Strategy 3.8: Teach Learning Strategies. Teachers understand that one of the main goals of the sheltered content classroom is to promote learner autonomy through explicit instruction in learning strategies. Students learn how to learn and know various strategies they can use themselves to accelerate their acquisition of English and content knowledge.
Research shows that instruction in learning strategies profits all students. Chamot and O’Malley’s (1994) work with second-language learners reinforces the notion that students who learn to consciously monitor their own comprehension, and who have a storehouse of strategies to use when comprehension is a problem, fare better than students who stumble along, hoping that somehow they will eventually “get it.”
Explicit instruction in how to learn empowers students in ways that almost no other instruction does (Greenleaf, Schoenback, Cziko, & Mueller, 2001). Second-language learners often feel anxious and powerless in their new culture, new school, and new language. Like other students who experience challenges at school, they may attribute their success on a task to luck and their failure to their own lack of abilities, or to forces outside their control (Borkowski, Johnston, & Reid, 1987). When students learn to use strategies, they begin to see the relationship between using strategies and success.
Effective instruction in the use of learning strategies contains several characteristics that can help ensure that students eventually gain the skills and autonomy necessary for self-monitoring. Research has shown that teachers should identify the strategy, explain why it is being taught and its usefulness, demonstrate its use, give students abundant practice in applying it to real learning, and show students how to evaluate the effectiveness of using the strategy and what to do if it doesn’t work (Duffy et al., 1986).
Skillful teachers of learning strategies value explicit instruction and teach in a way that reflects what they believe. A classroom that focuses on learning how to learn is full of language (from both teacher and students) such as
• This is how I think about this kind of problem.
• Before you read, you need to think about what you already know about the topic.
• Teresa, can you tell us what strategies you used to understand those two pages?
• I want you to write in your learning log what we learned yesterday, look at the picture up here, and predict how the lesson from yesterday is connected to the lesson today.
• I’m finished reading this section. Now I’m going to summarize. That’s one thing that good readers do.
Students in an intermediate ESL class have just finished reading a chapter of John Reynolds Gardiner’s short novel Stone Fox (HarperTrophy, 1983). The teacher tells the class, “I’m going to model for you again today how to ask questions about a story. When I finish modeling, you and your partner are going to make some questions about this chapter. Take a minute and think, ‘Why are we learning to make questions about stories?’” Hands pop up all over the classroom. The teacher calls on several students who answer, “To understand more,” “A good reader makes questions,” and “I get smart.”
The teacher then says, “First I’m going to make one ‘on the surface’ question. Remember, that’s a question that has an answer right in the story. You can point to the answer. Here’s my ‘on the surface’ question: What kind of farm do Willie and Grandfather have?” The teacher tells the class to copy the question from the overhead onto their papers. She then asks them to give the answer and say why the question is an “on the surface” one. Together, the class then constructs two more similar questions.
Next the teacher says, “Now I want you to think about the other kind of questions we know how to make. We also make ‘under the surface’ questions. Remember, those are questions that you have to think hard about. Those are questions where you cannot point to the answer on the page. Who remembers what words ‘under the surface’ questions begin with?” Students respond with “why,” “how,” “should,” or “could.” As the lesson continues, the teacher models “under the surface” questions, including, “Why is Grandfather not speaking?” and “How should Willy help Grandfather?” The teacher asks the class to construct some questions with her, and then sets the pairs to work on making their own questions.