Through her company Strategic Learning Connections, Inc. Dr. Lynda has developed the concept of Strategic Learning Coaching.
A major emphasis has been to try to “get the word out” that this is an essential but usually neglected component to learning that when done properly can change not only a student’s ability to handle work and assignments in school but can build neural circuits in the brain that can last a lifetime. The major premise is that many students need to be explicitly taught not just “what to learn” but “how to learn”. This is especially important for students with learning differences but helps all students as well. An extensive course was developed to train individuals to become strategic learning coaches. Numerous individuals have directly completed this course and several schools have adopted “Embedded Strategic Learning Coaching” as an integral part of how they teach in daily school operation. Due to limitations on Dr. Lynda’s time, the Strategic Learning Coaching full course is no longer being offered; however, schools may still contact the office to arrange for training and consultation about implementing embedded strategic learning coaching. Be on the lookout for the book on Strategic Learning Coaching which is in the works. In the meantime, you may learn more about this topic by reviewing the information on this website.
In most students with learning disabilities or attention deficit, executive function disorders, the prime “disability” is in the ability to formulate strategies to approach academic tasks.
This strategy deficit underlies the academic difficulties a student experiences, particularly in the “production” of school work and performance tasks. Many students, therefore, need a “strategic coach” to assist them in learning such strategies so that they can later independently utilize them as they advance in their education. Strategic coaching is different from tutoring. While tutoring generally focuses on specific subject areas, helping the student to gain knowledge in that area, strategic coaching has a different purpose. The purpose is to teach the student to plan and organize a strategy to apply to the completion of a task or for studying for a test. Students with most learning disabilities/attention deficit/ executive function disorders do not do this on their own – at least not very effectively.
Whereas other students gradually learn strategies to use on their own, students with learning disabilities need to be directly taught such strategies. A strategic coach would work with the student to develop specific strategies, model and implement the strategy with the student, provide encouragement and monitoring of the use of the strategy, give feedback and help the student self-evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy.
It is important for the strategic coach to thoroughly understand the student’s strengths and weaknesses in order to plan the most effective strategies. It is also important not to overwhelm the student with many strategies, rather focus on specific ones to enhance performance with certain tasks. A template approach is often the most successful. For example, the student could learn a specific approach for studying for a test from notes. The steps of the approach could be put into a graphic organizer to illustrate the procedure the student will follow. The coach will work in collaboration with the student to be sure the procedure both highlights strengths, while providing the added reinforcement for weaker processing areas. Once the procedure has been specifically designed, put into a visual format, taught and modeled with the student, it should be applied to an actual learning task in the student’s curriculum. The strategic coach also forms a relationship with the student to increase motivation to perform well. A critical feature of strategic coaching is feedback and self-evaluation of the effectiveness of using the strategy. Self-monitoring and self-evaluation are critical skills for students to learn and are as important as the learning task itself. Once taught, the specific strategy or template should be used again and again whenever the student faces a similar task. Some students may even want to keep their strategy templates in a notebook so they can refer to them for independent use.
An important component of strategic coaching is to balance the provision of assistance with the need for the student to work independently. Most students with learning disabilities/ADHD require more external organization and parents have often found themselves in the role of “external organizers” for years. While recognizing the need for more assistance in planning and organizing strategies, it is also important to gradually reduce the amount of external help required. Teaching students strategies that they can learn to independently use is probably the most valuable assistance they can receive.
Strategic coaching can be applied to many different cognitive and academic tasks – but be careful to keep it simple. Study the student’s neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses, as well as motivation, to design the most effective approaches. For example, if a student has working memory problems, a visually oriented template will be essential. A student with strength in visual-spatial processing, would also benefit by a visual template, since that is his/her strength. A student with strength in oral language but problems with visual-spatial understanding, still needs a visual template but also needs to have greater emphasis on oral methods of remembering steps or information for tests. Strategic templates can be designed for tasks such as doing research for a project, writing an essay, giving a presentation, reading for comprehension, studying for a multiple-choice test, studying for an essay test, improving organization on a daily basis, planning a timeline for completion of a project, etc. Incorporated into the templates should be methods for self-monitoring taking into account the student’s own limitations and needs. For example, a rubric which the student can use for any written essay template can serve as an excellent self-monitoring, self-evaluation device. The process of strategic coaching can prepare students to be able to better self manage their own learning both at the present and in the future.
What should you expect in a strategic coach? The strategic coach should be able to use information, e.g. from a neuropsychological report, to understand what overall approaches best fit the way the student learns. This coach should be able to develop a supportive, but directive relationship with the student conveying personal interest and concern. A good coach will listen to the student before developing strategies for implementation. The best coach will go slow and focus on one thing at a time, helping the student master that strategy and see success before moving on. The coach should be able to design a specific strategy for a specific task that will fit the needs and interests of the student. Therefore, the coach must be familiar with strategies that have been shown to work effectively. A good coach will refine strategies according to what they have learned about the student through professional resources or from the student himself or herself. The effective coach will work with the student to evaluate how and when the strategy was applied, how well it worked and if any “tweaking” is needed. A great coach will provide reinforcement and share enthusiasm for the student’s success. A great coach will help the student amass a repertoire of strategies that can be referred to repeatedly in the future for independent success.
Occasionally, an individual who could take the time to do independent study in this area and is a highly motivated person, able to develop a strong relationship with the student could be helpful. It is not recommended that parents try to take on this role. Strategic coaching, properly done, can have lifelong benefits for the student who needs it.
Dr. Lynda is very pleased to be a partner with Clearwater Academy in Tyrone, Georgia and serves as their consulting neuropsychologist and administrative consultant. Clearwater Academy is a state-of-the-art private, non-profit school for children and adolescents with varying learning differences including high functioning autism/Asperger’s syndrome, both language and nonverbal(visual-spatial) learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, sensory and social/emotional difficulties. Strategic learning coaching is one of many specifically designed techniques, curriculum and therapies used to help students at the school advance to their full potential.