Skill vs. Strategy: No Contest

No, really– we need both. There is no contest. We need the wrench and the blueprint.

Can Reading Comprehension Be Taught? by Daniel T. Willingham & Gail Lovette — September 26, 2014

Here’s our interpretation. The vague Ikea instructions aren’t bad advice. You’re better off taking an occasional look at the big picture as opposed to keeping your head down and your little hex wrench turning. Likewise, RCS encourage you to pause as you’re reading, evaluate the big picture, and think about where the text is going. And if the answer is unclear, RCS give students something concrete to try and a way to organize their cognitive resources when they recognize that they do not understand.

Here is an example of a strategy –a pathway to help students find their way–

Here is my article about how things can be used well, and how they can go wrong:

And one of my favorites:

Story: a new approach came to our building two years ago, or rather, an old approach they had success with and they thought our students would, too. The work and progress we were making were tossed aside for this old approach. (It’s not bad, but shouldn’t be the only skill taught.) Our ideas were pushed aside and marginalized. It was based on a formulaic writing process/skill. Some classes were stacked in favor of honors students, so were narrow results. I tried to sound the alarm but only came off as ‘not a team player’ with a fair portion of gaslighting. No matter. Lesson learned. Nod. Smile. Do what is right for students. Repeat.



Read Daniel Willingham’s work, and remember strategies must be taught as a wide gameplay of sorts — I’ll use an analogy of chess pieces — know the academic language of a strategy is like knowing the name of the chess piece — know how to put them together is playing chess, or the reading comprehension and higher level thinking. When we depend too much on skills to lead us to comprehension we fail our students. 

The Usefulness of Brief Instruction in Reading Comprehension Strategies

Three factors are important in reading comprehension: monitoring your comprehension, relating the sentences to one another, and relating the sentences to things you already know.

Note: strategies cannot be taught without context. This is what drives concrete/sequential mindsets crazy about ELA/ELL: it is not a ‘check the box’ approach.

Here are my requests:

  1. Do not confuse independent reading with instructional reading.
  2. Do not confuse a skill with a strategy.
  3. Try not to get your teacher fingers on things students love. Please read this: