teaching photo  

Implementing Cognitive Strategy Instruction & Developing Self-Regulated Learners

Cognitive Strategy Instruction is a very broad subject but here you will find an overview of the process and practical tips. For more in depth study references are provided.

CSI is a tool intended to help students develop the necessary skills to be self-regulated learners.

Our purpose is to introduce and explain the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model of implementation, as well as provide the foundational basis for its effectiveness. Information presented will include:

  1. The steps (how you do it).
  2. The purpose behind each step (why you do it).

We should stress that the instructional process is what determines the effectiveness of strategy instruction.


Definition of a Strategy

When discussing strategies it is helpful to dissect the definition. Strategies are:

Goals directed and consciously controllable process that facilitate performance.

The key parts are:

Goals directed - intended to perform a definite function.

Consciously controllable processes - directly manipulable and statable: 

"This how I am doing_______ and this is why_______." This is essential, if the strategy is to be self-regulated. It would not be possible to regulate something that was not conscious.

Facilitate performance - strategies are processes that when matched to task requirements, improve performance. You can do things better, easier, and quicker when you use a strategy.

In essence, a strategy is simply a tool used to accomplish a task. A strategy concentrates and enhances effort. Just as using a lever allows us to move heavy objects more easily, so strategies allow for enhanced performance of academic tasks. 

Most of us use strategies continually, without even realizing it. Strategies are so integrated into everyday life that we are usually not even aware that we are using them. Common strategies include:

  • Adults write themselves notes
  • Children are taught a familiar spelling strategy "i" before "e" except after "c"

Strategic approaches to tasks separate poor learners from more effective learners. While the use of strategies is common among successful learners the opposite is true for struggling learners and in particular students with learning disabilities. These students may not develop effective strategies, or may use ineffective or inappropriate strategies.

Strategies run the gamut from simple to highly complex. Educators need to look critically at any instructional strategy before they choose to implement it, weighing both pros and cons of the strategy. All this may make strategies sound complicated, but that's not necessarily the case.


CSI Research Based

Unlike many other educational techniques, Cognitive Strategy Instruction is founded on a broad base of research that has validated its effectiveness. The research clearly proves the effectiveness of Strategies Instruction. This research has been conducted in "real" classrooms with "real" students over 20 years. 

CSI has been used across a wide variety of curriculum areas such as: Reading - Decoding, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Writing, Spelling, Math, Study Skills, and other Content areas. 

CSI is in the forefront of current educational practices, largely because of its extensive research base. Choosing instructional strategies can sometimes be like a shot in the dark. There are many different reasons why certain strategies and curriculums are chosen:

  • It's what the district has chosen
  • It's what another teacher/administrator/college professor recommended
  • It seemed to work for Mrs. Smith's class
  • It has pretty pictures

However, we would stress that the focus should not be on the strategies themselves, but rather on the implementation process. Even an effective strategy will fail to produce results if it is improperly implemented. Implementing a strategy should be viewed as a "process." This process should be evolutionary and dynamic.

The "process" of implementation, the SRSD model, is also based on validated methods. Each step involved in the "process" of implementation is based on research findings and current best practices. 


Model of Implementation

The implementation model that we use follows is based on Harris and Graham's (1996) Self-Regulated Strategy Development model. The goal of SRSD is to make the use of strategies habitual, flexible, and automatic. This can take a lot of time, practice, and effort.The SRSD model is very comprehensive. This ensures that crucial steps are not overlooked. Following a model such as SRSD has two major advantages:

First, it gives you an instructional template to follow. You know how to teach the strategy in a step-by-step fashion.

Second, strategy instruction involves a major time and effort commitment. Therefore approaches that have been validated provide more of a cost/benefit balance.

The instructional model is a serious consideration when implementing strategy instruction. Not only could a model prove to be ineffective, it could also prove to be detrimental to students.


Students With Learning Disabilities

Cognitive Strategy Instruction is effective for a variety of learners, but particularly students with learning disabilities. Students with learning disabilities often do not develop the types of strategies necessary to successfully attack tasks.

