Printer Friendly


Abstract. To date, seven intervention studies have been completed evaluating the efficacy of the Strategic Content Learning (SCL) approach as a model for promoting self-regulated learning by postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Summaries of outcomes from those studies suggest that SCL participation can be associated with gains for students in task performance, metacognitive knowledge, motivational beliefs, and strategic processing across a range of academic tasks (i.e., reading, writing, math). Previous SCL research reports have focused on general outcomes across participants and across tasks, rather than describing the details of individual cases. This article redresses that omission by describing the process of SCL intervention and associated outcomes for three SCL participants working on a common task, namely, writing. By reporting three in-depth parallel case studies, this article clarifies how SCL instruction is implemented to promote strategic writing, illustrates how SCL instructional principles can be personalized in response to individuals' needs, and traces the relationship between SCL instructional activities and outcomes. The article closes with a discussion of implications for theory, research, and practice.

Effective writers are self-regulating (Brown, 1987; Butler & Winne, 1995; Harris & Graham, 1996). That is, they analyze task requirements, articulate writing goals, and then select, adapt, or even invent strategic approaches to achieve their objectives. They monitor the success of their efforts as they engage recursively in planning, text production, and editing activities. If obstacles are encountered, effective writers adaptively adjust goals (e.g., modify the scope of a paper) or writing strategies (e.g., introduce a more structured approach to organizing ideas) to redress areas of difficulty (Butler & Winne, 1995; Graham, Harris, MacArthur, & Schwartz, 1998; Zimmerman, 1989, 1994). They also utilize strategies for managing task engagement, for example, by setting daily productivity goals to avoid procrastination (Corno, 1993; Graham et al., 1998). Finally, effective writers' strategic performance is supported by productive metacognitive knowledge and motivational beliefs (Borkowski, 1992; Wong, 1991). Effective writers have clear and articulated understandings regarding the demands of typical writing tasks and useful writing strategies, as well as their strengths and weaknesses as writers (Campione, Brown, & O'Connell, 1988; Wong, 1991). They are confident in their ability to produce meaningful text and believe writing success is within their control (i.e., they hold positive perceptions of self-efficacy and constructive attributional beliefs) (Bandura, 1993; Butler, 1998b; Paris & Byrnes, 1989; Schunk, 1994).

Unfortunately, research suggests that writers with learning disabilities often have difficulties in one or more of these areas (Baker & Brown, 1984; Butler, 1998b, 1999b; Englert, 1990; Graham et al., 1998; Wong, 1991). For example, Butler (1999b) found that 88% of the writing students in her studies had difficulty analyzing the demands of writing tasks and/or defining criteria for judging the success of their efforts. Students also have been found to have difficulty identifying, selecting, and/or implementing strategies for preplanning, text generation, and/or revising (Baker & Brown, 1984; Butler, 1998b, 1999b; Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Gregg, & Anthony, 1989; Graham et al., 1998; Montague, Maddux, & Dereshiwsky, 1990; Wong, Wong, & Blenkinsop, 1989). Moreover, students with learning disabilities often lack productive metacognitive knowledge about writing tasks and writing strategies (Baker & Brown, 1984; Butler, 1998b, 1999b; Campione et al., 1988; Englert, 1990; Wong, 1991), and their perceptions of self-efficacy and attributional patterns frequently undermine their approaches to writing (Butler, 1999b). As a result of these difficulties, students with learning disabilities tend to produce text that is short and includes little elaboration (Graham et al., 1998). Their writing often lacks interestingness, organization, cohesion and clarity (Wong et al., 1989). Finally, the writing of students with learning disabilities is usually fraught with mechanical errors (i.e., in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar) (Graham et al., 1998).

Thus, a substantial challenge faces educators who seek to promote successful writing by students with learning disabilities. Instructional models must assist students to construct productive metacognitive knowledge regarding writing tasks, writing strategies, and themselves as writers, as well as positive perceptions of self-competence and a sense of control over learning. Such models also must teach students to engage strategic writing processes flexibly, adaptively, and recursively, to develop effective strategies for managing task engagement (e.g., maintaining motivation while writing), and to effectively edit for mechanical errors. Fortunately, several promising instructional models have been designed to achieve these various objectives (Borkowski & Muthukrishna, 1992; Ellis, 1993; Englert, 1992; Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, & Stevens, 1991; Graham &Harris, 1989; Harris & Graham, 1996; Sawyer, Graham, & Harris, 1992; Wong et al., 1994; Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis, 1997). This article reports research focused on one of these models, the Strategic Content Learning (SCL) approach (Butler, 1993, 1995, 1998d).

To date, seven intervention studies have been completed evaluating the efficacy of SCL as a model for promoting self-regulated learning by postsecondary students with learning disabilities (Butler, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998d; Butler, Elaschuk, Poole, MacLeod, & Syer, 1997; Butler, Poole, Elaschuk, & Novak, 1999). Summaries of outcomes from those studies suggest that, when applied to help students develop better approaches to writing, SCL can be associated with gains in writing quality, metacognitive knowledge about writing tasks and strategies, perceptions of self-efficacy and attributional patterns, and self-regulated approaches to writing (Butler, 1995, 1998d, 1999b). In previous SCL research reports, attention has focused on summarizing outcomes across participants to establish SCL's general efficacy, rather than describing the details of individual cases to detail how SCL works (e.g., Butler, 1995, 1998d).

