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Introduction: what are strategies?

The purpose of this introductory chapter of the Handbook is two-fold. First, we as co-editors want to lay out the case for the importance of the Handbook. Second, we want this chapter to serve as a guide for the reader to more deeply understand the need for continuing high-quality research on strategies and strategy use.

Why a handbook on strategies and strategic processing?

Research on strategies and strategic processing has been steadily expanding over the last few decades. This expansion includes increases in the numbers of studies that examine cognitive strategies (Dinsmore, 2017), levels of strategic processing (Asika-inen & Gijbels, 2017; Dinsmore & Alexander, 2012), and strategies associated with self-regulation (Dinsmore, Alexander, & Loughlin, 2008; Schunk & Greene, 2017). As many of these cited sources have indicated, the proliferation of this research has far from clarified the relation between strategies, strategy use, and performance. In fact, the past few decades have been marked with numerous calls to clarify these relations in numerous contexts and settings (Block, 2009; Dinsmore & Fryer, 2018) that include higher education (Fryer & Gijbels, 2017).

Two particular issues with regard to research on the influence of strategies and strategic processing on task and problem-solving performance have emerged that this Handbook is well positioned to address: how strategies and strategy use have been conceptually considered (across domains and contexts as well as levels of processing), and how they have been operationalized and analyzed. We will now turn to how this Handbook addresses each of these two challenging issues as well as additional contributions from the authors of these chapters.

Conceptualizations of strategies and strategy use

The editorial decision to position the conceptualizations of strategies and strategy use early in this Handbook underscores the primacy of the issue of poor or misspecified conceptualizations of strategy use in the literature. First, numerous contributions in the first section of this Handbook - Definitions, Forms, and Levels of Strategies - explore conceptually and theoretically how strategies and strategic processing have been defined. Dumas (Chapter 2) explores the relations between strategies and their relations to the domains in which they are useful. He provides an overview of how the field has attempted to understand whether or not a strategy is domain general (i.e., useful across a wide number of domains) or domain specific (i.e., useful in one or a limited number of domains). Similarly, Dinsmore and Hattan (Chapter 3) explore how strategies have been stratified with regard to their purpose, or purported purpose - surface-level processing, deep-level processing, or metacognitive processing. Further, Rogiers, Merchie, De Smedt, De Backer, and Van Keer (Chapter 4) overview and offer a new framework to conceptualize strategy use over the lifespan. Finally, Butler and Schnellert (Chapter 5) explore the degree to which a strategy is an individual endeavor, or whether (and how) these strategies and utilization of these strategies may be socially shared across individuals performing a task or solving a problem. Research on strategies and strategic processing must be grounded in terms of how the learner is using them and what the learner is getting out of using them, which in our view is dictated by many factors, chief among them the development of many other cognitive and motivational factors.

Despite the fact that there is a section dedicated to conceptualizations of strategy use, we encourage the reader to consider this issue as they read the remaining three sections of the Handbook. In many cases, the theoretical frameworks from which these expert authors write color how strategies and strategic processing are conceptualized. For some, strategies are subsumed by or heavily influenced by self-regulation (e.g., Baars, Wijnia, de Bruin, & Pass, Chapter 14; Butler & Schnellert, Chapter 5; Winne, Chapter 15). While we as editors do not share this view that strategies should be subsumed in this way, the influence of self-regulation and self-regulated learning on the research regarding strategies and strategy use is undeniable. We strongly encourage readers - especially those new to the field - to keep in mind that the conceptual lines between metacognition, self-regulation, and self-regulated learning themselves have been conceptually muddy for quite some time (Dinsmore et al., 2008) and the role that strategies play within and beyond these three constructs has been even murkier. Additionally, we note that the distinction between strategies and skills is often blurred. This distinction is made in numerous chapters throughout (Afflerbach, Hurt, & Cho, Chapter 7; Alexander, Chapter 25; Dinsmore & Hattan, Chapter 3; Dumas,

Chapter 2) - an issue of great import since Alexander and Judy’s (1988) review article. We hope the chapters in the first section provide the reader with a solid foundation to consider these two issues as they attempt to synthesize these chapters for themselves. Fortunately, the reader is further aided in this synthesis through Van Meter and Campbell’s (Chapter 6) illuminating commentary. As we have attempted in this introduction as well, Van Meter and Campbell expertly lay out the case for why strategies should garner special consideration in the literature, in particular given the connections between strategies and problem-solving and task outcomes.

 
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