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What age ranges can be helped by strategic learning coaching?

Typically, this approach is especially useful for students from the mid-third grade through college. Many students, even at the college level, need help with a strategic learning coach.

What is different about strategic learning coaching compared to tutoring?

Parents often seek tutoring when the student is having difficulty with a specific subject area. For example, if the student is having difficulty learning to read they may get private tutoring in reading. The job of the tutor is to help the student get better at reading. With strategic learning coaching the focus is not on a particular subject. Rather, it is focused on various repeatable tasks that the student will be exposed to during their years of schooling. It is focused on developing the skill of “how to learn” when involved in these various tasks in school. It recognizes that students learn in different ways and may need to have strategies “tweaked” to the way they learn best. Strategic learning coaching also recognizes that some students with disabilities need added supports – based on their own neurological challenges and they need to learn the strategies that will work best for them. These strategies need to be explicitly taught – they will not just pick them up on their own. They also need to continuously use a model that involves decision-making, planning and organization, template supports, and most importantly, self reflection and self-monitoring – through the guidance of their coach. By combining all of these needed processes at the same time (neurons that fire together, wire together), students build neural connections that allow them to be better the next time – and the next when they are faced with a similar task. Students own their strategies and usually keep them in a notebook or on the computer so that they can reference them independently whenever they are needed. The SLC coach will help them develop the independence to do this.

What are some of the tasks that SLC focuses on?

There are 47 repeatable tasks that have been identified as comprising production requirements in school. These include the following major areas:

  • Strategic Reading Comprehension
  • Strategic Math
  • Strategic Writing
  • Organizing for Study
  • Doing Research
  • Strategic Study and Memory Enhancement
  • Strategic Test Taking
  • Strategic Presentation Approaches
  • Special Situations and Troubleshooting

Within each of these areas are specific tasks that the student can expect to deal with everyday in school. For example, one task would be strategic reading comprehension as applied to reading a fiction book. This would involve specific strategies to improve comprehension as the student is involved with this task. The specific technique(s) would be chosen according to the student’s neuropsychological challenges, strengths and needs. It would be chosen and taught based on how that child learns best.

As another example, in the organizing for study section, a task may be organizing for study as applied to studying from notes. The student may be taught a specific strategy for better note taking, how to organize the information from notes, the best methods for determining the essential information and his or her best methods for studying for a test. He or she would be taught how to do this explicitly after the student has determined with the coach what he would like to accomplish. As he/she is learning the strategy, the student is constantly guided in goal setting, planning, monitoring progress, rethinking, and self reflection. Once the student has learned an effective strategy, its use is promoted and monitored by the coach, it is made into a visual template, and the student evaluates how the strategy has helped him. The next time he has a task where he needs to study and organize from notes, he will have a readily available method to do so.

Can you give me an example of how this would apply to a student with a particular learning disability or challenge?

Let’s say you have a child who has been diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability. These students often have difficulty in areas involving visual-spatial ability, in formulating ideas and strategies in novel situations, in picking up on nonverbal social cues and being able to flexibly shift approaches in problem-solving. In academic areas they often do well in directly taught reading skills such as word recognition and phonetic decoding skills and in spelling and their relative strength in language skills can often mask significant underlying problems.

They have motor problems so that handwriting is often problematic and typically by the third grade they start to encounter major problems as the demands for self organization increase. They usually have notable problems with written expression, with the conceptual aspects of math, with reading comprehension and in dealing with more complex academic and social situations.

They can often be forgetful because they have problems with visual memory and visualizing approaches to tasks, factors that are highly important in organization of material. These students may have done quite well in early years in school where the emphasis was on the decoding skills of reading, but start to have much more difficulty after these early years and are prone to anxiety.

These students tend to be much more detail oriented and therefore can remember details of what they read but may not be able to get the big picture. They will tend to do better with verbal methods of guiding their learning, but strongly need visual cues and templates to compensate for their problems in visual-spatial learning. Such students will tend to do better in situations that are distinct and factual, but will have more difficulty in open-ended situations where they must generate ideas on their own or pull discrete information together. They may also have difficulty in reading comprehension tasks where they have to take the perspective of others.

A strategic learning coach would define those tasks that the student is having the most difficulty with in school and devise, with the student, those strategies that are most tailored to the way he learns. He likely would be taught to use talk aloud strategies for organizing and remembering information and would also be taught to use visual templates with color to organize and promote visualization of information.

Emphasis would likely be placed on mnemonic strategies for remembering information and specific strategies would be developed to improve math understanding, for organizing information for written expression and models to follow when involved in organizing to do a project or presentation. Many students with learning disabilities such as this need repeated use of specific strategies to build the neural connections necessary for mastery. When self reflection and step-by-step organization is built in to the strategy it becomes a part of what the student’s brain learns to do.

Students with various disabilities have different ways of learning but they all share problems with developing strategies on their own. Therefore, the basic coaching model is effective for all and can be tweaked to meet the needs of individual students.

My child doesn't have a diagnosed learning disability or ADHD, but is struggling in school particularly with organization. Is this a good approach for him?

Yes. With a targeted approach – focused on tasks that are causing him difficulty in school, he can learn strategies to help him. Once mastered, he will gain confidence in his ability to do things independently.

This sounds like a good approach for any student. Can all kids be helped by this approach?

Absolutely. Students develop at different rates whether they have a learning disability or not. Helping students feel confident in strategies to approach tasks, to learn what works best for them and to feel success should be what learning is all about. However, often in school there is more focus on “what” students need to learn rather than “how” to learn. To help address this problem Strategic Learning Connections Inc. has developed a training course for schools for “embedding” the strategic learning coaching model and methods into the classroom. Therefore, students can be directly taught “how to learn” at the same time they are being taught what to learn. Still, many students need to work with an individual coach – to be given more attention – in building their skills and to facilitate their own learning.