This article supplements previous reports by describing the process of SCL intervention and associated outcomes for three SCL participants. Three parallel case studies are described in order to clarify how SCL instruction is implemented to promote strategic writing, to illustrate how SCL instructional principles can be personalized in response to individuals' needs, and to trace the relationship between SCL instruction and outcomes. The article closes with a discussion of implications for theory, research, and practice.


SCL shares many instructional characteristics with related strategy training approaches (e.g., Englert, 1990; Harris & Graham, 1996; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Pressley et al., 1992). Instructional principles shared across models include (a) long-term and multidimensional instruction provided within naturalistic contexts; (b) explicit discussions regarding task demands, strategies, and learning processes; and (c) opportunities for students to engage in interactive discussions about learning while engaged in meaningful tasks. However, SCL challenges current conceptions regarding the relationship between instruction and students' strategic development (Butler, 1994, 1998a). At issue is the interplay between sociocultural contexts and individuals' construction of knowledge. In most strategy training models, Vygotsky's (1978) sociocultural theory of learning is interpreted to imply that students become strategic when they "internalize" cognitive processes first modeled by more competent others. This interpretation underlies strategy training approaches that begin with the direct and explicit instruction of task-specific strategies. Note, however, that students also are typically described as active learners, who construct knowledge over time (e.g., Harris & Pressley, 1991; Paris & Byrnes, 1989). In most models, students' construction of knowledge is thought to be supported through direct instruction, modeling, guided and independent practice, and interactive discussions about learning.

SCL is founded on an alternative conception of instructional processes that leads to a de-emphasis on direct instruction (see Butler, 1998a). Specifically, it is presumed that students construct idiosyncratic understandings about learning based on experience, rather than "internalizing" cognitive processes described and/or modeled by others. At the same time, sociocultural contexts are thought to shape or set boundaries on the understandings students develop. Students make use of the language and "tools" in sociocultural contexts as they struggle to make sense of experiences (Stone, 1998; Vygotsky, 1978). Further, it is presumed that, when students enter instruction, they are not "self-regulating blank slates" (Butler & Winne, 1995). Instructors work to shape students' problem-solving approaches to construct better approaches to learning.

Thus, in SCL, instructors support students to generate strategies to achieve specific and meaningful goals. Instructors assist students in analyzing task requirements, evaluating current approaches to learning, selecting, adapting, or even inventing strategies that might meet task demands, monitoring the efficacy of the strategies they choose, and modifying strategies adaptively. Over time, students are supported to construct personalized strategies that are expressed in their own words and that meet their individual needs. Further, in SCL, instructors support students' writing "on-line." That is, instructors actually write with students, and instructor-student dialogue focuses alternately on students' completion of writing activities (e.g., brainstorming ideas for a paragraph; composing an introductory paragraph) and on the process of completing a task (e.g., talking about the effectiveness of brainstorming) (see Butler, Kamann, Poole, & Elaschuk, 2000; Kamann & Butler, 1996). Instructors support students' decision making while decisions are being made.

Finally, to support students' construction of metacognitive knowledge, SCL instructors frequently ask students to articulate emerging understandings about writing (Butler, 1995; Paris & Byrnes, 1989; Wong, 1994). Students are asked to document strategies that they will use the "next time" they are faced with a similar task. To support students' development of self-efficacy, instructors assist students in building effective strategies, experiencing positive outcomes, and observing the effect of their efforts. This approach supports students to link effortful strategy use with successful writing and helps them gain a sense of control over outcomes (Reid & Borkowski, 1987; Schunk, 1994; Schunk & Cox, 1986). SCL also promotes positive perceptions of competence by highlighting students' strengths and building from what they already know.


To date, SCL has been adapted for use in the three most common service delivery models employed in postsecondary settings. Thus, in four studies, SCL was implemented as a model for individualized tutoring by learning specialists, counselors, or teachers (see Butler, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998c, 1998d). In another two studies, SCL served as a model for peer tutor training (see Butler et al., 1997). The seventh study investigated SCL when adapted for use within small-group discussions as part of a study skills course (see Butler, Poole, et al., 1999). Across these studies, 62 students have received support across a range of tasks, 19 of whom chose to work on writing. Of these 19 students, 15 received individualized tutoring from learning specialists, counselors, or teachers and 4 participated in the peer tutor studies. No writing students were included in the group study that focused primarily on reading and studying.

In each SCL study, a common research design was employed. Specifically, multiple, in-depth case studies were embedded within a pre-/posttest design (Merriam, 1988; Yin, 1994). The in-depth case study data were collected to document individuals' progress over time, as well as the relationship between instruction and students' development of self-regulation. The pre-/posttest data facilitated assessment of common effects across students (see Butler, 1993, 1995, 1998d).

Participants in all studies were enrolled in colleges or universities. Psychoeducational assessments verified that students had learning disabilities based on discrepancy criteria accepted at participating institutions. Writing participants were enrolled in a range of programs. One subset of students, enrolled at local colleges for academic upgrading, worked on developing high school-level writing skills (e.g., writing argumentative paragraphs). Another subset of students, enrolled in vocational programs, completed practical writing tasks (e.g., writing a proposal for funding, writing business letters). A final subset of students worked on academic writing assignments typically found in college and university settings (e.g., writing essays for academic courses).

Research reports are available that summarize outcomes for all SCL participants (see Butler, 1993, 1995, 1998c, 1998d) and for the 19 students who worked on writing (see Butler, 1999b). These reports document the general efficacy of SCL across students, who were enrolled in a range of programs and who varied considerably in terms of their educational history and specific areas of difficulty. This article supplements those more general reports by providing an in-depth description of 3 of the 19 writing cases.


