Strategies vs. Activities: Impacting Student Learning

Last week, we had the opportunity to watch our fearless leader, Angie Kautz, Gresham-Barlow’s Director of Teaching and Learning, present a session on Strategies vs. Activities at one of our district late-start meetings. Administrators and teachers, now knee-deep in the district Data Team Initiative, have had some questions about distinguishing between strategies and activities. Data Teams are asked to choose and implement one common strategy during Step 4 of the Data Team process in order to bolster performance of those students not yet proficient in a targeted skill.

Angie presented a concise distinction that rang true to us: activities are the things we do to utilize a strategy. Examples of strategies include John Hattie’s Visible Learning InfluencesRobert J. Marzano’s Nine Essential Instructional Strategies, and Gresham-Barlow’s own ACTIVE instruction. Activities, then, are the things we do with students.

In the scheme of Data Teams, team members not only would choose a common strategy to teach but also a common activity. This ensures teachers’ ability to track what exactly affects student learning. In Step 5, when considering reteaching, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose another activity to influence student achievement.

Here’s an example from Hattie: The strategy Providing (actionable, timely and specific) Feedback has a .75 Effect Size, which means it has a positive influence on student achievement. In his research, any intervention yielding > .4 effect size will yield positive results. To provide perspective, an intervention that has a “1.0 effect size…is typically associated with advancing children’s achievement by two to three years….” (Hattie 2009). Pretty powerful stuff. Activities to utilize Providing Feedback may include such things as student Self-Reflection, Debate Team Carousel, or Self-Scoring with Teacher Follow-up.

Here’s another example, this time from Marzano: The strategy Identifying Similarities and Differences has a .66 effect size. Activities such as employing a Comparison Matrix, having students create a Venn Diagram, or using T-charts (see Nine Essential Instructional Strategies link above for samples) help to utilize the strategy.

We’ll undoubtedly have more to add as we continue to work with teachers on the nuances between strategies and activities. If you would like individual or team coaching, leave us a comment below!

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