What does strategies mean to teachers anyway? In any given conversation it could mean, well, nearly anything!
In EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon, Diane Ravitch defines a strategy as:
A plan or tactic to solve a problem or carry out a decision. In education, a strategy refers to almost everything that a teacher or a student does in the classroom—asking a question, reading a story, figuring out the meaning of a word, planning the next day’s lesson, and so on.
Strategies can even be nested within strategies—like instructional strategies for teaching the metacognitive comprehension strategies. It’s also not uncommon for a strategy to be conflated with the skill it develops.
Jen Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book will ship in May (click here to view savings on prepublication orders), and it offers 300 instructional strategies for teaching reading. But what does she mean by strategy? Well, she’s talking about a process you give to a reader to help them make progress and increase their capabilities. In the book’s introduction, she writes:
For me, good strategies are like my favorite recipes; they teach you how to accomplish something that is not yet automatic in a broken down, step-by-step manner. I wouldn’t ever tell a novice cook to just “whip up a soufflé!” without telling her how, just as I wouldn’t tell a reader “think beyond the text!” if I saw he wasn’t yet able to do it independently.
Researchers, authors, and theorists use the terms skill and strategy differently. To me, strategies are deliberate, effortful, intentional, and purposeful actions a reader takes to accomplish a specific task or skill. A reading strategy is step-by-step, a procedure or recipe. Strategies make the often-invisible work of reading actionable and visible. Teachers can offer strategies to students to put the work in doable terms for those who are still practicing, so that they may become more comfortable and competent with the new skill.
In The Reading Strategies Book, Jen shares this really helpful, infographical way to look at the whole question of how she thinks about strategies and where they fall in a hierarchy of instructional terms.
Within each goal, there may be one or more skills that a reader would need to work on. For example, if a student is working on a goal of understanding character, that may involve inferring (reading between the lines to name traits and/or feelings) but also synthesis (putting together information across a book to determine how a character changes). Once you’ve identified the skills, you can find specific strategies to accomplish those skills.
Ultimately strategies are for releasing responsibility to readers, Jen writes, because, “Strategies are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. The strategy is a temporary scaffold, and like any scaffolding it needs to be removed.”
That’s one helpful way of looking at strategies. Let us know in the comments about the various ways you use the word and what it means for your teaching… and learning!
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A literacy consultant, researcher, and author, Jennifer Serravallo is the best-selling author or coauthor of the Heinemann titles Teaching Reading in Small Groups, Conferring with Readers, and The Literacy Teacher's Playbooks, Grades K–2 and Grades 3–6. Her newest book is The Reading Strategies Book, available in May.