As shown in Tables 1 and 2, two females (Nancy and Tanya) and one male (Brent) were chosen for inclusion in this report (note that all names are pseudonyms). The three students were between 22 and 28 years old and had participated in studies wherein individual tutoring was provided (see Butler, 1995, 1998d). A review of assessment data suggested that these students had certain problem areas in common (see Table 1). For example, Nancy and Brent both had difficulties in receptive vocabulary and expressive language, Brent and Tanya had significant difficulties with spelling, and none of the three students performed above the grade 6 level in silent reading. At the same time, assessment and background data revealed differences between the students in their scores on intelligence tests, previous educational attainments, and the demands of current programs (see Tables 2 & 3). Further, our functional assessment of students' pretest approaches to writing (see Table 3) suggested that the students' primary writing difficulties were in different areas. This combination of characteristics served as the basis for participant selection. We chose these particular cases to illustrate how the SCL model can be personalized responsively for individuals with varying strengths and needs.
Table 1
Psychometric Data: Age, Language, Reasoning, Spelling,
and Reading(1)

 Recept. Expr. Verb.
Name Age Vocab.(2) Lang.(2) Reas.(2) Phon.(2)

Nancy(3) 28 01-02 01-02 25-30 9.2
Brent 28 02 09 25 5.3
Tanya 22 32 50 63 7.8

 Spelling(3) Reading(3)
 Overall Oral- Oral- Silent-
Name Sight Word Word Passage Passage

Nancy(3) 8.9 9.3 8.2 11.0 5.0
Brent 3.7 4.7 8.7 10.0 4.0
Tanya 3.7 5.7 9.0 12.0 6.0

Note. Recept Lang. = Receptive Language, Expr. Lang. = Expressive Language, Abst. Verb. Reas. = Abstract Verbal Reasoning, Phon.= Phonetic Spelling.

(1) Tests were not described in reports but were the same across students (and the same individual conducted all assessments).

(2) Scores are reported in percentiles (where scores of 25 to 75 can be considered in the average range).

(3) Spelling and reading scores are reported in grade-level equivalents.

(4) Nancy's percentile scores are estimated based on verbal descriptions of results.
Table 2
IQ Scores from the WAIS-R (Weschler, 1981)

 Verbal Intelligence Scales

 Full Digit
Name IQ Tot. Info Sim Math Voc Comp Span

Nancy(1) 8 9
Brent 77 77 4 8 4 6 8 6
Tanya(2) 90 8 11 5 10 10 6

 Performance Intelligence Scales

 Pict Pict Block Obj Digit
Name Tot. Com Arr Des Ass Sim

Nancy(1) 4
Brent 84 8 7 11 6 6
Tanya(2) 115 14 11 13 13 10

(1) Too little IQ data were available to estimate Nancy's verbal, performance, or full scale IQs.

(2) Tanya's full scale IQ was not reported because there was a statistically reliable difference between her verbal and performance IQs.
Table 3
Summary of Writing Assessments: Quality and Process


Program of Study College program: Early
 Childhood Education

Type of Writing Responses to short-answer
 questions; in-class essays;
 college-level papers

Writing problems * difficulty getting started
identified in previous * vague main ideas and
psycho-educational central themes
assessments * abundant run-on sentences
 * omitting punctuation
 * word redundancy
 * spelling errors

Writing strengths * failed to attend to
and problems identified assignment demands
in SCL functional * lacked a focused purpose
assessments and clear themes
 * main ideas lost in
 her writing
 * lack of organization
 * lacked smooth transitions
 between ideas
 * lacked succinct
 expression of ideas

Problems in self-regulated * analyzing assignments
approaches to writing * defining and implementing
identified in SCL writing strategies
functional assessments * lack of confidence:

SCL Instruction
Number of sessions 10 sessions
Total Time 14.25 hours


Program of Study Academic upgrading for a high
 school equivalency degree

Type of Writing Single-paragraph responses
 to practice questions; narrative,
 descriptive or argumentative

Writing problems * little paragraphing
identified in previous * word repetition
psycho-educational * changes of verb tense
assessments * spelling errors

Writing strengths * excellent organization
and problems identified * themes clear and consistent
in SCL functional * misinterpreted questions
assessments * problem with idea flow
 between sentences &
 * problems with expressing
 thoughts clearly in sentences
 * mechanical errors in spelling
 and grammar

Problems in self-regulated * interpreting writing topics
approaches to writing * adapting strategies flexibly
identified in SCL * monitoring; judging work
functional assessments quality

SCL Instruction
Number of sessions 16 sessions
Total Time 18.25 hours


Program of Study College program: Special
 Education Assistant

Type of Writing Academic essays; exams;
 in-class essay

Writing problems * lack of paragraphing
identified in previous * subject-verb disagreement
psycho-educational * spelling
assessments * syllabication

Writing strengths * excellent, creative ideas
and problems identified * difficulties choosing a focus
in SCL functional for writing
assessments * lacked metacognitive knowl-
 edge about text
 * lacked a clear and
 consistent theme
 * lacked organization; several
 different ideas per paragraph
 * idea flow disconnected
 * lack of clarity within sentences
 * mechanical problems in
 * extreme spelling problems

Problems in self-regulated * interpreting assignments and
approaches to writing understanding text structure
identified in SCL * defining and implementing
functional assessments writing strategies
 * monitoring; judging work
 * lack of confidence

SCL Instruction
Number of sessions 15 sessions
Total Time 17.00 hours

Case Study Data

Data collection strategies assessed students' metacognitive knowledge (about tasks, strategies, and themselves as writers), motivational beliefs (perceptions of self-efficacy and attributions), self-regulated approaches to writing, and the quality of writing products. Data were collected using a combination of questionnaires, interviews, and observations of students' approaches to tasks. Given that detailed descriptions of data collection strategies are available elsewhere (see Butler 1993, 1995, 1998d), only an overview is provided here.

