The teacher might draw pictures reflecting his or her images. This initial modeling and explanation, however, will not be enough. Some students will not completely understand the strategy, and others may not understand it at all. The next section shows how children can be taught to carry out a procedure that would be difficult for them to understand if they were given only a brief explanation of the process (Pressley, 1977).

Mental Imagery: An Illustrative Study

Pressley (1976) carried out an experiment to determine if young grade-school children (e.g., 8-year-olds) would benefit from mental imagery instructions when they were taught the strategy in a way that emphasized their understanding of it: They read prose, attempted imagery construction, told the teacher about the image, and received both verbal feedback and pictorial feedback (i.e., they were shown pictures illustrating the content read and imagined by them). Instruction was highly scaffolded: The instructor's explicit input regarding imagery was gradually faded as students became more competent in creating their own mental pictures. Throughout instruction, the teacher emphasized that students' images need not conform exactly to the ones illustrated by the feedback pictures, but rather, that images are personal. Students were assured their images would aid memory so long as they represented faithfully the meaning of the text. In addition, the students were taught how to manage their reading and generation of images so as to minimize demands on short-term memory capacity. Specifically, they were instructed to read first and then image, rather than attempting to read and image simultaneously. Over the course of training, students received practice with texts of different lengths and received feedback, re-explanation, and reinstruction as needed.

Students who initially had not understood what was required to generate images eventually read each segment of text, turned away from the text, and attempted to construct mental images. The self-reports provided at the end of training indicated that the images were consistent with the messages in the text and students were carrying out the strategy rather effortlessly. The imagery subjects answered more factual-content questions over text read than did same-aged children in a noninstruction control condition, a result replicated a number of times (see Pressley & Miller, 1987). Strategy instruction responsive to learner difficulties can do much to promote development of the abilities to execute operations that define a strategy. Much more is possible through instruction, however, if the teaching of strategies is embedded in a framework promoting durable application of strategy operations, as occurs during self-instructional approaches.



Collaborative acquisition, implementation, and evaluation of a strategy can also be illustrated by self-instructional strategy development; this type of instruction is aimed at more than simply informing the child about how to carry out a strategy. The goal of this self-instructional approach is autonomous, reflective use of effective strategies. Self-instructional strategy development involves three major components: (a) strategies, (b) knowledge about the use and significance of those strategies (metastrategy information), and (c) explicit self-regulation of strategic performance. This approach has been successful in improving reading comprehension, written language, and mathematical problem-solving skills among students with learning disabilities (cf. Bednarczyk & Harris, 1989; Graham & Harris, 1989a, 1989b; Graham et al., 1987; Harris & Graham, 1985; Pericola & Harris, 1988; Wong, Harris, & Graham, in press). The seven basic stages followed in this instructional approach are presented in Table 1. These stages are not meant to be followed in a "cookbook" fashion, however. Rather, they represent a "metascript" (cf. Gallimore & Tharp, 1983), providing a general format and guidelines. Flexibility, individualization, dialogue, and responsive teaching are important aspects of this approach. Table 2 contains an illustrative strategy--the story grammar strategy.

The seven stages in Table 1 represent merely the bare framework of instruction, however. Harris and Graham completed the structure by incorporating empirically based instructional principles and cognitive strategy instruction guidelines derived from Meichenbaum (1977), Vygotsky (1962), Brown and her colleagues (cf. Palincsar, 1986; Palincsar & Brown, 1984), and Deshler and his associates (cf. Deshler & Schumaker, 1986, 1988), as well as Harris' earlier work (Harris, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986; Harris & Brown, 1982). Before instruction begins, affective-behavioral-cognitive learner and task analyses are conducted to indentify skills and strategies to be taught in ways appropriate to students' capabilities; the goal is to present a realistic challenge--one the child can accomplish given instruction (i.e., one in the zone of proximal development).

