Daniel J. Boudah and Kevin J. O'Neill
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
are Learning Strategies?
As students shift
from the skills emphasis of elementary grades to the content emphasis
of secondary grades, they face greater demands to read information
from textbooks, take notes from lectures, work independently, and
express understanding in written compositions and on paper and pencil
tests (Schumaker & Deshler, 1984). For students who haven't acquired
such important academic skills, the task of mastering content often
comes with failure, particularly in inclusive general education classes.
In response to this challenge, many students with learning problems,
including those with learning disabilities (LD), have acquired and
use specific learning strategies to become successful despite their
knowledge and skill deficits.
Simply put, a
learning strategy is an individual's approach to complete a task.
More specifically, a learning strategy is an individual's way of organizing
and using a particular set of skills in order to learn content or
accomplish other tasks more effectively and efficiently in school
as well as in nonacademic settings (Schumaker & Deshler, 1992).
Therefore, teachers who teach learning strategies teach students how
to learn, rather than teaching them specific curriculum content or
What Does the
Research Say about Learning Strategies?
Much of the research
and development of learning strategies for students with learning
disabilities has come from researchers and educators affiliated with
The University of Kansas, Center for Research on Learning. In general,
their research suggests that use of learning strategies can improve
student performance in inclusive settings or on grade appropriate
tasks. In reading, for example, results from a study of the use of
the Word Identification Strategy indicated that the number of oral
reading errors decreased while reading comprehension scores increased
for all students on ability level and grade level materials (Lenz
& Hughes, 1990). Another study revealed that students using the
Test Taking Strategy improved average test scores in inclusive classes
from 57% to 71% (Hughes & Schumaker, 1991).
in the area of learning strategies have also found positive results.
For example, Graham, Harris, and colleagues (e.g., Graham, Harris,
MacArthur, & Schwartz, 1991) have validated strategies for improving
the quality of student compositions, planning processes, and revisions.
In another line of research, Palincsar and Brown (e.g., Palincsar
& Brown, 1986) successfully tested and replicated reciprocal teaching,
a strategy to improve student reading performance. Scruggs and Mastropieri
(e.g., Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1992) have validated several approaches
to teach students how to construct and use mnemonics. Strategies tested
by Miller and Mercer (e.g., Miller & Mercer, 1993) have resulted
in improved student performance in math calculations as well as in
solving word problems.
How Do Teachers
Teach Learning Strategies?
Educators at the
University of Kansas, Center for Research on Learning, have validated
an instructional sequence in which students learn each strategy following
these teacher-directed steps: (a) pretest, (b) describe, (c) model,
(d) verbal practice, (e) controlled practice, (f) grade-appropriate
practice, (g) posttest, (h) generalization (Schumaker & Deshler,
1992). After a teacher assesses the current level of student performance
on a strategy pretest, students commit to learning a new strategy.
The teacher then describes the characteristics of the strategy and
when, where, why, and how the strategy is used. Next, the teacher
models how to use the strategy by "thinking aloud" as the
strategy is applied to content material. During the verbal practice
step, students memorize the strategy steps and other critical use
requirements. Afterwards, controlled practice activities enable students
to become proficient strategy users with ability level materials.
Teachers provide specific feedback on performance, and then students
use the strategy with grade-appropriate or increasingly more difficult
materials. Finally, after a posttest, teachers facilitate student
generalization of strategy use in other academic and nonacademic settings.
has multiple parts that students remember with the aid of a mnemonic.
For example, in the Paraphrasing Strategy (Schumaker, Denton, &
Deshler, 1984) students learn a reading comprehension strategy that
is remembered by the acronym RAP:
- Read a paragraph
- Ask yourself,
"What were the main idea and details in this paragraph?"
- Put the main
idea and details into your own words
If students need
to learn prerequisite skills, such as finding main ideas and details,
teachers teach those before teaching the strategy, and reinforce student
mastery of those skills during strategy instruction. Students typically
learn to use a learning strategy in small groups, sometimes in a resource
room, through short, intensive lessons over several weeks.
Are Available for Teachers?
The learning strategies
curriculum developed at the University of Kansas is organized into
three strands: (a) information acquisition, (b) information storage,
and (c) expression and demonstration of understanding.
acquisition strand features the Word Identification Strategy, the
Paraphrasing Strategy, and others. The Word Identification Strategy
(Lenz & Hughes, 1990) enables students to decode multisyllabic
words. Students use the Paraphrasing Strategy (Schumaker, Denton,
& Deshler, 1984) to improve reading comprehension of main ideas
and details through paraphrasing.
storage strand includes the FIRST-letter Mnemonic Strategy, the Paired
Associates Strategy, as well as others. Students who master the FIRST-letter
Mnemonic Strategy are able to scan textbooks to create lists of critical
information and devise first letter mnemonics to remember the material
(Nagel, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1986). To better study and recall
content, the Paired Associates Strategy enables students to pair pieces
of new information with existing knowledge by using a visual device
(Bulgren, Hock, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1995).
and demonstration of understanding strand includes the Sentence Writing
Strategy, the Test Taking Strategy, and others. The Sentence Writing
Strategy is designed to teach students how to write simple, compound,
complex, and compound-complex sentences (Schumaker & Sheldon,
1985). The Test Taking Strategy is an integrated strategy used by
students to focus attention on critical aspects of test items, systematically
answer questions, and improve test performance (Hughes & Schumaker,
In large measure,
the learning strategies research conducted over the last 20 years
at the University of Kansas, Center for Research on Learning, has
been funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. Additional
funding has come from sources including the State of Kansas, The Casey
Family Foundation, and the National Council for Learning Disabilities.
The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views
or policies of the funding agencies, nor does the mention of trade
names, commercial products, or organizations imply their endorsement.
For further information
on the University of Kansas Learning Strategies Curriculum, teacher
training, and how to implement strategies instruction throughout
a school, contact: Center for Research on Learning, University of
Kansas, 3061 Dole Center, Lawrence, KS 66045, 785.864.4780, www.ku-crl.org.
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was prepared (August 1999) with funding from the U.S. Department of
Education, Office of Special Education Programs, under contract no.
The opinions expressed
in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies
of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.