Metacognitive knowledge. Students' metacognitive knowledge about writing was assessed at pre- and posttest using a Metacognitive Questionnaire, a Strategy Interview, and observations of students' completion of writing tasks (see Butler, 1995, 1998d). The questionnaire and interview measures asked students to describe their perceptions about writing tasks and strategies for completing them. Students' responses then were evaluated to assess metacognitive knowledge across four dimensions (see MacLeod, Butler, & Syer, 1996). The dimensions were: (a) task description (conceptions of task requirements); (b) strategy description (the clarity of students' descriptions of writing strategies); (c) strategy focus (the degree to which described strategies were focused, personalized, and connected to task demands); and (d) monitoring (students' descriptions of how they self-evaluated progress and self-directed learning activities accordingly). Students' responses also were evaluated in broader qualitative analyses (see below).

Self-efficacy. Students' perceptions of self-efficacy were assessed at pre- and posttest using two questionnaires. The Self-Efficacy Questionnaire (see Butler, 1995) targeted four dimensions, students': (a) general perceptions of competence and expectations for success (e.g., "I am a self-reliant person"); (b) confidence in their ability to complete task-specific requirements (e.g., to organize ideas for an essay); (c) perceptions of the ease or difficulty of specific task requirements; and (d) preferences for a targeted task (e.g., how much they liked writing). Students indicated on a Likert-type scale their level of agreement with or confidence in each statement (ranging from 1 to 5). The Self-Efficacy Across Tasks Questionnaire asked students to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 their level of difficulty in completing (a) writing tasks, and (b) other tasks required of them during the semester but not addressed during interventions. The Metacognitive Questionnaire also contained one item that asked students to rate their writing ability on a 5-point scale (1 = excellent, 5 = very below average).

Causal attributions. Students' attributions for successful and unsuccessful writing performance were assessed at pre- and posttest using a questionnaire with two parts. Students were asked to think of the last time they were successful (or, in the second part, unsuccessful) at completing a writing task, and then to rate the relative importance of a number of factors to their level of performance: ability, effort, strategy use, motivation, mood, task interest, environmental setting, luck, task ease, and help from others. Ratings were scaled from 1 ("not a reason I did well/poorly") to 5 ("a major reason I did well/poorly").

Self-regulated approaches to tasks. Students' self-regulated approaches to writing were assessed during pre-and posttest Strategy Interviews and throughout the intervention period. During the Strategy Interviews, students were asked to work on a writing assignment (i.e., a task drawn from their coursework) "as they normally would" and to think aloud in the process. Similarly, during initial intervention sessions, students were observed completing writing tasks without assistance in order to gauge problem areas and build on current approaches to writing. Subsequently, students were assisted in developing writing strategies in the context of work drawn from actual courses. All intervention sessions were tape recorded, traces of students' strategy use were collected (e.g., notes, outlines, drafts), field notes of tutors' observations were maintained, and students' verbal descriptions of their writing strategies were transcribed verbatim.

A qualitative analysis of these data was undertaken to provide a functional analysis of the difficulties in self-regulation that students experienced at pretest (see Butler, 1999b, for more details). Researchers reviewed each student's file, including responses to the pretest questionnaire and interview measures, as well as field notes, strategy records, and traces of strategy use from early intervention sessions. The quality of students' pretest performance was described in five general areas: (a) task analysis and understanding; (b) strategy understanding and implementation; (c) monitoring; (d) motivational beliefs; and (e) emotions and volition control.

Students' files (i.e., field notes, records of strategy implementation, and verbatim transcriptions of students' strategy steps) also were analyzed to characterize changes in students' strategic performance over time (see Butler, 1995, 1998d). These analyses were conducted to trace: (a) strategy transfer to contexts outside of the intervention; (b) instances where students spontaneously developed strategies for use across other tasks; and (c) students' roles in strategy development. For this latter analysis, strategy steps from each session were identified as having (a) been articulated by students at pretest, before intervention; (b) emerged out of collaborative discussions with tutors; or (c) been independently constructed by students, without assistance.

Writing performance. Writing samples were collected at pretest and during the intervention period. At pretest, students brought writing products they had completed independently and/or generated writing products as part of the pretest Strategy Interview. During the intervention period, writing samples were collected and then coded as either having been worked on collaboratively with the researcher or completed independently by the student. The quality of each writing sample was judged on a scale from 1 to 5 across four dimensions (thematic salience, organization, idea flow, and clarity) using criteria employed in previous research (see Butler, 1995).


Instructors and students met at students' campuses in locations where students typically received tutoring. Instructors provided SCL support as an adjunct to classroom instruction. Assignments addressed during intervention sessions were drawn from individuals' courses. At each meeting, students chose a pressing assignment and were assisted in completing it strategically. Instructors met with each student two to three times per week (for a total of two to four hours) for at least one semester. The number of sessions and total intervention time for each student are presented in Table 3.