The seven instructional stages are recursive and can be reordered. Preskills are assessed and developed as necessary. Initially, strategies are modeled explicitly and overtly in the context of a meaningful academic task. Instruction emphasizes interactive learning between teacher and students. Each student plays an active role as a collaborator in determining the goals of instruction; completing the task; and implementing, evaluating, and modifying the strategy and the strategy-acquisition procedures. Students gradually assume responsibility for recruiting, applying, monitoring, and evaluating strategies; and teachers gradually reduce their input at a pace permitting competent performance by the students throughout the instructional sequence. Metacognitive information about the strategies being taught is emphasized throughout instruction and provides both impetus for goal setting and a form of attributional training. Self-regulation procedures (including any combination of goal setting, self-monitoring, self-recording, self-assessment, and self-reinforcement) are taught explicitly. Instructors are enthusiastic and responsive to each child and provide individually tailored feedback. Progression through instruction--and its termination--is criterion based, rather than time based.

Self-instructional strategy development has been efficacious in improving both academic performances and self-efficacy among many students with learning disabilities. Results have been positive in terms of both maintenance (with brief booster sessions sometimes necessary but effective in terms of long-term maintenance) and some aspects of generalization.




Being able to use a strategy on demand is not the only long-term goal of cognitive strategy instruction in the schools. A further goal is to develop appropriately general use of instructed strategies. A great deal of research was done during the 1980s on mechanisms that increase maintenance and transfer of strategies. Much has been learned about how to promote maintenance and transfer, and this information is now being translated into instructional models. Teachers can do a great deal to help ensure that their students own the strategies they have learned--that is, their students know where, when, and how to use strategic procedures and are motivated to do so.

In general, teachers can remind students frequently that planning before acting is the way to attack academic tasks. Students should be encouraged to note that different tasks require different strategic approaches. Teachers should often remind students of the characteristics of certain tasks that require a particular strategy. Thus, in the case of representational imagery, students could be instructed that the technique is useful when trying to remember detail from texts and is particularly helpful when reading concrete stories that are easy to imagine. Teachers should emphasize that the strategy is not just for "reading-group" time, but for application whenever reading concrete, factual text. Teachers can model use of the strategy across the school day and curriculum as well as provide hints and prompts to students on occasions when the strategy could be applied. If the students spend part of their day with other teachers, the cooperation of these instructors should be recruited. Several teachers consistently modeling and prompting appropriate use of a strategy across different tasks and settings can make a meaningful difference in strategy generalization (Deshler & Schumaker, 1986, 1988). Students could also be enlisted to prompt other students about occasions when the strategy could be applied. The goal is to ensure that students "do not develop task-specific response sets but, instead, develop generalized strategems" (Meichenbaum & Asarnow, 1979).

Important outcomes follow from this type of modeling and encouragement of strategy use. Automatic use of the strategy should increase, with less effort required to activate and execute the procedure as it is practiced. Students should develop metacognitive knowledge about the strategy, such as an understanding of where and when to use it. In addition, students should develop highly personalized versions of the strategy, perhaps actively modifying the strategy according to its perceived usefulness and cost/benefit in new situations (Harris, 1982; Wong, 1985). They discover more and less effective ways for them to use the technique, whether they enjoy using the strategy, and ways of applying the technique to materials personally important to them. "Owning" a strategy also implies that students are motivated to use it; motivation to use strategies is especially likely when students are given ample opportunities to evaluate their learning as mediated by powerful strategies (Pressley, Levin, & Ghatala, 1984, 1988). Students should be encouraged to use insights gained from using strategies to guide deployment of them in them in the future (Pressley, Ross, Levin, & Ghatala, 1984).

Perhaps some of the most exciting work and promising results regarding maintenance and generalization are occurring in the work on learning strategies being done by Deshler, Schumaker, and their associates (cf. Deshler & Schumaker, 1986, 1988). They have generated a detailed and carefully conceived plan for facilitating independent functioning by the learner, as well as appropriate maintenance and generalization, including the following actions:

* Deliberately involving students in planning their own instructional programs and selecting their own learning objectives and instructional goals.

* Teaching behaviors that require students to think or act on their own or to motivate themselves.

* Orienting students to the variety of contexts within which a recently learned strategy can be applied.

* Providing ample opportunities to practice a strategy in a broad array of materials, situations, and settings (including the regular classroom).

* Periodically probing to determine whether the student continues to use the strategy at an acceptable proficiency level, and checking to be sure the student has not modified the strategy inappropriately.

