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How can we determine the effectiveness of strategy use during multiple text task completion?

The final question we are left to grapple with when considering students’ strategic engagement with multiple texts is how we can determine whether strategy use is effective. To date, strategy effectiveness has been determined according to whether strategy use increases particular multiple text outcomes or not. Although this constitutes an intuitive approach to evaluating strategy effectiveness, the reality of strategy use is that strategies, even when appropriately engaged, are oftentimes not successful, requiring students to adjust their strategic approaches throughout the course of task completion (Winne & Hadwin, 2008). Currently there have been few, if any, studies to specifically examine this type of dynamic strategy use, wherein students deploy, adapt, and discontinue using strategies, recursively, to accomplish task goals. At the same time, emergent work in the field of self-regulation suggests that microanalytic techniques that specifically ask students why they engage certain strategies may be a promising avenue for gaining more insight into the metacognitive and regulatory decisions underlying students’ processing (Callan & Cleary, 2018; Cleary, Callan, Schunk, & Greene, 2018).

Another route to considering the effectiveness of strategy use is to consider the effectiveness with which strategies are engaged. That is to say, just because students deploy a particular strategy does not mean that they do so successfully. As demonstrated by Wolfe and Goldman, (2005), for example, engaging prior knowledge, while effective for some students (Anmarkrud et al., 2014), can lead to irrelevant associations made by students, detracting from learning. Likewise, Kühl, Scheiter, Gerjets, and Gemballa (2011) found students to report more positive monitoring (i.e., reporting successful comprehension) when studying dynamic, rather than static, visuals. At the same time, Kühl et al. (2011) attribute such positive monitoring to an illusion of understanding, rather than to comprehension benefits per se. Beyond these examinations, limited attention has been paid to the effectiveness with which students may deploy particular strategies during task completion. However, such an approach to determining strategy effectiveness can be said to align with efforts to examine students’ strategy use in reference to expert processing (e.g., historians, Rouet et al., 1997; Wineburg, 1991; chemists, Kozma, 2003).

A final path to determining strategy effectiveness is tied to theoretical understandings of learning from multiple texts (Rouet & Britt, 2011). Theories of learning from multiple texts specify that much of task completion is guided by students’ personal representations of how a task ought to be carried out (i.e., students’ task models, Rouet & Britt, 2011). A means of determining strategy effectiveness, then, would be to evaluate strategies relative to the goal(s) and sub-goals that students set for task completion. Nevertheless, the quality, rather than quantity, of students’ strategy use remains a fundamentally unexplored area of students’ learning from multiple texts.

Thus far, in this section, I have posed a series of questions that may be essential to understanding learners’ strategy use when learning from multiple texts. These questions can add additional nuance and interpretive power to understanding students’ strategic processing. In the final section of this chapter I briefly discuss how the CSF and the five strategy-directed questions that follow can be used to understand students’ processing when learning not only from multiple texts but from multiple, multimedia documents as well, or documents containing textual information alongside non-textual content (e.g., diagrams, tables, videos).


In this chapter I ask six questions that I consider to be foundational to understanding students’ strategy use in a multidimensional fashion and as it manifests in real or authentic contexts for learning. In such real contexts, strategy use is (a) oriented toward the materials available, or in response to the where question, purposefully focused on a variety of stimuli; (b) in response to the when question, engaged throughout the course of task completion, (c) to answer the who question, variably beneficial to different learners, (d) in response to the why question, metacognitively motivated, and (e) to answer the how question, recursive and differentially effective. Recognizing this reality necessarily suggests that investigations focused only on the what of strategy use, or just which strategies are deployed, to the exclusion of where these strategies are directed, when they are used during processing, who uses these strategies and why, and how effective these are, is insufficient. As such, investigating answers to these various questions is both essential to understanding strategy use and the imperative of future work in this field.

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