One critical aspect of strategy instruction is to appreciate that children with learning disabilities have problems that go beyond academics, and that these problems can adversely affect academic performance.

The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model stresses the need to provide students with essential metacognitive knowledge of the strategies. Students must understand how a strategy works and why each step in the strategy is performed. The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model enables students to understand the process of the strategy.

Research shows that students who are actively involved in the education process have better retention, motivation and overall attitudes towards learning. Many struggling learners may never develop strategies, will use ineffective or immature strategies, or fail to employ strategies all together. Strategy instruction can dramatically increase student performance.

CSI is flexible and can be used in combination with different self-regulation techniques. These techniques would need to be taught explicitly and combined in the modeling, memorizing, supporting, and independent performance stages. They would need to be incorporated into most of the process. Self-regulation can prove to be an effective way for students to monitor their own progress and see their improvements. It will take a significant investment of time and effort in order to increase student performance to a level, where they are metacognitive and self-regulating. 


The Self-Regulated Strategy Development Model

We chose to present the SRSD model of implementation because of its thoroughness and flexibility. The model is well developed and sequential, yet it allows teachers to use their own professional judgment when employing it. 

The stages of implementation are set up to ensure that all necessary areas are fully addressed. However, the stages are flexible and may be reordered or combined as deemed appropriate or necessary by the teacher. 

The stages are intended to be recursive and should be revisited to ensure mastery. This is part of the flexibility of this model. Stages can and should be revisited as part of the instructional process. Revisiting stages will not only help with mastery, it will also allow students to rethink and develop metacognitive skills.

Model Implementation


Stage 1: Develop and Activate Background Knowledge

Developing background knowledge sometimes seems so obvious that it is often overlooked. Struggling learners may lack essential background knowledge or preskills necessary to successfully complete a task or use a strategy. In many instances, what knowledge a student does have is often fragmented. Students must have mastered prerequisite skills to effectively use a strategy.

While developing background knowledge it is necessary to initially define the basic skills needed to perform the strategy, and to make certain that the students understand the terms used in the strategy. In order for students to understand the strategy they need to understand its most basic components. 

The best way to identify the basic terms and skills necessary for the strategy is to do a task analysis. The task analysis will help teachers to determine whether or not students possess the prerequisite skills necessary perform the strategy. 

After the task analysis is complete there are many ways that teachers can check students' skills. These include observing student performance, using curriculum-based measures, or simply asking students. Often, instructors will already possess knowledge of student pre-skills. Skill deficits should be addressed prior to introducing the new strategy. 

Task Analyses


Stage 2: Discuss the Strategy

Discussion of the strategy is a more involved process than merely going through the steps of a strategy. A major goal of strategy instruction is to bring students to the point where they are self-regulated. In order for this goal to be achieved, students need to be actively involved and allowed ownership in the process. 

Teachers will need to "sell" the strategy and get students to "buy in." Having the students believe in what they are learning will enable them to be more actively involved, which is the first step in self-regulation. If a student does not want to use a strategy it is fair to assume that they will not. Teachers need to be excited, committed and energized so that students will be too. 

The use of the strategy should be an easy "sell", it will result in improved academic performance. Provide students with examples of how this strategy or other strategies have improved student performance in the past, and even how strategies have helped you in the past. This may not be enough; you will most likely need to find what motivates your particular students. For example: getting work done so that they can go outside for recess, no homework, making parents proud, impressing friends, or making the honor roll. 

During this stage it is appropriate for the teachers to explain the benefits of using the strategy; discussing and even providing examples of current performance. Teachers should ask students questions, and ask them how confident they feel in the particular subject or skill being discussed. Then explain how learning the strategy can improve their performance. 

The final part of this stage is introducing students to the steps of the strategy. Strategy steps should be explained one-by-one. Typically this is where teachers begin, but the SRSD model has allowed much of the ground work to already be laid at this point. 

Throughout this process teachers should be monitoring their students' understanding. Part of this process is to work in cooperation with the students and in doing so you must make sure that they are keeping up and understanding what is being explained. 