* Providing for cooperative planning and teaming between the regular and resource room teacher.

* Encouraging the regular use of "critical teaching behaviors by instructors."

* Encouraging the careful organization of both the scope and sequence of learning strategies instruction over several years.

* Establishing a family and community support base.

In addition, learning strategy researchers recognize that once students experience success with learning strategies, it becomes critical that they start to generate their own strategies independent of teacher assistance. Thus, students are then taught an "executive strategy" that helps enable them to analyze a novel problem or demand and to design their own strategy or adapt a previously learned strategy. The executive strategy consists of several steps in which the student focuses on the problematic situation, identifies and analyzes the critical features of the problem, generates a series of problem-solving steps (i.e., a strategy), monitors the strategy's effectiveness, and makes any necessary modifications in the strategy (cf. Ellis, 1985; Ellis, Deshler, & Schumaker 1989).

Despite increases in knowledge about how to promote maintenance and generalization, strategy maintenance and generalization do not occur in all studies or with all students. Failure to attend to the principles outlined here regarding maintenance and transfer of strategies may account for lack of sustained and generalized abilities on some occasions, while short-term training, lack of long-term follow-up, narrow content of instruction, questionable relevance of the training tasks, and failure to consider developmental, ecological, and system variables may be problematic on other occasions (Borkowski, Carr, Rellinger, & Pressley, in press; Harris, 1985; Meichenbaum & Asarnow, 1979; Meyers et al., 1989; Wong, 1985).

One of the striking shortcomings of the instructional literature on generalization and maintenance has been the failure to attend to developmental constraints on instructional benefits (although there are exceptions; e.g., see Pressley, 1982). We know little about the breadth, depth, and course of the development of maintenance and generalization capabilities in children; thus, we have little but intuition to guide us in setting reasonable criteria and evaluating outcomes in our research (Harris, 1985, 1988). Perhaps, as Dubin (1978) suggested, we make progress slowly because we value description so lowly. More descriptive, developmental studies of skill maintenance and generalization among both exceptional and normally achieving children and young adults would greatly inform our work in both academic and social-skill development.

Such research would also help to develop assessment methodologies, suggest functional relationships that may increase intervention efficacy, assist in determining developmentally and culturally appropriate definitions of competence, and provide insight about the acquisition of competent behavior (Harris, 1985). For instance, it is becoming increasingly apparent that less explicit instruction is needed to promote durable strategy application with older as compared with younger normally achieving children (e.g., O'Sullivan & Pressley, 1984; Pressley & Dennis-Rounds, 1980) and that metacognition relevant to strategy use develops with age and experience (Garner & Alexander, 1989). Additional attention to developmental variation in maintenance and transfer is clearly needed.


What do teachers learn when they instruct students to use strategies? They form impressions about whether students find the procedure easy to execute and enjoyable. They note whether there are discernible improvements in perfomance, and they build an extensive knowledge base concerning difficulties their students encounter in attempting to carry out strategic procedures. As teachers invent re-explanations to students experiencing difficulty, they increase their knowledge about the strategy and how to remediate misconceptions about the strategy and its execution. Teachers come to understand that strategy instruction is not a quick fix, but that it does work for many students, especially when such instruction is integrated with the rest of the curriculum. Many teachers with whom we have worked have found that the give-and-take between teachers and students as strategy instruction proceeds provides rich, informative assessment data. They have also reported that once students have begun using an effective strategy, less instructional time needs to be diverted to managing student behavior. As Pressley, Gaskins, and Associates (1990) found, teachers learn a great deal during strategy instruction.

Such personally derived knowledge can be complemented by input from the professional research community, although researchers undoubtedly need to communicate better to educators. Some researchers have ably discussed how to teach important strategies and how to ensure that their use is maintained and generalized by students. Desperately needed, however, are well-thought-out opportunities for experienced teachers to learn about cognitive strategy instruction--how to do it and what it can offer to the classroom professional. The Strategies Intervention Model developed by Deshler, Schumaker, and their colleagues currently represents the most fully developed teacher education and implementation model available in the field (cf. Deshler & Schumaker, 1988). In addition, a number of workshop-type courses and materials are being offered to support classroom teaching, but even more explicit and extensive input is probably required for many teachers to begin teaching strategies effectively.

