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What Is Strategic Processing?

Goals and the Planful, Effective Enactment of Strategies. We begin the discussion of strategic processing with goals because goals mobilize a strategy from something a student knows - a procedural knowledge representation - to something a student does - some strategic process. Goals are the internal objectives a student holds for a particular task. The student learning Piagetian stages, for example, might hold the goals of remembering the stages and being able to explain and apply the stages. Goal formulation starts when the student uses information about the task, including any provided instructions, to construct a representation of what the task requires (Rouet, Britt, & Durik, 2017; Winne & Hadwin, 2008). This construction is based on the students perception of the task and the broader context. As such, the task representation will be influenced by the students prior culturally and socially situated experiences (Butler & Schnellert, this volume). The task representation is translated into a set of task goals that include the standards a student will use for judging progress and goal attainment (Winne & Hadwin, 1998, 2008).

From the chapters in this Handbook section, goals emerged as central to strategic processing. First, as presented in the definition of strategy, strategic procedural knowledge includes knowledge of the goals, or conditions, for which a strategy is effective. Students select strategies by matching the goals of the task to the strategies suited for meeting those goals. Given a memory task, a student may select the first-letter mnemonic; given an explain and apply task, a student may select self-explanation. This selection leads to the planful enactment of the strategy. In other words, during ideal strategic processing, the student plans how the strategy will be deployed with this plan corresponding to task goals. A second issue regards the criteria of effectiveness in evaluating qualitative aspects of strategic processing. Dinsmore and Hattan (this volume) argued that only when a process achieves a goal should it be considered strategic; Dumas (this volume) agreed and added the qualification that performance may fall short of the goal, but there must be some “commonly expected effectiveness” (p. 18). Goals then are central to the definition of strategic processing because effectiveness can only be evaluated in light of goal attainment.

Flexible and Adaptive Self-regulated Cycles

The tasks that students undertake are rarely exact matches to the context in which a strategy is learned. The student who learns self-explanation to support problem solving may find herself in a collaborative problem-solving task; the student who learns to write a paper using a plan-write-revise strategy may be under time constraints that do not permit such a lengthy effort. These examples showcase the need for the flexible and adaptive application of strategies. Students, that is, must adapt their strategies to the conditions at hand in order to successfully achieve their goals. Indeed, “it is particularly the ability to flexibly and selectively use ... apt strategies that [is] crucial for learning, understanding, and performance” (Rogier et al., this volume, p. 49).

This flexible adaptation occurs in the context of self-regulated cycles that shift between applying strategies and monitoring their effectiveness (Winne & Hadwin, 1998, 2008). Consequently, the flexible application of strategies does not end with the initial selection and adaptation of strategies. When the student perceives that a strategy is ineffective, a good strategy user (Pressley et al., 1987) will adjust their plan, either making further adaptations to the current strategy or discarding that strategy in favor of another. The self-regulation component of strategic processing is also responsible for the coordinated use of strategies. Complex tasks require the use of more than one strategy and self-regulation permits the student to manage and coordinate these strategies. The student learning Piagets stages, for example, may first focus only on remembering the names of each stage and later allocate attentional resources to understanding them. Self-regulation demands are further complicated in socially shared strategic processing. Here, the student must not only incorporate social strategies but also coordinate her own strategic processing with that of others (Butler & Schnellert, this volume). Regardless of the specific context, a hallmark of effective strategic processing is engagement in, and management of, self-regulated cycles of adaptive strategy use.

Summary. Goals play a central role in the definition of strategic processing because goals drive both the selection and application of strategies. Once selected, a student is able to plan how the strategies can be applied toward the goal and, ultimately, evaluate the effectiveness of that strategic process according to whether the goal has been achieved. Furthermore, this flexible adaptation allows a student to adjust known strategies to meet the specific conditions and demands of the task at hand.

The selection, adaptation, and monitoring of strategic processing is embedded in self-regulated cycles as a student works toward goals and it is this self-regulation that permits the successful use of strategies during complex tasks.

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