When cognitive strategies instruction is unsuccessful, it’s often because teachers use the strategies as “teaching tools” instead of handing them to students as “learning tools,” writes Mark Conley in a recent issue of Harvard Educational Review.
“‘Strategy instruction’ is quickly becoming one of the most common–and perhaps the most commonly misunderstood–components of adolescent literacy research and practice,” writes Conley.
If a teacher uses a graphic organizer with a class for a unit on pollution, for example, and works with students as a group to add words to the organizer that represent different facets of pollution, the teacher hopes that repeating this process over and over again will result in students learning how to organize their own thinking. But that is often not the case, Conley writes.
More effective is for the teacher, after describing the tool, to instruct students to have a conversation with a partner and then to add thoughts from their conversations to the organizer. In that way, the teacher transfers responsibility for the new strategy to her students, Conley says.
Instead of treating cognitive strategy instruction as a rehearsal in the hopes that by doing it over and over again it will somehow stick with students, teachers should think of cognitive strategy instruction as way to develop students’ critical understanding of subject matter.
Conley says too often what students end up doing is internalizing the steps in a teaching activity rather than developing a reasoning process they can employ on their own.
“Cognitive Strategy Instruction for Adolescents: What We Know about the Promise, What We Don’t Know about the Potential,” by Mark Conley, Harvard Educational Review Volume 78, Number 1, Spring 2008.