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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Cognitive Strategy Instruction - Topic 32

What is it?

Effective cognitive strategy instruction is a teaching technique in which students are taught powerful procedures that help them accomplish a variety of academic tasks. It brings awareness to the cognitive tools that strong readers, writers and mathematicians rely on daily. The strategies that are explicitly taught would otherwise never be discovered by the student. There are various cognitive strategies that have been proven to be successful for students, with each variation following a flexible framework. This framework includes the following components: pre-skill development, review of current strategies used, presentation and discussion of a new cognitive strategy, model and personalization of the strategy, mastery of the strategy, performance of the task with fading prompts, and independent performance (Harris & Pressley, 1991).

Why is it important?

As Deshler and Schumaker (1986) shared the complex nature of intervention and academic success/failure can not be attributed to one single approach, therefore, cognitive strategy instruction is one viable tool that should be in each special educator’s repertoire. In order for students to successfully function within the realm of higher education and in the workplace, they need be equipped with cognitive strategies needed to handle complex and unfamiliar situations. Cognitive strategy instruction also strives to transition educators from focusing specifically on teaching topics to teaching students how to think Conley, 2008). Additionally, students with mild to moderate disabilities experience much difficulty in academic tasks that are learned more readily by their typically developing peers, which creates many obstacles throughout their educational career. Research completed by Deshler and colleagues (Deshler, Alley, Warner & Schumaker, 1981; Deshler & Lenz, 1989) has shown that cognitive learning strategies are an effective and powerful approach for students with disabilities.  These strategies encourage independence and participation in learning, and are easy to teach and implement (Lauterbach & Bender, 1995).


Conley, M.W. (2008). Cognitive strategy instruction for adolescents: What we know about the promise, what we don’t know about the potential. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 84-106.

Deshler, D.D., Alley, G.R., Warner, M.M., & Schumaker, J.B. (1981). Instructional practices for promoting skill acquisition and generalization in severly learning disabled adolescents. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 4, 415-421.

Deshler, D.D., & Lenz, B.K. (1989). The strategies instruction approach. International Journal of Learning Disability, Development and Education, 36(3), 203-224.

Deshler, D.D., & Shumaker, J.B. (1986). Learning strategies: An instructional alternative for low-achieving adolescents.  Exceptional Children, 52, 583-590.

Harris, K.R., & Pressley, M. (1991). The nature of cognitive strategy instruction: Interactive strategy construction. Exceptional Children, 57(5), 392-404.

Lauterbach, S.L., & Bender, W.N. (1995). Cognitive strategy instruction for reading

comprehension: A success for high school freshman. The High School Journal, 79(1), 58-64.

Web Links

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Cognitive Strategy Instruction

Self Regulated Strategy Instruction PowerPoint

ELL & Cognitive Learning Strategies

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