Of course, no amount of formal instruction or background reading will provide the rich, personal knowledge that follows from actually teaching strategies in the classroom. In preparing teachers to teach strategies, supportive feedback and problem solving are critical in the beginning. In the best of all possible worlds, once teachers learn how to teach strategies well, they would inform others about how to do it, scaffolding instruction as they coached professional peers about how to let their students in on the important cognitive secrets known as strategies.


Some researchers operating from a constructivist paradigm have argued that strategy instruction attempts to "fit" the child to the environment, that no serious attempt is made to understand the individual, and that strategy researchers have failed to attend to the need to alter the teaching environment to fit the needs of the child (cf. DuCharme et al., 1989; Meyers et al., 1989; Poplin, 1988). Further, they have argued that a constructivistic approach consisting of guided discovery (e.g., of a domain, of strategies, and self-instructions) will be more effective than present strategy instruction procedures in developing self-regulated learners and obtaining maintenance and generalization.

In our view, the former argument represents neither sound strategy instruction nor the beliefs and assumptions of strategy researchers; rather, it is more like a form of doctrine. The concepts of constructivism, in fact, underlie good strategy instruction, as we have shown throughout this article. The difference between current, explicit strategy instruction approaches (which incorporate principles of dialogue, collaboration, and interactive learning) and "constructivistic" guided discovery approaches is more a matter of degree than of a difference in guiding assumptions and beliefs. There is no empirical substantiation that greater maintenance and generalization follow guided discovery of a strategy compared with explicit, yet collaborative and constructive, instruction of a strategy.

It should be remembered that many students with disabilities profit from structured, teacher-directed learning procedures (cf. Hallahan, Lloyd, Kauffman, & Loper, 1983). Some research, in fact, has shown that explicit strategy instruction may be superior to having students abstract a strategy, at least with elementary-age children (Elliott-Faust, Pressley, & Dalecki, 1986; O'Sullivan & Pressley, 1984; Pressley & Dennis-Rounds, 1980; Pressley, Ross, Levin, & Ghatala, 1984). Moreover, the research on discovery learning that does exist suggests a number of problems with the method. True discovery is rare, inefficient, and time consuming; it is impossible for students to discover all that they need to know; some students may experience high levels of frustration under discovery approaches; discovery may be errorful; and only a small proportion of students may make most of the discoveries (Biehler, 1978; Resnick, 1987; Skinner, 1968).

DuCharme et al. (1989) stated, "Constructivist learning theory differs tremendously from all models of which most special educators are aware, therefore, it often goes unrecognized and/or rejected" (p. 237). In opposition to this statement, however, we believe that many special education theorists and researchers, as well as theorists and researchers in learning and behavior, have subsumed the constructivist viewpoint into an integrated approach to teaching and learning, and have gone on from there. Isaacson (1989) expressed this well: "There may exist a point of view that maintains that human behavior is purposive, that prior experiences do affect knowledge, and that students can develop a capacity for understanding complexities and, at the same time, makes no apologies for teaching students the processes and concepts necessary for understanding those complexities" (p. 246). Researchers and teachers who operate from such a viewpoint refuse to accept false, simplistic dichotomies--such as constructed versus instructed knowledge (Resnick, 1987).

In closing, we emphasize three points about strategy instruction. First, such instruction is an emerging approach, one neither fully constructed at this point nor completely understood. Those of us doing research on cognitive strategy instruction are continuously revising our understanding of the approach in light of new data. More strategies need to be studied, especially those well matched to important academic tasks. More needs to be known about how to teach strategies so that durable use and transfer is maximized. Research is needed on how to integrate strategy instruction into the ongoing curriculum, how to make strategy instruction available to educators, and how to design texts so that they can support strategy instruction.

