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Looking Wider and Going Deeper

A greater specificity was also evident across these contributions that investigated how, when, why, or in what way strategies are enacted within academic domains, such as history, science, or mathematic (de la Paz & Nokes, this volume; Lombardi & Bailey, this volume). For example, Newton (this volume) describes the procedural flexibility that students must manifest when they are tackling algebra or fraction problems, while Graham et al. (this volume) specify four tenets of strategic writing derived from decades of theoretical and empirical research, including numerous intervention studies:

  • • Skilled writers operate more strategically than less skilled writers.
  • • With age and appropriate experiences, writers can become more strategic.
  • • The unique behavioral patterns that individuals manifest in their strategic writing predict writing performance differences.
  • • Writing performance can improve with instruction designed to increase strategic writing.

In both the Newton (this volume) and Graham et al. (this volume) chapters, and in others that target foundational domains of learning (de la Paz & Nokes, this volume; Lombardi & Bailey, this volume), contributors thoughtfully characterize their respective domains and then reveal how strategic processing must yield to the nature of those domains in nontrivial ways. Even while acknowledging the influence of the domain, these authors retain the conceptual core that defines strategies—their planful, effortful, and intentional nature.

What this symbiotic relation between domain and strategic processing brings to light is that the well-marked borders between strategic forms (domain general and domain specific; deep and surface; cognitive and metacognitive) are far more permeable in situ, as Dumas (this volume) suggests. In essence, there are no purely domain-general or domain-specific or cognitive or metacognitive strategies—no true dichotomies— when these contrasting strategies are instantiated in research or practice. Rather, the distinctions between strategic forms are determined, in part, by the features of the immediate environment, including the task at hand, and the degree to which that task requires the transformation or iteration of relevant strategic forms.

When strategies are viewed in this more flexible or fluid light, the notion of what it means to be metacognitive or self-regulatory takes on a somewhat different meaning. It means that part of being “meta” or self-regulatory when strategically engaged requires students to recognize the level of strategy transformation or iteration that needs to be undertaken in Domain A for Problem B versus for Problem D in Domain C. This reframing of differences in strategic forms also has implications for the manner in which strategies are taught. For instance, it has been long understood that strategies cannot be taught or applied rigidly, even in domains such as mathematics or science, as Newton (this volume) reinforces. I appreciate that when a strategy is being introduced, especially with young learners, those with specific learning difficulties, or those for whom the domain or task is especially challenging, it may be necessary to overly simplify its nature. I have done precisely that when training very young children to reason analogically (Alexander et al., 1987; White & Alexander, 1986). But with time and experience and with cognitive maturation, the more fluid nature of the trained strategy must be embraced so as to allow students to personalize the strategy or modulate its character to fit the specific context or task. This is why effective strategy interventions (Harris & Graham, 2009, 2016; Murphy, 2015; Murphy et al., 2018) provide for fading of external support and personalization of the trained procedures. I grant that this proposed permeability of the boundaries between strategic forms demands more investigation, but I regard it as worthy of further exploration, nonetheless.

This novel thought engendered by the chapters in the “Strategies in Action” section gave rise to a related notion. The editors of this Handbook are among the leaders in the field probing the issue of “levels” of strategic processing. I have already commented on the conceptual clarity that Dinsmore and Hattan (this volume) brought to the notions of deeper and more surface-level strategies. However, from my perspective, those pursuing this topic (myself, included) have applied this designation to the degree of problem modulation or transformation in which learners strategically engage (deeper) in contrast to their attention to the features of the problem and potential solution paths (more surface). What I am proposing here is that these levels could also reflect the degree of transformation or iteration the learner envisions in the strategic process itself. Whether this turns out to be a viable addition to the existing concept of levels of processing remains to be seen, of course. Nonetheless, the thought-provoking contributions of this volume were the catalyst for my cognitive ruminations.

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