The remainder of this article provides detailed descriptions of Nancy, Brent, and Tanya's participation in SCL tutoring. For each case, data are summarized to characterize (a) students' educational history and academic ambitions; (b) students' writing strengths and difficulties; (c) how SCL principles were adapted to meet each student's needs; and (d) outcomes that could be associated with students' participation in tutoring. Discourse analyses describing the sequences of questions and statements used by instructors to guide strategic processing are available elsewhere (see Butler, Kamann et al., 1999; Kamann & Butler, 1996). Thus, this article describes SCL at a more general level to illuminate relationships for each student between writing strengths and difficulties, instructional foci, and outcomes. Also, Table 3 summarizes each student's pretest writing performance in order to facilitate within- and cross-case analysis.


Nancy was a 28-year-old woman enrolled in an Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at a local college. Her goal was to complete the one-year basic program so that she could be certified to work with young children and then return to college for an additional year to learn how to support children with special education needs. As part of her ECE course, Nancy was frequently asked to respond to short-answer questions, write in-class essays, and write college-level papers. She chose to participate in tutoring to receive help with these writing assignments. In her psychoeducational assessment, Nancy's problems with writing were described as including difficulties getting started, vague main ideas and central themes, abundant run-on sentences, omitting punctuation, word redundancy, and spelling errors.

Writing strengths and difficulties. Analyses of Nancy's approaches to writing in early SCL sessions showed that she had a very good sense of what a well-written essay should look like. She said that a good essay should consist of "an introduction, paragraphs with different points, and a conclusion that ties it all together." However, Nancy's writing performance was undermined when she failed to analyze the demands of writing assignments. For example, prior to intervention, Nancy was given an assignment to observe children at a daycare center and to write a targeted response to a series of questions. However, Nancy neither carefully interpreted her assignment description nor kept task goals in mind while writing. As a result, she produced a chronological description of what she had observed rather than an organized and targeted response to the set of questions that were asked.

Nancy also possessed a very limited repertoire of writing strategies. When asked to verbalize her approaches to writing, Nancy responded, "writing my thoughts as they flow through my mind, in sentences." She admitted being dissatisfied with this strategy because of the confusion it created, causing "all thoughts to go down on paper at once." She also complained that she had difficulty identifying a clear focus for writing and "putting her ideas together into an organized flow." Although Nancy had tried an alternate strategy of brainstorming and putting ideas into point form, she found that her points turned into "freestyle sentences" that were not prioritized and did not tie together. Nancy also described the significant difficulties she experienced with sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and spelling. She had few strategies for remediating these writing difficulties, saying only that she did not "know how to edit." Nancy linked her difficulties with writing to a general

lack of interest in writing and a lack of confidence in herself. She consistently struggled with "getting started" and felt defeated before even beginning.

Scores assigned to Nancy's first writing assignments are reflective of her writing strengths and difficulties (see Table 4). In her writing, Nancy often failed to establish a focused purpose and to establish consistent themes. Her writing lacked organization, so that important points became lost in the text. She had trouble establishing smooth transitions between ideas, across and within sentences. Moreover, she had considerable difficulty expressing her points succinctly.
Table 4
Pre-/Postanalyses of Writing Performance

 Nancy Brent Tanya

 Theme 2.00 5.00 3.00
 Organization 3.00 4.50 3.50
 Idea Flow 3.00 3.50 3.00
 Clarity 2.50 3.00 3.00

 Average 2.63 4.00 3.13

 Theme 3.50 5.00 4.50
 Organization 4.00 5.00 4.00
 Idea Flow 3.50 4.00 3.00
 Clarity 4.00 3.00 3.00

Average 3.75 4.25 3.63

Percent Improvement
Posttest--Pretest(2) 1.12 .25 .50
 % of original 43% 6% 16%
 % out of five 22% 5% 10%

(1) Average of the first two or last two writing assignments for pretest and posttest, respectively.

(2) Pretest averages were deducted from posttest averages to estimate the degree of improvement across all four dimensions.

The process of SCL tutoring. Nancy brought the first draft of her daycare observation assignment to the first intervention. Instruction began by supporting Nancy in identifying her problems with task analysis and seeking solutions to prevent similar problems. This approach not only responded to Nancy's needs, but also illustrates a typical starting point in SCL for any given task. That is, emphasis is placed on helping students recognize how task analysis establishes a base for making judgments while writing (e.g., deciding what to write, choosing a writing strategy, judging the quality of work).

To begin, Nancy's tutor asked her to read her assignment, sentence by sentence, and to interpret orally what was required. The tutor observed that Nancy understood the instructions, as long as she focused her attention on each sentence in turn. Further, after reading only one or two paragraphs, Nancy independently recognized that she had missed the point of the assignment. Building on Nancy's realization, the tutor asked her what she could do in the future to avoid making the same mistake. Nancy wrote out a prewriting strategy with steps focused on interpreting assignments more carefully (see Figure 1, part A). Further, in the next two sessions, Nancy elaborated her strategy, adding steps that helped her organize her thoughts prior to writing while keeping track of assignment demands (see Figure 1, part B).

This description of Nancy's early strategy development illustrates another feature of SCL tutoring. That is, students are engaged in constructing strategies based on an analysis of their performance in light of task goals. In Nancy's case, she was guided to self-evaluate her first draft of her daycare assignment, to recognize discrepancies between assignment demands and what she had written, and to develop strategies to prevent future problems. Note that Nancy submitted her completed daycare assignment just prior to the third session. Later she was pleased to find out that she earned a mark of 80% on that paper.

In these early sessions, Nancy was actively involved in strategy use and development. For example, while most of her new strategy steps emerged out of collaborative discussions with her tutor, Nancy also independently added a new step to her strategy that focused on proofreading and editing her work (see Figure 1). Nancy provided evidence of using her strategy when working on her daycare assignment between sessions. She also described using her strategy independently to analyze task demands for an upcoming group assignment.

