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Implications for practice

Derived from our developmental framework, several implications for practice can be put forward. First, it is important to inform educators and practitioners about the stages and related important shifts in the development of strategic processing. In addition, they should be aware of the obstacles that might arise during that journey, so they can attune their interventions and educational support accordingly (Alexander, 2005).

Second, and as outlined above, strategies are acquired through experience. This implies that we must provide learners with the experiences as well as the tools necessary to move forward in their journey toward competence, and perhaps, proficiency. The different stages of development, however, acquire a different and customized educational approach. For example, learners in the acclimation phase usually demonstrate a strong reliance on surface-level strategies and their strategic processing remains ineffective and inefficient during this phase (Alexander & Judy, 1988; Merchie et al.,

2014; Rogiers et al., 2019a; Vandevelde, Van Keer, & Rosseel, 2013; Vandevelde, Van Keer, Schellings, & Van Hout-Wolters, 2015). Consequently, learners in this phase require more assistance and possess a stronger need for explicit instruction on how to become strategic. During explicit instruction, educators not only model the application of strategies (i.e., explain, verbalize, and demonstrate their thoughts, actions, and reasons while strategic processing) but also provide specific strategy knowledge so that learners become aware of the how, when, why, and where to apply strategies (Kistner et al., 2010; Paris & Paris, 2001; Veenman, van Hout-Wolters, & Aftlerbach, 2006; Veenman et al., 2006). More concretely, by focusing on declarative knowledge (i.e., knowing about a variety of strategies), procedural knowledge (i.e., knowing how to use strategies), and conditional knowledge (i.e., knowing when and where to use particular strategies), learners’ strategy growth is fostered. Important to notice is, however, that explicit attention to strategies does not solely apply for acclimated learners but for learners in all stages of strategic processing (Alexander et al., 2018). In this regard, strategy instruction requires that educators move beyond a mere “content approach,” where the focus is often on facts and learning content. Instead, a “strategies approach,” where learners’ mental processes are directly targeted, is needed (Alfassi, 2004; Hall-Kenyon & Black, 2010; McKeown, Beck, & Blake, 2009; McNamara, 2011). By means of strategy instruction, strategies are made “transparent” and “transportable” for learners, enabling them to see why a particular strategy is useful, as well as how to apply the strategies in a subject-specific manner to other content areas (Alfassi, 2004; Parris & Block, 2008; Paris, Byrnes, & Paris, 2001; Pressley, 2000). For example, research in secondary education shows that by means of explicit strategy instruction, learners can become more competent in text-learning and extend their strategy repertoire considerably (Rogiers et al., 2019b). Consequently, and in line with several researchers, we recommend strategy instruction as an integral part in the regular instruction course embedded in all content areas (e.g., Alexander et al., 2018; Hamman, Berthelot, Saia, & Crowley, 2000; Harris et al., 2008). Instead of addressing strategy instruction as a separate course, a meta-curricular approach which systematically interweaves strategy adoption with acquiring domain-specific knowledge and skills, appears more valuable for learners’ strategy transfer (e.g., Cornford, 2002; Kistner et al., 2010; Veenman, 2011).

Furthermore, as being strategic equally implies that strategies can be employed across a variety of situations, strategy instruction should also explicitly focus on the transfer of strategies. Next to strategy instruction, educators should provide various practice opportunities for learners to strategically solve novel tasks and problems while providing process feedback and gradually fading guidance as learners’ proficiency increases (Garner, 1990; Graham & Harris, 1994; Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006; Weinstein et al., 2011; Pressley et al., 1989). Here, strategies should be practiced and developed in diverse and relevant contexts and learners must be encouraged to modify and combine their strategies according to the task or problem at hand (Alexander, 2003; Alexander et al., 2018). In this respect, learning contexts must be authentic and adaptable to the tasks learners encounter and vice versa. Support for strategy development can be provided by both educators and peers within a collaborative environment that meets the needs of diverse learners (e.g., De Backer, Van Keer, & Valcke, 2015, 2016; De Smedt, Graham, & Van Keer, 2019; De Smedt & Van Keer, 2018).

Third, and perhaps most fundamental, commitment to this lifespan perspective on strategic processing requires a change in the mindset of educators, practitioners, the public, and policy makers to accept strategic processing as a complex process of growth and development. When considering strategic processing from a developmental orientation, we must see the changes and challenges in the initial stages of learning as parts within a larger whole and vice versa (Alexander, 2005; Chen & Siegler, 2000). Within this growth perspective, attention is not exclusively focused on the actual state of one’s strategic processing but also on the changes that unfold in the strategic process and the way we can foster them. In essence, good information processing must be perceived as a long-term endeavor (Pressley et al., 1989). In this respect, we can no longer consider strategic development as confined to the early years of schooling, but we are spanning learning readiness to a process of proficient strategic processing. Additionally, we must acknowledge that becoming an expert learner and building up a repertoire of strategies takes considerable time, with several years of strategies’ instruction likely necessary for learners to truly take ownership of the strategies, and to apply these adaptively when encountering novel situations (Pressley, 2005; Pressley & Harris, 2006). Within the 21st century where lifelong learning is central, strategic development must, therefore, be seen as an integral responsibility of all educators across all educational levels and far beyond (Pressley et al., 1989).

Further, rather than focusing on the deficiencies, we must direct our attention to the growth opportunities for all learners. Although only a minority will reach the expert stage (Alexander, 1997), our expectations toward all learners should be high, even when they are only taking their first steps toward competence (Jang, Reeve, & Deci, 2010; Vansteenkiste et al., 2012). At the same time, unreasonable expectations might hamper learners’ growth as well (Alexander, 2003). Expecting learners to make significant progress in their strategic processing by the time they complete formal education, appears reasonable. This implies that we must be sensitive to see the marked changes and movements in learners’ strategic process (Murphy & Alexander, 2002). In addition, strategic development must be seen as an integral part of educators’ professional development. Explicit attention to the instruction of strategies can increase teachers’ competence to guide learners through this developmental course and equip them with a rich strategic repertoire.

 
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