Strategic Instruction Opens Doors to Learning for Your Child

By TRISH SCHREIBER, SIM Professional Developer and JOCELYN WASHBURN, Director of Professional Development, University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning

It’s hard to know how best to support your child or teenager at home with their nightly homework. You’ve probably wondered where the line is drawn between doing it for them and simply helping. Most homework assignments are meant for students to practice the skills they are learning in class. But many students, and perhaps this applies to your child, are not yet ready to practice on their own. This creates a problem. You want your child to be independent, and at the same time, you want their homework to be meaningful. And, you want them to practice the skill in a way that is strategic, efficient and worthwhile.

Education researchers at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KUCRL) design teaching methods to help students become strategic learners. These methods are called Learning Strategies and are part of the Strategic Instruction Model (SIM). Each Learning Strategy uses eight stages of instruction that have proven time and again to help students of all levels succeed on academic tasks or assignments. To teach your child to be strategic, you can use the same eight stages of instruction. The stages are Pretest, Describe, Model, Verbal Practice, Controlled Practice and Feedback, Advanced Practice and Feedback, Posttest, and Generalization.

Of these eight stages, modeling is the heart of the strategy instruction and is easy to do at home. Modeling is a demonstration of a skill by thinking aloud while doing it and then gradually involving your child until they take over the task. Of course, finding out what your child knows and doesn’t know is essential. No matter how much modeling you do, if your child is missing important knowledge that is needed before moving on, you must clarify that first. Once you know where to begin, model the desired skill you would like your child to use.

First, preview your child’s assignment and determine what steps are needed to complete it successfully. A solid model always starts with a statement of purpose known as an Advance Organizer. Then, it moves onto the Presentation Phase when you complete the task in full while saying your thoughts aloud while your child watches you. The third stage of modeling is when you Enlist Engagement from your child. This is a time when you are both working together until you successfully complete the work. At this point, you are acting as a support net to make sure the task is completed as planned and all the steps are verbalized. Repeat these first three steps as many times as needed to finish the homework, giving your child more and more of the responsibility to verbalize and complete the steps while you affirm their progress and correct when necessary. Eventually you turn the assignment over to your child when they model successful completion of the task for you. Lastly, once your child has finished the whole assignment, provide a Post Organizer, a review of all that you did. At this point, you’ll highlight the critical steps you both did, personalize the steps, predict when to do this again, and state expectations for next time they have this type of assignment or one that is similar.

A model might sound and look like this:
“The directions say to use context clues to write a definition for each bold word in the passage. This means we will do a close reading of the passage to determine the meaning of the vocabulary words by using clues in the context of the passage (Advanced Organizer). So, I’m going to start by just reading the passage once in full to become familiar with it, knowing that we’re going to have to go back and read it a few times to focus on the sentences with the target words to complete the assignment. I also see that there are six words in bold print, so we’ll be going back to the reading at least six times, probably more, because even if we think we know the meaning of the word, we also know that word meanings can change significantly, depending on how the author uses it. So, we must consider the words around each word to complete the close reading accurately.”

Continue verbalizing all the steps as you complete them: read the passage, then go back to each word in bold, re-read that sentence, use the context cues to decide on a definition and write down the definition (Presentation Phase). After doing it once in full as a model, begin giving some of the steps to your child. Allow your child to take on more and more of the verbalizing and directing of the task until they are doing it fully on their own for you (Enlist Engagement). Then, before you end, review the critical steps and talk about when else they can use this skill (Post Organizer).

Completing work in this way allows your child or teenager to gain confidence in knowing how to approach, manage and complete tasks. The use of self-talk helps many students both remember and make sense of what they are doing as well as identify and isolate questions if they are confused. Modeling allows students to see and hear the physical behaviors and thought processes that those who are proficient with an assignment use. Last but not least, the four phases of modeling increase the likelihood that your child will be able to complete future assignments independently.

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