In the fourth session, Nancy and her tutor started work on another writing assignment. After analyzing the demands of this task, Nancy and her tutor continued to co-construct strategies for planning, organizing, and writing her essay. During the fourth session, Nancy elaborated her prewriting strategy to include steps for rewriting notes into sections, organizing those sections into an introduction, goals, body, and conclusions, and writing a rough draft. Nancy added a graphic to her strategy to clarify these steps for herself. At the end of the sixth session, Nancy decided to elaborate on each step and to clarify her graphic depiction. She also added a step independently that reminded her to refer back to her plan when writing a final draft (see Figure 2). At the end of this session, Nancy recounted feeling good about her ability to analyze tasks and about the quality of her written work. She reported receiving a grade of 19 out of 20 on her group assignment, which she had completed with other students. She stated that it took a lot of energy to use her strategy, but that the results were worth the effort. In subsequent sessions, Nancy and her tutor worked to identify strategies for revising. Nancy did not experience the same level of difficulty with grammar and spelling as did Brent or Tanya. As a result, she recorded only one strategy step that focused specifically on revising (see Figure 1). Nonetheless, Nancy and her tutor worked together to identify grammatical errors that Nancy made frequently and to discuss strategies for how to avoid them. In the ninth intervention session, Nancy was observed to use these less formalized strategies independently to revise the last three pages of her major paper. The tutor recorded in field notes that Nancy worked efficiently and made appropriate revisions, noticing sentence fragments and word usage problems.

Thus, by the end of the intervention period, Nancy and her tutor had addressed all aspects of the writing process, from task analysis, to prewriting and planning, to drafting, and finally to revising. Within the context of two different assignments, Nancy had been assisted to develop a writing strategy that redressed her writing problems.

Outcomes. Scores on Nancy's responses to the metacognitive questionnaire showed improvement across all four dimensions. Specifically, her scores improved from 1, 1, 1, and 2 at pretest (an average of 1.25 out of 3) to scores of 2, 3, 3, and 3 at posttest (an average of 2.75 out of 3), on the task description, strategy description, strategy focus, and monitoring dimensions, respectively. (Her strategy interview scores reflected similar improvements, but were. scored using a different conceptual framework, so they are not reported here; see Butler, 1993; MacLeod et al., 1996). Thus, at posttest, Nancy was able to give clearer and more articulated descriptions about tasks, strategies, and the process of monitoring than she had been at pretest.

Results from the attribution questionnaire showed that, at posttest, Nancy was more likely to attribute her writing successes to effort and strategy use. She also was less likely to attribute poor performance to low ability, a lack of effort or motivation, interest, poor settings, or help from others. Prior to completing the attribution questionnaire, at the end of the study, Nancy was asked (in a semi-structured interview) to describe factors she thought were responsible for her performance. Her response was:
 OK, when I don't do well, I more or less just put my thoughts down on
 paper, without, I have no organization. When I do well, I organize my
 papers. I do it right. I start from the beginning. I start from, gathering
 information. And from my gathering my information, I go down to, breaking

 my information down into, more or less point-form paragraphs. From my
 paragraphs I go into writing in, into more of a flow, into a rough draft.
 From a rough draft I go into a second rough draft. And then from that
 second rough draft I go into a final copy, which, I can work on then. I can
 work on the commas and the periods and the sentence structures. So, it's
 moving down the line.

This excerpt suggests that Nancy directly credited her systematic strategy for her success at writing (reflecting her attributions to "strategies") and that she experienced a greater sense of control over outcomes. Note, too, that this excerpt illustrates Nancy's improved metacognitive knowledge about strategies. Compared to her pretest description of her writing strategy (putting down her thoughts as they flowed through her mind), here Nancy articulates a specific, systematic, and focused writing strategy.

Table 4 summarizes data on the quality of students' writing at pre- and posttest. Inspection of Nancy's scores suggests that her writing improved substantially across all four dimensions. On average, she improved by 1.12 points (a 22% gain). Finally, Nancy's perceptions of confidence and self-competence grew throughout the intervention. While at pretest Nancy rated her writing as "below average," at posttest she rated herself as "average" and indicated that writing was no longer that difficult. Her perceptions of self-competence also increased (from an average of 1.60 at pretest to 2.30 at posttest on the Self-Efficacy Questionnaire).


Brent was a 28-year-old man who had not completed high school. He was attending a local college that provided academic upgrading programs in hopes of obtaining a high-school equivalency degree. Brent had been at the college for several years and, at the time of the intervention, was taking upgrading courses at the grade 11 level in English and at the grade 9 level in math. Brent chose to participate in tutoring to obtain help with essay requirements in English. He also wanted to prepare for the essay questions on the high-school equivalency exam. In his psychoeducational assessment, Brent's problems with writing were described as involving little if any paragraphing, word repetition, changes in verb tense, and spelling errors.

Writing strengths and difficulties. Analyses of Brent's writing in the SCL study suggested that he had difficulty with task analysis, strategy adaptation, and monitoring. For example, in pretest sessions, Brent explained that he had difficulty figuring out what to write in order to answer a question and "get the main idea." Consistent with Brent's description, observations revealed that he had considerable difficulty interpreting questions from practice high-school equivalency exams. As a result, in his writing, he frequently failed to address central issues relevant to a question.

