The Nature of Cognitive Strategy Instruction: Interactive Strategy
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.
CONSTRUCTIVISM AND STRATEGY
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
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"
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
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
* 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
* 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
* 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
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.
WHEN TEACHERS TEACH STRATEGIES
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
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
A FINAL WORD
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;
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.
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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,