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Promising new inroads

As I stated in the opening for this chapter, I have spent a good portion of the last four decades encountering impediments to forward progress in the strategy domain. Thus, I was understandably a bit leery to set out again to travel that very familiar path. Yet, the more I delved into the content of this Handbook and explored the avenues of inquiry laid out by these established experts, visions of where the field is headed become clearer and far more promising than I would have expected. Almost from the outset, it was apparent to me that this foray into what I regarded as familiar terrain was going to be a different experience. Here I discuss four inroads into the domain that I regard as particularly encouraging.

  • • demarcating boundaries;
  • • looking wider and going deeper;
  • • encountering complementary routes;
  • • experiencing tectonic shifts.

Demarcating Boundaries

From the opening chapter and for various chapters thereafter, contributing authors systematically and thoughtfully established the boundaries for specific concepts they were mapping. Such conceptual demarcations were especially evident in the first section of the Handbook on “Definitions, Forms, and Levels of Strategies,” when authors were focused on defining the foundational term, strategy. I also found a level of conceptual consistency in the authors’ conceptualization, as signified by their use of such descriptors as effortful, intentionally, or purposefully to denote those processes invoked when problems or questions arise that cannot be resolved by students’ habituated routines or skills (e.g., Afflerbach, Hurt, & Cho, this volume; Dumas, this volume; Newton, this volume; Rogiers, Merchie, de Smedt, DeBacker, & van Keer this volume).

However, evidence of conceptual specificity also extended to discussions of more particularized forms of strategies, including learning, domain-general, domainspecific, and science learning strategies. In his examination of strategic processing within and across domains for example, Dumas (this volume) offers definitions of domain-general strategies (i.e., useful across a number of domains) and domain-specific strategies (i.e., useful in a single domain). Then, he goes on to explain how the clarity of the theoretical distinction between strategies classified as domain general and domain specific gets muddled when these strategies are enacted in research. Similarly, in their chapter on science strategy interventions, Lombardi and Bailey (this volume) took great care in defining strategies. These authors did so, in part, by differentiating them from tactics. What the authors set out to establish, particularly for the domain of physics, was that strategies, in effect, consist of tactics, which they characterize as an array of simple actions that collectively allow for the completion of specific tasks or activities. Even with this conceptual variation, Lombardi and Bailey still attach the descriptors planfulness, effortfulness, and goal-directed to the concept of strategies.

Further, for their review of reviews on levels of strategic processing, Dinsmore and Hattan (this volume) begin by offering working definitions of surface-level and deeplevel strategies, as well as metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies. Surface-level strategies, according to the boundaries that Dinsmore and Hattan set, entail intentional actions taken to grasp the problem at hand and to initiate solutions, whereas deep-level strategies involve transforming or reframing the problem or approaching its solution in novel or creative ways. Moreover, when learners are engaged in metacognitive strategies, they are attempting to actively monitor their thinking or their cognitive processing, whereas self-regulatory strategies are broadly applied to the monitoring and control of not only learners’ cognition but also to their physical, motivational, and social-emotional actions.

Regrettably, the conceptual precision found in the aforementioned chapters was not evident in all the chapters populating this Handbook. As to why this explication failed to occur in certain contributions, I can only speculate. Perhaps those contributing authors felt those terms were already well established in the literature. Yet, this is not a valid assumption. Maybe those authors were working under the assumption that at least the notions of strategies and strategic processing had been set for this Handbook in the editors’ opening chapter (Dinsmore, Fryer, & Parkinson, this volume). Even if this is a more defensible position, it does not free these authors from explicating the concepts guiding their individual contributions. So, improvements in clearing away the conceptual debris that obstructs journeys into strategy theory, research, and interventions are certainly apparent in this volume, even though continued improvements are warranted.

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