One of Brent's strengths was that he could very clearly articulate a strategy for writing. He explained that his goal in every paragraph was to write a topic sentence, three main points, and a conclusion that repeated the first sentence. However, Brent rigidly structured his paragraphs in this manner, regardless of the question being asked or the type of writing he was producing. As a result, he had difficulty adapting his strategy flexibly to meet the demands of a particular task. Brent also experienced significant difficulties with the mechanics of writing, particularly with spelling. He reported lacking the "tricks" necessary for learning how to spell words correctly. His greatest wish was to be able to write a card or letter to a friend without any spelling mistakes.

Another of Brent's strengths was that he had little difficulty with motivation or procrastination and worked very hard to produce multiple drafts of his written work. Indeed, when asked about his current strategies for writing, Brent recounted "writing a rough draft, then fixing that rough draft by going over it word by word until I feel satisfied [to write] my final [draft]." However, because Brent's understanding of the characteristics of quality writing focused primarily on mechanical criteria (e.g., having a highly structured format that included three points and having correct grammar and spelling), he did not always improve his writing during the revision process. Further, Brent appeared to have difficulty evaluating the quality of his work. He relied on external sources (e.g., grades, others' evaluations) to help him judge how well he had done.

Analyses of Brent's early writing samples showed that they were very well organized. He clearly and consistently established and maintained themes both within and across paragraphs (see Table 4). These writing strengths could be associated clearly with Brent's structured approach to writing. However, the quality of Brent's work was undermined by his difficulties in interpreting questions. Moreover, the flow of ideas between Brent's sentences and the clarity of ideas within sentences needed considerable improvement.

The process of SCL tutoring. During interventions, Brent wrote essays in response to practice questions for his high-school equivalency exam. In early sessions, Brent and his tutor worked on revising Brent's strategies in two main areas. The first was assisting Brent to develop a strategy for interpreting essay questions. For his first essay (on whether parents should be held responsible for their children's vandalism), Brent focused on a tangential issue when he interpreted the question. Therefore, to begin, the tutor asked Brent to read and interpret each sentence and to explain how the sentences were connected (i.e., how each sentence contributed to an understanding of the main point of the question). Once Brent had successfully interpreted the question, he developed a new step for his strategy: He decided that he needed to "look over the whole picture of what's being said about the topic," rather than focusing on just one point at a time. In the fifth session, Brent elaborated his strategy to include reading each sentence carefully, "comparing," and looking "for two sides to every argument." Finally, in session seven, Brent's tutor observed that Brent utilized his strategy successfully to interpret a new essay question.

Thus, across a number of sessions, Brent was assisted in developing an effective strategy for interpreting essay questions. This was accomplished by engaging Brent in activities (i.e., reading sentences and discussing their relationships) that led to greater success. Further, Brent ultimately made decisions about which activities worked for him. His strategy descriptions represented understandings about learning that Brent abstracted, based on experiences across essays, and expressed in his own words.

A second focus in early sessions was on helping Brent break out of his rigid approach to writing. The tutor observed that Brent started his first draft quickly after picking a topic. He would begin by writing a topic sentence and then brainstorm three supporting ideas. Next Brent would write a rough draft, including an introductory paragraph (his topic sentence plus a list of his three points), three paragraphs (addressing each point in turn), and a conclusion (summarizing what he had just said). While writing, Brent stretched his attention between developing his points, structuring his essay, and crafting sentences that were succinct and mechanically sound (in terms of word choice, grammar, and spelling). Based on these observations, Brent's tutor encouraged him to address his writing tasks more reflectively, thoughtfully, and flexibly.

Before Brent wrote his first essay, the tutor started by asking him to take a moment to evaluate his ideas while brainstorming. She asked him questions that led him to clarify his points, justify his arguments, and consider alternative perspectives. As part of their interactive discussion, Brent generated a list of many ideas from which he ultimately picked the best three. By the end of the first session, Brent recognized that taking time to brainstorm helped him judge whether he had "selected a good topic." He also noted that it would be helpful to refer back to his brainstorming points when writing each of his paragraphs.

Interactive discussions also encouraged Brent to move from evaluating his content merely in structural terms (e.g., have I included three points) to considering the strength, depth, and persuasiveness of his arguments. At the end of session three, Brent observed that his previous methods of writing had focused more on structure than on the quality of his ideas. During the fourth session, Brent reported that he was coming up with better "examples" while brainstorming, which would make writing easier for him in the long run. By session five, Brent recognized that brainstorming allowed him to think about how he could sequence examples that flowed logically from his topic, rather than ordering paragraphs arbitrarily.

In session five, Brent realized that brainstorming helped him consolidate his arguments, freeing up time while writing to work on idea flow and clarity. Similarly, in early sessions, Brent decided to stop focusing on mechanics while he was writing his first draft. In session two, he recorded a strategy step developed collaboratively with his tutor: "Don't worry about spelling, just get ideas down [and build in] tie backs." Thus, a major evolution in Brent's approach to writing was that he started focusing his attention on one aspect of writing at a time, rather than trying to do everything at once. Specifically, he developed, evaluated, and sequenced ideas during brainstorming, worked on establishing a flow of ideas and expressing his points clearly while drafting, and attended to spelling and mechanics while editing and revising.

Because of Brent's difficulties with writing mechanics, he and his tutor invested considerable effort developing strategies for revising and editing. In contrast to Nancy's final strategy, which included no formalized editing steps, of the 33 steps in Brent's final strategy, 4 focused on interpreting questions or planning, 6 focused on drafting text (e.g., "make sure things are tying back to the introduction"), and 23 focused on editing or revising. Out of Brent's 23 revising strategy steps, 6 focused on editing the content or flow of his arguments (e.g., "at the end of the first paragraph look for good relationships and what is the main idea") and 17 targeted clarity, punctuation, grammar, or spelling (e.g., "read it out and ask myself, `does that make sense to me?'"; "when I can't read it properly I know something is wrong that needs to be fixed"; "watch for words like `because,' `although,' and use them with commas, completing the sentences").

