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What? How? When?


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There's a reason that "strategy" and "strategic" are related terms. A strategy comes into play so that one may be strategic: from a range of possible choices, one is selected. Being strategic involves knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. There are fancy names for these three notions, but don't be put off by them. Let's look at them in relation to strategy selection and use.

WHAT: Declarative Knowledge

The first, or the what, is called declarative knowledge. All that's meant by declarative knowledge is knowing what the strategy is and what it is meant to do. Your declarative knowledge of a strategy begins with your awareness of it. For instance, power thinking is a strategy that organizes information into main ideas, subtopics, and details. It can be an alternative to traditional Roman numeral outlining and is effective for thinking about information on different levels. That's the essence of my declarative knowledge about power thinking.

HOW: Procedural Knowledge

Knowing how the strategy works or is implemented is called procedural knowledge. What are the steps, the process, the procedure? What do I do first, then next, then following? Knowing that a strategy exists is only so much good if you don't know how to implement it.

WHEN or WHY: Conditional Knowledge

Understanding the when or why of strategy use is conditional knowledge. This is arguably the most important of the three kinds of knowledge about strategy use, and the one that teachers and students struggle the most with. In our content areas, we can do such a wonderful job of teaching students a skill and how to demonstrate it, but we fall terribly short at helping them make decisions about when to employ the skill. A doctor may know what a lobotomy is and how it is performed, but (particularly if you are the patient!) don't you want him to know precisely when and when not to perform the procedure?

The crux of conditional knowledge is that we can complete an "If...then" statement in relation to choosing or using a strategy. We can say: If I want my students to be thinking comparatively, then I will have them use a comparison-contrast chart. In our teacher education programs, we're getting better and better at introducing prospective teachers to an array of comprehension and content reading strategies, but if we don't also ask students to develop a way to think about when the various strategies are best employed, we've done an incomplete job. Reciprocal teaching is a delightful strategy, but when is it effective for my instructional goals, and when is it not? It is your conditional knowledge regarding strategy use with which this webquest is most concerned.


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