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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Solve It! Cognitive Strategy Instructional Approach - Topic 47

What is it?

Cognitive strategy instruction (CSI) is an explicit instructional practice that gives students a cognitive routine to follow to solve various types of word problems. Characteristics of explicit instruction include high-levels of structure and organization within the lessons, guided and distributed practice, modeling, frequent interaction between students and teachers, immediate and corrective feedback, positive reinforcement, and mastery of the skill. Solve It! is an evidence-based example of CSI and is used to teach students with LD how to tackle word problems in mathematics, specifically; it teaches students cognitive processes and self-regulation strategies.  

Using the acronym RPV-HECC, students internally work through a word problem in the following steps. Students first read (R) for understanding then paraphrase (P) in their own words. Next, students draw a picture representation or visualize (V) the problem and hypothesize (H) by developing a plan. Students are then to estimate (E) the answer followed by actually computing (C). Finally, students check (C) to ensure their answer is correct. Using the Solve It! strategy is useful in many classrooms because it gives the teacher flexibility to adapt instruction based on student needs and focuses on a variety of problem types including textbook problems, state-assessment problems, and real-world problems. Students work individually, in pairs, and in groups. Solve It! is a program that includes an instructional guide and accompanying materials, assessments, and scripted lessons. It also comes with helpful procedures geared towards application, maintenance, and generalization of strategies and skills. (Montague, 2003).

Why is it important?

In order to increase opportunities for careers and employment in the future, students must be successfully achieving in mathematics today (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). A primary goal of Solve It! is to enable students to become efficient, effective, and independent problem solvers. According to research so far, CSI approaches such as Solve It! show great improvements in teaching word problem solving as well as in reading comprehension and composition. (Wong, Harris, Graham, and Butler, 2003).


Montague, M. (2003). Solve It: A mathematical problem-solving instructional program. Reston, VA:

Exceptional Innovations.       

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Wong, B.Y.L., Harris, K.R., Graham, S., & Butler, D.L. (2003). Cognitive strategies instruction

         research in learning disabilities. In H.L. Swanson, K.R. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.) Handbook of

         learning disabilities (pp.383-402). New York: Guilford Press.  

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