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Concurrent and Task-specific Self-reports


In their landmark review of research on “learning, remembering, and understanding,” Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, and Campione (1983) described a major metaphorical shift occurring during the late 1960s and early 1970s: a shift away from a passive learner responding to environmental influences toward an active learner using strategies in the service of acquiring, retaining, and understanding information. Although those authors acknowledged that it was not particularly clear what was strategic and what was not, their review of the progress made in this area of research during the 1970s and early 1980s focused on “deliberate plans and routines called into service for remembering, learning, or problem solving” (Brown et al., 1983, p. 85).

The defining attributes of strategies were, sometimes fiercely, debated in the following years, especially regarding the attribute of consciousness or intentionality (e.g., Paris, Newman, & Jacobs, 1985; Pressley, Forrest-Pressley, Elliott-Faust, & Miller, 1985). However, more recent views seem to have converged on the idea that strategies involve effortful, intentional, and planful processing (Afflerbach, Pearson, & Paris, 2008; Alexander, Graham, & Harris, 1998; Kendeou & O’Brien, 2018). In this way, strategies are distinguished from skills, which denote automatic, unintentional, and routinized information processing (Afflerbach et al., 2008). In accordance with this distinction, we define strategies as forms of procedural knowledge that individuals intentionally and planfully use for the purpose of acquiring, organizing, or elaborating information, as well as for reflecting upon and guiding their own learning, comprehension, or problem solving (cf., Alexander et al., 1998; Braten & Samuelstuen, 2004;

Weinstein, Husman, & Dierking, 2000). Thus, when individuals perceive a discrepancy between a desired outcome and their current state of learning, comprehension, or problem solving, and automatic skills cannot get them to the goal, they may decide to invest effort in strategic processing in order to reduce or eliminate that discrepancy (Alexander et al., 1998).

Further, an important distinction has concerned superficial versus deeper processing strategies, with level of processing related to the extent to which information is reorganized or transformed during learning, comprehension, or problem solving. This distinction is consistent with Bereiter and Scardamalias (1987) classic distinction between knowledge-telling and knowledge-transforming approaches, with the former involving a superficial engagement suitable for reproduction of information in the same or similar form and the latter involving an active transformation of information suitable for generating new meaning or insights. With reference to our definition of strategies, individuals may use superficial strategies, such as selection and rehearsal, to acquire new information, and deeper level strategies, such as constructing summaries and drawing inferences, to organize and elaborate information. The latter part of our definition, referring to reflection and self-guidance, captures metacognitive strategies such as planning, monitoring, control, and evaluation of processing as well as performance (Veenman, 2016).

Needless to say, valid measurement of strategic processing is essential, for example, to understand how the different components or aspects of strategic processing work together with motivation and other forms of cognition, how they come into play and influence task completion and performance within and across domains, and how strategic processing develops over time, both naturally across the lifespan and as a consequence of deliberate strategies instruction. Given the effortful, conscious, and intentional nature of strategic processing, self-report methodologies, indeed, seem applicable in gauging such thinking. Still, there are several caveats concerning some of these methodologies (Tourangeau, 2000; Veenman, 2011), requiring careful consideration of which forms of self-reports may produce results that can be trusted. In this chapter, we generally define self-reports as utterances or answers to prompts or questions provided by an individual about his or her cognitions and actions during learning, comprehension, or problem solving. We discuss concurrent and task-specific self-reports, in particular, focusing on the possibilities and challenges of using such approaches to measuring strategic processing.

The remainder of this chapter is divided into three main sections. In the first, we briefly discuss three theoretical models for understanding the role of strategic processing in learning, comprehension, and problem solving, with an eye to how strategic processing has been measured within these models. In the second, we describe, explain, illustrate, and problematize four different ways to assess strategic processing by means of self-reports. In the third, we summarize the results of our analysis and discuss implications and future directions.

Theoretical background

We present and discuss three prominent models focusing on strategic processing. These models were developed within educational psychology decades ago but still influence thinking about strategies and research on strategic processing.

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