Helping Students Make the Most of Learning Strategies

By Andrea Rients

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The word “strategies” is thrown around in teaching like a hot potato. Strategies for tough kids, for good kids, for high flyers, for students who love video games, for students who don’t love video games, for kids who only sort of like video games! How do educators know what techniques to use in the classroom to gain the biggest impact on student achievement? Strategies are only helpful to students if students internalize them and are able to consciously and independently apply them to their own learning.

Too often, for example, we give students a graphic organizer, help them fill it out, and feel satisfied that we’ve provided our students with a tool to organize information.  The problem arises when we take away the graphic organizer and expect students to do this on their own, and we realize that students are lost.  This is due to a common misconception about teaching strategies. As educators, our job is not just to provide the graphic organizer and help students use it one time,  but to teach them in what instances this graphic organizer would be helpful and when it can be used again in the future.  In short, we need to teach students to internalize the strategies we use in the classroom. This means that giving students the declarative knowledge (e.g., draw a Venn Diagram in your notebooks and fill it out) is not enough for students to internalize the strategy and see value in its use; we must also explicitly teach the procedural knowledge (how to) and the conditional knowledge (why I would use this again) to our students.

By consciously planning activities and teaching the declarative as well as the procedural and conditional knowledge, teachers will see a dramatic increase in their students’ understanding of strategies, which will result in students  becoming better independent readers, thinkers, and learners.