Second, there is no set of "cure-all" strategies. A good many strategy researchers have clearly addressed the caveats and limitations of strategy instruction. Strategy instruction is neither a panacea nor a holy grail for the field of special education, nor for any group of students (Harris, 1982, 1988). Strategy instruction permits teachers to expand the scope of their intervention/classroom approaches and should be used when (a) it meets the learner's needs and characteristics, (b) a strategy can be identified appropriate to the child's problem, (c) the strategy identified is likely to be more effective than alternative interventions, and (d) teachers can meet the demands strategy instruction creates (Harris, 1982). As Deshler and Schumaker (1986) noted, no single intervention approach can address the complex nature of school failure/success. Used appropriately, however, cognitive strategy instruction is an exciting and viable contribution to the special educator's repertoire.

Finally, good strategy instruction is not rote. Students are not just memorizing steps and mechanically executing them; strategy instructors are not drill sergeants. Rather, good strategy instruction entails making students aware of the purposes of strategies, how and why they work, and when and where they can be used. Students are given extensive practice in the context of ongoing school instruction, and this practice produces a personalized mastery of the method. Further, students are actively involved in the evaluation, modification, and construction of strategies. Teachers do not give orders, but rather model, discuss, explain, and reexplain; as a result of this complex process, teachers reach new understandings of both strategies and their students. Teachers and students are constructing important new knowledge during strategy instruction.


Bednarczyk, A. M., & Harris, K. R. (1989). [Story grammar instruction to improve reading comprehension]. Unpublished raw data.

Biehler, R. F. (1978). Psychology applied to teaching (3rd ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Borkowski, J. G., Carr, M., Rellinger, E. A., & Pressley, M. (in press). Self-regulated strategy use: Interdependence of metacognition, attibutions, and self-esteem. In B. F. Jones (Ed.), Dimensions of thinking: Review of research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Borkowski, J. G., Estrada, M. T., Milstead, M., & Hale, C. A. (1989). General problem-solving skills: Relations between metacognition and strategic processing. Learning Disability Quarterly, 12, 57-70.

Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (1986). Learning strategies: An instructional alternative for low-achieving adolescents. Exceptional Children, 52, 583-590.

Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (1988). In J. L. Graden, J. E. Zins, & M. J. Curtis (Eds.), Alternative educational delivery systems: Enhancing instructional options for all students (pp. 391-411). Washington, DC: National Association of Secondary Principals.

Dubin, R. (1978). Theory building. New York: Macmillan.

DuCharme, C., Earl, J., & Poplin, M.S. (1989). The author model: The constructive view of the writing process. Learining Disability Quarterly, 12, 237-242.

Elliot-Faust, D.J., Pressley, M., & Dalecki, L.B. (1989). Process training to improve children's referential communication: Asher and Wigfield revisited. Journal of Education Psychology, 78, 22-26.

Ellis, E.S. (1985). The effects of teaching learning disabled adolescents an executive strategy to facilitate self-generation of task-specific strategies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Ellis, E.S., Deschler, D.D., & Schumaker, J.B. (1989). Teaching adolescents with learning disabilities to generate and use task-specific strategies. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 22, 108-119.

Gagne, E.D. (1985). The cognitive psychology of school learnining. Boston: Little, Brown.

Gallimore, R., & Tharp, R.G. (1983). The regulatory functions of teacher questions: A microanalysis of reading comprehensive lessons (Tech. Rep. No. 109). Honolulu: Kamehameha Educational Research Institute, The Kamehameha Schools.

Gambrell, L.B., & Bales, R.J. (1986). Mental imagery and the comprehensive-monitoring performance of fourth- and fifth-grade poor readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 454-464.

Garner, R., & Alexander, P.A. (1989). Metacognition: Answered and unanswered questions. Educational Psychologist, 24(2), 143-158.

Graham, S., & Harris, K.R. (1989a). Cognitive training: Implications for written language. In J. Hughes & R. HALL (Eds.), Cognitive behavioral psychology in the schools: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 247-279). New York: Guilford.

GRaham, S., & Harris, K.R. (1989b). A components analysis of cognitive strategy instruction: Effects on learning disabled students' compositions and self-efficacy. Journal of Educaiton Psychology, 81, 353-361.

Graham, S., Harris, K.R. & Sawyer, R. (1987). Composition instruction with learning disabled students: Self-instructonal strategy training. Focus on Exceptional Children, 20, 1-11.

