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Forging ahead

In bringing this chapter to close, I want to address several sectors within the strategy domain that remain underexplored and underdeveloped. Even with the promising new inroads just described, the disregard of these regions should not be allowed to persist for fear of thwarting further progress. The specific sectors I want to pinpoint relate to:

  • • focusing greater attention on teachers as strategic guides;
  • • nesting strategy research in more naturalistic contexts;
  • • generating multidimensional, developmental representations.

Teachers as Strategic Guides

What was apparent from the contents of this Handbook was that contributors’ interests—whether addressing the nature, forms, and levels of strategies, their enactment in academic domains, or their measurement—was squarely on learners. While that is understandable, given researchers’ altruistic aim of improved learning and development for all students, it ignores one crucial principle:

It is ultimately the teachers, through their day-to-day interactions with students, their explicit or implicit instruction, and the learning environment they help create, who routinely mark the strategic paths that their students tend to follow.

However, even though teachers and teaching are mentioned in almost every chapter in this volume, they are most often addressed indirectly. There is not one chapter that puts teachers in the foreground. This is true even for the several chapters that are specifically about interventions. Where are the studies of teachers’ strategic processing? What does strategic teaching look like generally or within specific academic domains? How are teachers prepared to assume positions as their students’ strategic role models, promoters, appraisers, and navigational guides?

Without more concentrated research attention on teachers’ strategic knowledge and behavior both at a general and domain-specific level, and without strategic processing being an explicit component in teachers’ professional development, there is no reason to expect significant improvements in students’ strategic behaviors. That is because the value that teachers place on strategic processing, and the time and attention it garners within classroom instruction becomes a highly determinative factor in what their students do (Garner, 1990). Moreover, if you change the strategic knowledge and strategic behaviors of teachers, you change the instructional climate that exists for students.

Naturalistic Contexts for Strategy Inquiry

Earlier, I noted my concern over the ecological validity of research into students’ strategic behaviors in online environments. Such concern is by no means new or surprising. There has long been tension between basic and applied research within the educational community—between laboratory studies and what transpires in natural settings. This is one of the legacies that traces back to E. L. Thorndike’s dismissal of the classroom as a useful context for scientific research (Berliner, 1993). As with many false dichotomies, there is no reason to presume a paradoxical relation between research carried out in a more orchestrated or controlled setting and that which is conducted in situ. Both serve valuable and potentially complementary roles and there are always ways to make experimental research more ecological valid or classroom-based research more controlled.

The point that I make here is that strategy theorists and researchers cannot remain in the sector of highly controlled or contrived investigations if their intentions are to map the entire landscape of strategies and strategic processing. They must venture into the less cultivated and certainly more volatile terrain that students experience daily. By exploring this more dynamic and changeable environment, researchers should be able to more richly and accurately describe the strategic behaviors of the teachers and students who reside there. Further, these researchers should be better equipped to devise interventions that can be sustained within that more dynamic and volatile environment, and to lay out alternative routes that teachers and students can more readily pursue toward improved strategic processing.

Multidimensional, Developmental Models

When discussing the need for navigational supports, I mentioned the struggle of finding one’s way when equipped with only a rough sketch of the landscape. The underlying premise of that statement was that: The better the map, the easier the journey. Certainly, the chartings of the strategy domain have improved noticeably since the

1970s. This Handbook is a testament to that fact. Yet, when it comes to the fundamental question of how strategic processing should change over time, current mappings are still in need of enhancement, as Rogiers et al. (this volume) so contended. The features these contributors would add to existing models (my own included) were four characteristic changes that they felt undergirded development: availability, diversity, efficiency, and adaptivity. That is certainly a beginning.

Yet, as was also evident in many chapters in this volume, strategy enactment is not a one-dimensional process, not solely a cognitive enterprise. Therefore, one-dimensional mappings are, by default, incomplete and potentially misdirecting. Rather, what seems required is a multidimensional rendering that incorporates knowledge, motivational, emotional, and sociocultural forces that are continually interacting with the cognitive and metacognitive elements that have long been part of existing strategy models. The Model of Domain Learning (Alexander, 1997, 2003) is a multidimensional mapping that includes individual and situational interest, domain and topic knowledge, along with deeper and more surface-level processing strategies, as driving forces in expertise development. Still there is more to chart. What I have acknowledged is that the MDL is a mid-range topographical rendering. It does not take into account more microlevel or global forces that are also influential in strategy development.

Thus, beyond multidimensionality, mappings of the strategy domain must take into consideration its highly idiosyncratic and dynamic character. No two individuals travel the same strategic terrain in the same way. Further, even the same individual experiences fluctuations in the knowledge and interest that fuel strategic behavior. This almost demands an interactive map that allows learners to pinpoint their current location within the landscape and to plot various courses of action, depending on the immediate conditions. Such an interactive and individualized mapping may seem unrealistic based on the current state of theory and research. But the knowledge base and technological capabilities have advanced so much that more detailed and individualized renderings may not be so far off. At the very least, I remain optimistic that the field will reach a point in the relatively near future where the representations of strategy processing it produces will be richer and more useful than in generations past. The contributors to this volume have already laid the groundwork and set the benchmarks for those who will follow.

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