Stage 3: Model the Strategy

Purpose of modeling is to expose students to the thought processes of a skilled learner. Good modeling goes well beyond merely presenting the steps in a strategy. It provides students with the "why" and "how" of various strategy steps. It also demonstrates that student effort is essential, and shows that strategy use results in better performance. 

By modeling, a teacher can show not only what to do, but what to think as well. This process is called a 'think aloud'. A think aloud goes beyond just listing the steps in a strategy. While this is useful, it is insufficient. Students need to see the the metacognitive process involved in understanding and using the strategy. By the teacher expressing their thought process while using the strategy the student is able to see how a successful learner uses the strategy and thinks through it.

The process involved in a think aloud is much more complex than it may initially seem. For expert learners making the covert overt is extremely difficult and requires a significant amount of practice and preparation.


Stage 4: Memorize the Strategy

It is critical that the students commit the strategy steps to memory. Memorizing the steps is crucial, because we want students to be able to focus on the task not on remembering the steps of the strategy. Students have a limited amount of cognitive processing capacity, and if that capacity is consumed with remembering the steps of the strategy it will be difficult or impossible to focus on the task itself. 

Memorizing the strategy steps is something that we should not just work on once or twice; we need to be constantly reinforcing the memorization of the strategy steps, and in various contexts so that it becomes second nature to students.

There are many ways to help students memorize the steps of the strategy; the key is repetition and variation. The more practice they get in a variety of settings and situations the more successful they will be at memorizing the strategy. 

A teacher could use different activities or games to teach memorization of the strategy: for example, they could use round-robin activities or a ball-toss game.

Memorizing a strategy goes well beyond parroting back the steps of the strategy. Students need to know and understand what is involved with each step in the process.


Stage 5: Support the Strategy

Supporting the strategy is arguably the most important step in the SRSD implementation process. Supporting the strategy is done by using a process called scaffolding. Scaffolding involves teachers initially performing all or most of a task, while increasingly shifting responsibility of performance to the student. This, like the scaffolding used when constructing a building, provides support. Teachers need to provide that support to students when using the strategy. With scaffolding, it is possible for a gradual transfer of strategy performance from teacher to student. Students need to be given adequate time and support to master the strategy.

The process of scaffolding is analogous to teaching a child to ride a bike: When teaching a child to ride a bike, first you put on training wheels, and let them practice with a lot of support from the training wheels. Then, you move the training wheels up, for less support and more practice balancing and riding a little bit more independently. Next, you would take the training wheels off and run behind the child holding the seat. Eventually, you would completely let go and let the child independently with out any support, just your supervision. 

In the supporting stage of the SRSD implementation model teachers need to provide whatever support students need to move from current performance to independent use of the strategy. Teachers and students work together to master the performance of a strategy. Teachers need to be aware of the child's capabilities and their needs in order to achieve an improved level of performance.

Supporting the strategy may include:

  • Working collaboratively on tasks while gradually fading help
  • Putting students into small groups
  • Remodeling the strategy
  • Prompting the particular use of a step
  • Providing corrective feedback

Collaboration between teachers and students is extremely important in the SRSD process. Collaboration gives the teacher an opportunity to check for student understanding and fill in any necessary information the student may be lacking. It also gives the teacher another opportunity to make sure that the students possess the skills necessary to complete the task successfully. If necessary, teachers may need to go back and teach some pre-skills. This is part of the flexibility of the SRSD model.


Stage 6: Independent Performance

It is important to remember, the goal of strategy instruction is not for the student to use the strategy explicitly as taught, but for improved academic performance. Often, students may adapt the strategy to meet their needs. This is an acceptable part of the model as long as the teacher is confident the strategy is still successful in completing the task.

Independent performance does not mean that a teacher's job is done. Teachers must still monitor students' use of the strategy to ensure they are using the strategy properly. 

Evaluating instruction should always be part of any curriculum. With current educational initiatives such as state standards and competency tests, accountability is in the forefront of education. 

Evaluation and assessment is necessary to know whether or not learning has occurred. CSI facilitates meaningful assessment; the interactive, collaborative nature of the process allows teachers to easily assess changes in students' cognition, affect, and performance. 