Graham, S., & MacArthur, C. (1988). Improving learning disabled students' skills at revising essays produced on a word processor: Self-instructional strategy training. The Journal of Special Education, 22, 133-152.

Hallahan, D.P., Lloyd, J.W., Kauffman, J.M., & Loper, A.B. (1983). Academic problems. In R.J. Morris & T.R. Kratochwill (Eds.). Practice of child therapy: A textbook of methods (pp. 113-141). New York: Pergamon Press.

Harris, K.R. (1980). The sustained effects of cognitive modification and informed teachers on children's communication apprehensive. Communication Quarterly, 4, 47-57.

Harris, K.R. (1982). Cognitve-behavior modification: Application with exceptional students. Focus on Exceptional Children, 15, 1-16.

Harris, K.R. (1985). Conceptual, methodological, and clinical issues in cognitive-behavioral assessment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 13, 3736-390.

Harris, K.R (1986). The effects of cognitive-behavior modification on private speech and task performance during problem solving among learning disabled and normally achieving students. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14, 63-76.

Harrs, K.R (1988). Learning disabilties research: The need, the integrity, and the challenge. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 21, 267-270, 274.

Harris, K.R (1990). Developing self-regulated learners: The role of private speech and self-instructions. Educational Psychologist, 25, 35-50.

Harris, K.R., & Brown, R. (1982). Cognitive modification and informed teacher treatments for shy children. Journal of Experimental Education, 50, 137-144.

Harris, K.R., & Graham, S. (1985). Improve learning disabled students' composition skills: Self-control strategy training. Learning Disability Quarterly, 8, 27-36.

Harris, K.R., Graham, S., & Presley, M. (in press). Cognitive-behavioral approaches in reading and written language: Developing self-regulated learners. IN N.N. Singh & I.L. Beale (Eds.), Current perspectives in learning disabilities: Nature, theory, and treatment. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Isaacson, S. (1989). Confused dichotomies: A response to DuCharme, Earl, and Poplin. Learning disability Quarterly, 12, 243-247.

Kendall, P.C., & Braswell, L. (1982). On cognitive-behavioral assessment: Models, measures, and madness. In C. D. Spielberg & J. N. Butcher (Eds.), Advances in personality assessment (Vol. 1, pp. 35-8). Hllsdale, NJ: Lawrence erlbaum.

Kronck, D. (1988). New approches to learning disabilites: Cognitive, metacognitive, and holistic. Philadelphia: Grune P Stratton.

Mayer, R.E. (1987). Educational psychology: A cognitive approach. Boston: Little, Brown.

Meichenbaum, D. (1976a). Cognitive-functional approach to cognitive factors as determinants of learning disabilities. In R. M. Knights & D.J. Bakker (Eds.), The neuropsychology of learning disorders: Theoretical approaches (pp. 423-442). Baltimore: University Park Press.

Meichenbaum, D. (1976b). A cognitive-behavior modification approach to assessment. In M. Hersen & A.S. Bellack (Eds.) Behavioral assessment: A practical handbook (pp. 143-171). New York: Pergamon Press.

Meichenbaum, D. (1977). Cognitive-behavior modification: An integrative approach. New York: Plenum Press.

Meichenbaum, D. (1983). Teaching thinking: A cognitive-behavioral approach. In Interdisciplinary voices in learning disabilities and remedial education (pp. 1-28). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Meichenbaum, D., & Asarnow, J. (1979). Cognitive behavior modification and metacognitive development: Implications for the classroom. In P. C. Kendall & J. D. Hollon (Eds.), Cognitive-behavioral interventions: Therapy, research, and procedures. New York: Academic Press.

Meyers, A. W., Cohen, R., & Schleser, R. (1989). A cognitive-behavioral approach to education: Adopting a broad-based perspective. In J. Hughes & R. Hall (Eds.), Cognitive behavioral psychology in the schools: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 62-86). New York: Guilford Press.

O'Sullivan, J. T., & Pressley, M. (1984). Completeness of instruction and strategy transfer. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 38, 275-288.

Palincsar, A. S. (1986). The role of dialogue in providing scaffolded instruction. Educational Psychologist, 21 (1 & 2), 73-98.

Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension--fostering and comprehension monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175.

