SOAR to Success

SOAR to Success

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What is SOAR?

SOAR is a teaching and learning method I developed. It is an acronym that stands for its four components: Select, Organize, Associate, and Regulate.

To learn, students must select important ideas (usually through note taking), organize them (usually using graphic organizers like charts and diagrams), associate them (to one another and to previously acquired knowledge), and regulate learning (usually through practice testing).

Students can employ powerful SOAR methods on their own but rarely do. Instead they tend to use weak strategies such as taking incomplete notes (instead of taking complete notes), failing to organize noted ideas or organizing them in lists or outlines (instead of organizing them graphically using matrices and diagrams), studying ideas in a piecemeal fashion—one fact at a time (instead of associating ideas), and studying ideas in a redundant fashion using rehearsal strategies (instead of using practice testing to make sure learning has occurred).

Teachers can design instruction to make sure students SOAR. For example, an instructor can provide skeletal notes—partial notes with spaces for additional note taking—to make sure students select and note the lesson’s important ideas. An instructor can aid organization by supplying charts and diagrams. An instructor can provide students with associations that link lesson ideas with one another and with previously acquired information. An instructor can provide practice questions that help students regulate how well they have learned.

Below are SOAR Examples. Example 1 shows how an instructor can teach in ways that help students SOAR to success. Example 2 shows how students can use SOAR on their own.

SOAR Example 1

Suppose you were to teach students the following information about the appearance of spiders and insects. How would you go about it?

Spiders have two body parts: the head and chest. They have eight legs and eight eyes. They do not have wings or antennae. Their skeleton is a hard, outer shell that protects them.

A hard, outer shell protects an insect’s three body parts: head, chest, and abdomen. They usually have two big eyes and three smaller eyes between them. Six legs and one or two pairs of wings propel insects. Insects also have a pair of antennae for sensing things.

Simply giving students these blocks of information to learn is not the ticket. Most students employ weak learning strategies. Teachers can foster learning by helping students select, organize, associate, and regulate lesson information. When teachers do, they help students SOAR to success. Let’s look.



  • Body Parts: 2, Head and chest
  • Legs: 8
  • Eyes: 8
  • Wings: None
  • Antennae: None
  • Skeleton: Hard outer shell


  • Skeleton: Hard outer shell
  • Body Parts: 3, Head, chest, and abdomen
  • Eyes: 2 big and 3 smaller between them
  • Legs: 6
  • Wings: 1 or 2 pairs
  • Antennae: 1 pair


SkeletonHard outer shellHard outer shell
Body Parts2: head, chest3: head, chest, abdomen
Eyes82 big, 3 small between
WingsNo1-2 Pair
AntennaeNo1 Pair


  • Both have hard outer shells.
  • Spiders have 8 eyes and 8 legs. Think of a spider like a table where each corner has 2 legs and each side has 2 eyes.
  • Spiders have no wings or antennae. Think about Spiderman who had no wings or antennae.
  • Both have heads and chests but only the insect has an abdomen. Think about a bee (insect) with a fat belly.
  • Insects have fewer eyes (5) than spiders (8) but compensate by having antennae to sense things.
  • Insects have fewer legs (6) than spiders (8) but compensate by having wings for flight.


Answer spider, insect, or both.

  1. Has wings
  2. Three body parts
  3. Hard outer shell
  4. Eight legs and eyes

SOAR Example 2

Schedules of Reinforcement

Okay, class, we’ve just covered reinforcement. Now we’ll see that there are different schedules one might use in delivering reinforcement.

Suppose you have a pigeon and you want to train it to peck a key. To train the pigeon, you give it food pellets for pecking the correct keys. There are four main schedules you can use to deliver the reinforcement. The type of schedule used determines several things about the animal’s behavior.

Fixed-interval schedules deliver reinforcement following the first response after a fixed time interval. The pigeon, for example, might receive food for its first peck after a 10-second interval. Fixed-interval schedules produce slow response rates that contain pauses in responding. The animal tends to pause after it’s reinforced and then increase responding as the interval ends, because reinforcement is again anticipated. It is relatively easy to extinguish (eliminate) behaviors learned on this schedule.

Variable-interval schedules deliver reinforcement following the first response after a predetermined but variable time interval. The pigeon, for example, might receive food following intervals of 5, 15, 2, and 18 seconds for an average interval of 10 seconds. Variable-interval schedules produce slow by steady response rates. It is difficult to extinguish behaviors learned on this schedule.

Fixed-ratio schedules deliver reinforcement following a fixed number of responses. The pigeon, for example, might receive food following every 10 key pecks. Fixed-ratio schedules produce rapid responding, although the animal pauses briefly following reinforcement. It is relatively easy to extinguish behaviors learned on this schedule.

Variable-ratio schedules deliver reinforcement after a predetermined but variable number of responses. The pigeon, for example, might receive food after making 5, 15, 2, and 18 pecks for an average ratio of 10 pecks. Variable-ratio schedules produce rapid and steady responding. It is difficult to extinguish behaviors learned on this schedule.

Select & Organize


Internal Associations 

  • Interval schedules are based on time; ratio schedules are based on number.
  • In fixed schedules, the reinforcement pattern remains constant; in variable schedules, the reinforcement pattern changes.
  • Interval schedules produce slow responding; ratio schedules produce rapid responding.
  • Fixed schedules produce pauses in responding; variable schedules produce steady responding.
  • Fixed schedules are easy to extinguish; variable schedules are difficult to extinguish.

External Associations

  • Fixed ratio. A salesperson receives a commission for every five products sold.
  • Variable ratio. Checking the coin return on a vending machine pays off on a variable ratio schedule.
  • Fixed interval. Teachers who evaluate students using just midterm and final exams. As a result, students’ studying behavior (response rate) is predictably “paused” for most of the semester except days just prior to the two tests.
  • Variable interval. Teachers who evaluate students using pop quizzes. As a result, students’ studying behavior is “steady” throughout the semester because they never know when a quiz is forthcoming.
  • To remember that fixed schedules are easy to extinguish, remember that when you fix something in gambling, it’s easy to win.
  • To remember that variable schedules are difficult to extinguish, remember that something variable, such as weather, is difficult to predict.
  • To remember that ratio schedules produce rapid responding, remember the three Rs: ratio, rapid, and responding


  1. What is the definition of variable interval schedules?
  2. Extinction is ____________ to carry out for fixed ratio schedules.
  3. What is the response rate for variable interval schedules?
  4. Which schedules involve steady responding?
  5. Which schedules involve pauses following reinforcement?
  6. Which schedules are difficult to extinguish?
  7. In Frau Heibert’s German class, students listen to and repeat German conversation in a listening laboratory with personal headphones and microphones. Frau Heibert can listen in on any student at any time and reinforce him or her for responding appropriately. What reinforcement schedule is this?
  8. Bobby is solving chess problems using a computer program. Every time he solves five problems correctly the computer responds, “You’re the champ, Bobby.” What might you predict about Bobby’s response pattern? 

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