Considerations When Evaluating Cognitive Strategy Instruction

At a minimum, teachers should know:

  • If students are actually using the strategy
  • Whether or not its use has had a positive effect on performance
  • If students see the strategy as being valuable and manageable

The teacher's instruction also needs to be evaluated. Evaluating and adjusting their own performance is one of the few factors that teachers can have complete control over. Teachers need to make sure that they are effective at all stages of implementation. It may be necessary to go back and do some re-teaching of stages and strategy steps.

Teachers must also consider and assess how students actually use the strategy as students will often modify the strategy. Modifications can mean that the student is aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and has modified the strategy to better suit their needs. These modifications may still achieve the desired outcome of increased academic performance while others may need to be reconsidered. Teachers should observe students while they use the strategy to determine if they are still effective.

Teachers need to make sure that students are aware of opportunities to use the strategies in different situations, and encourage them to do so. 

Teacher can promote the strategy by doing things such as having students periodically explain how and why they use or would use the strategy, having them keep a record of the times they use a strategy, or how they modify it for other tasks, and reward them for doing so.


Student Generalizations

It is also important to assess students' use of the strategy over time and in new situations. Do not assume that students will continue to use a particular strategy or successfully adapt it to new situations. Teachers should actively promote the use of the strategy with their students, as well as, with their colleagues. Students will not automatically generalize strategies in different situations; they must be programmed to do so.

When evaluating the strategy instruction process, teachers should collaborate with their colleagues, get feedback, and find out if the students are utilizing the strategy in other content areas in a successful manner. A strategy will not be completely successful if students do not generalize it and use it in various, appropriate, situations. To promote the strategy use, other content area teachers need to be made aware of the strategy steps and how the strategy works. This will enable them to use the same kind of language and prompt the students to use the strategy when appropriate.


Ways of Evaluating

Evaluating student performance can be done in traditional fashions such as tests worksheets, written products, or other such curriculum-based measures. The use of curriculum-based measures provides certain advantages. They can be used to determine a baseline prior to strategy intervention, and can then be used to show the effectiveness of the strategy after implementation. This is an excellent way for students to see the value of using strategies. There are however alternatives to the traditional forms of assessment that can be equally effective. For example:

Involve students as Co-Evaluators

Increases students sense of ownership
Reinforces progress
Provides a practical way to reduce a teacher's load
Teachers can gain valuable insight into their progress and readiness for advancement
Involving students as co-evaluators can give you a better idea of how the student feels about the strategy, and their performance using the strategy. This is also an excellent way for students to see for themselves the difference that the strategy has made on their academic performance.

Utilize Portfolio Assessment Procedures

Portfolios are an excellent way for both teachers and students to monitor progress
Portfolios offer reflective self evaluation
Students learn that development is as important as achievement
Portfolios are part of the shift in education. In today's society students need to provide products of the learning. Using these "products" can be an excellent way to show students their own progress and how the use of the strategy has enhanced their academic performance.


Practical Considerations and Tips

When implementing strategy instruction there are a few practical considerations that should be thought out:CSI - requires time and effort CSI may require substantial time investment

Sometimes it is necessary to "loop back"

Once the strategy is taught is should not be forgot

This is not just something that can be done in "two weeks and move on." Even if the strategy is simple and can be implemented quickly it will be likely that you will need to do some re-teaching, review and modeling periodically. This will require a commitment from both teacher and student.In CSI "Small is Golden"Teachers should use only a few strategies and support their use over a prolonged period of time. Better to teach a small number of strategies well over a long period of time than try to teach a large number less extensively. We suggest considering the following tips:

Take it slow

Take advantage of strategies students have already developed

Collaborate with other teachers and your students

Taking it slow will help ensure that all stages have been well addressed. Teachers should be open to change and understand that sometimes even if things don't go as planned they can still be extremely successful. ConclusionTeachers who use CSI construct powerful new knowledge about what works for studentsAlthough this can be a demanding process, it is an exciting one that we hope you will try. Good Luck! Be excited, now you have something that you can use!