Paris, S. G., & Byrnes, J. P. (1989). The constructivist approach to self-regulation and learning in the classroom. In B. Zimmerman & D. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 169-200). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Pearl, R. (1985). Cognitive behavioral interventions for increasing motivation. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 13, 443-454.

Pericola, L., & Harris, K. R. (1988, April). Self-instructional strategy training: Improving the mathematical problem solving skills of learning disabled students. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.

Poplin, M. S. (1988). The reductionist fallacy in learning disabilities: Replicating the past by reducing the present. Journal of Learnig Disabilities, 21 (7), 389-400.

Pressley, M. (1976). Mental imagery helps eight-year-olds remember what they read. Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 355-359.

Pressley, M. (1977). Imagery and children's learning: Putting the picture in developmental perspective. Review of Educational Research, 47, 586-627.

Pressley, M. (1982). Elaboration and memory development. Child Development, 53, 1258-1267.

Pressley, M., & Associates (in press). Cognitive strategy instruction that works with children. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

Pressley, M., Borkowski, J. G., & Schneider, W. (1989). Good information processing: What it is and how education can promote it. International Journal of Educational Research, 13, 857-867.

Pressley, M., & Dennis-Rounds, J. (1980). Transfer of a mnemonic keyword strategy at two age levels. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 575-582.

Pressley, M., Gaskins, I., & Benchmark School Associates (1990). Teacher's perceptions of strategy instruction. Unpublished manuscript.

Pressley, M., Johnson, C. J., Symons, S., McGoldrick, J. A., & Kurita, J. (1989). Strategies that improve memory and comprehension of what is read. Elementary School Journal, 90, 3-32.

Pressley, M., Levin, J. R., & Ghatala, E. S. (1984). Memory strategy monitoring in adults and children. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 270-288.

Pressley, M., Levin, J. R., & Ghatala, E. S. (1988). Strategy-comparison opportunities promote long-term strategy use. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 13, 157-168.

Pressley, M., & Miller, G. E. (1987). The effects of illustrations on children's listening comprehension and oral prose memory. In D. M. Willows & H. A. Houghton (Eds.), Illustrations, graphs, and diagrams; Psychological theory and educational practice (pp. 85-112). New York & Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Pressley, M., Ross, K. A., Levin, J. R., & Ghatala, E. S. (1984). The role of strategy utility knowledge in children's decision making. Journal of Experimental Child POsychology, 38, 491-504.

Resnick, L. B. (1987). Constructing knowledge in school. In L. S. Liben (Ed.), Development and learning: Conflict or congruence? (pp. 19-50). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Siegel, I. E. (1982). The relationship between parental distancing strategies and the child's cognitive behavior. In L. M. Laosa & I. E. Siegel (Eds.), Families as learning environments for children (pp. 47-86). New York: Free Press.

Skinner, B. F. (1968). The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Symons, S., Snyder, B. L., Cariglia-Bull, T., & Pressley, M. (1989). Why be optimistic about cognitive strategy instruction? In C. B. McCormick, G. E. Miller, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Cognitive strategy research: From basic research to educational applications (pp. 3-32). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Wong, B. Y. L. (1985). Issues in cognitive-behavioral interventions in academic skill areas. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 13, 1985.

Wong, B. Y. L. (1988). An instructional model for intervention research in learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research 4, 5-16.

Wong, B. Y. L. Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (in press). Cognitive-behavioral procedures: Academic applications with students with learning disabilities. In P. C. Kendall (Ed.), Child and adolescent therapy: Cognitive-behavioral procedures. New York: Guilford.

Wong, B. Y. L., Wong, R., Perry, N., & Sawatsky, D. (1986). The efficacy of a self-questioning summarization strategy for use by underachievers and learning disabled adolescents in social studies. Learning Disabilities Focus, 2, 20-35.

Wood, D. J., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89-100.

Wood, E. J., Pressley, M., & Winne, P. (in press). Elaborative interrogation, imagery, and provided precise elaborations as facilitators of children's learning of arbitrary prose. Journal of Educational Psychology.

KAREN R. HARRIS (CEC Chapter #263) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education; and MICHAEL PRESSLEY is a Professor in the Department of Human Development at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.