Beyond Teaching Concepts

When a student does not understand a particular concept in a particular subject, a tutor can help to explain and teach that concept.  For many students, this clarification and further explanation is what they need to attain greater success.  For some, however, this is not enough.   Many students have more global learning difficulties.  They may not attack problems with the most efficient or appropriate strategies.  Furthermore, research has shown that the information processing approaches used by many students “do not appear to exhaust – or even tap – their learning potential” (Swanson).  When this is the case, simply teaching a student how to solve a very specific sort of problem is not always the best use of time.  Instead, many advocate strategy instruction, the process of teaching students cognitive strategies that they can use to attack various problems or assignments.


Some of the strategies that students commonly neglect to use include: planning before writing, realizing when we do not understand what we are reading, activating prior knowledge, taking proper notes, sequencing main events in a story, and using study techniques.  Once explicitly taught, students can use these strategies in a host of different settings and circumstances, allowing them to celebrate success in a wider range of subjects.


An important tenet of strategy instruction is that there are many different cognitive strategies a student may use.  Determining the “best” strategy depends on the problem, the circumstance, and the individual student.  The role of a tutor in strategy instruction is to teach the different strategies, help a student master them, and help the student reflect on which strategies felt most intuitive and effective.  A learning specialist can identify which strategies will likely be most effective for a student based upon their learning profile. 


If a student is struggling with academics more globally than simply not grasping a particular topic, strategy instruction is an excellent option.  The time spent learning strategies saves time and effort as students learn to attack new problems appropriately, increasing long term academic success.


For further reading in this area, we recommend:

Swanson, H. L. (1993)  Principles and Procedures in Strategy Use.  In L. J. Meltzer (ed.), Strategy Assessment and Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities (pp. 61-92).  Austin, TX:  Pro-Ed.


Have you employed this approach?  Share your story with us.

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