Thus, like Nancy, Brent developed a comprehensive strategy that addressed all aspects of the writing process (i.e., planning, drafting, revising) and the processes comprising self-regulation (i.e., task analysis, strategy selection, monitoring). However, the content and emphasis of Brent's strategy steps reflected his individual needs.

Outcomes. To characterize Brent's gains in metacognitive knowledge, his scores on the metacognitive questionnaire and strategy interview were averaged. Between pre- and posttest, Brent's scores improved from 1.5, 2, 2, and 2 at pretest (an average of 1.88 out of 3) to scores of 2.5, 3, 3, and 2.5 at posttest (an average of 2.75), on the task description, strategy description, strategy focus, and monitoring dimensions, respectively. When asked how he approached writing essays at his final strategy interview, Brent explained:
 Go over the topic, make sure you understand what's being said, basically.
 Read the whole question as one ... What else? Start on a rough copy, no
 sorry, brainstorm first, get your reasons, examples, and stuff, and from
 there, start on your rough draft. After you've finished your rough draft,
 proof read it for spelling mistakes, sentence structure, references, all
 that stuff, and then after that, do your final.

This description shows that Brent could provide a clear overview of his new writing strategy, explicating all of the steps that he focused on. Further, when asked "what makes a good essay?," Brent clearly explained: "very strong reasons and good examples. Make sure everything ties together, make sure you are staying on topic. Make sure the structure's done right." This quote suggests that, although Brent continued to recognize the importance of crafting an organized and structured essay, at posttest he emphasized conceptual criteria for judging the quality of what he had written. When asked what he gained during the study, Brent responded:
 I think I gained a lot of, more knowledge on looking at different types of
 ways of approaching an essay, going about writing an essay. Like, we worked
 on, say, the brainstorming. Before I never used that method, thinking that
 it would slow down time. Now I realize these are ways to go about it that
 can actually make me write better examples and whatnot. So in that aspect,
 it's good.

Brent also made gains on the measures of self-efficacy (e.g., his self-perceptions of competence improved from an average of 2.40 to 2.90 out of 5). Few consistent changes were observed in Brent's attributional patterns, however. The only consistent shift was that, at posttest, Brent was less likely to attribute either success or failure to help he received from others.

Finally, average scores assigned to Brent's pre- and posttest writing samples improved from 4.00 to 4.25, for a gain of 5%. However, it may be that Brent's improvement was underestimated since he scored near ceiling on some dimensions (see Table 4). Qualitative analyses of his writing showed that, in later sessions, Brent interpreted questions with greater accuracy, sequenced his points more effectively, and provided richer examples and arguments when defending his point of view. These improvements are directly reflective of the strategy steps Brent developed.


Tanya was a 22-year-old woman enrolled in a Special Education Assistant program at a local college. Tanya's ultimate goal was to become a classroom assistant at a local elementary school. She participated in the SCL program because she wanted to improve her writing skills for papers and assignments in her college courses. In Tanya's psychoeducational assessment, she was described as severely dyslexic. Her writing difficulties were described as including a lack of paragraphing, subject-verb disagreement, and spelling and syllabication errors.

Writing strengths and difficulties. Analyses of Tanya's approaches to writing in early SCL sessions showed that she, too, had difficulties in interpreting assignments. One problem was that Tanya had limited metacognitive knowledge about how information is effectively presented in text. This problem was reflected in her description of what "writing is about" (her response was simply "a piece of work that is filled with all the essential information"). Her limited awareness of text structure also was revealed when she was observed doing research for an essay. When reading an article in preparation for writing, Tanya had difficulty extracting the article's premise and identifying how points in the article were related. As a result, she focused only on the conclusion and missed relevant information that, if included in her paper, would have contributed to the quality of her discussion.

Tanya also had difficulty articulating focused writing strategies and lacked an integrated sense of what constitutes "good writing." For example, she described her strategy for writing as "thinking a lot about the topic, beginning to write, rewriting, and getting someone to proof it." When asked how she judged the quality of her work, Tanya explained that "it depends on how much of my essay my boyfriend will need to correct." In addition, Tanya appeared to link her problems with writing to a general lack of confidence in her writing abilities. She reported that she really "gets down" on herself because she has such difficulty turning out quality material.

Tanya was a very bright student, who frequently came up with excellent, creative, and insightful ideas (see Tables 2 & 3). However, analyses of Tanya's pretest writing samples showed that she had difficulty expressing those ideas in writing (see Table 4). She had particular problems with organization, and her early work lacked structure. This lack of organization extended even to how she physically positioned her text on the page. Tanya's themes were hard to identify. She discussed several topics in a given paragraph rather than constructing a coherent discussion. She also had mechanical difficulties in terms of constructing grammatical sentences. Finally, she had such extreme spelling difficulties that many of her words were unrecognizable.

The process of SCL tutoring. In Tanya's case, intervention started when she had already completed her first writing assignment. At that point, her priority was to tackle her problems with writing mechanics. Thus, in the first session Tanya and her tutor worked on expanding Tanya's editing strategies. New strategy steps developed with her tutor included "look for singular and plural mistakes," "see if capitals are used properly," and "reading the sentences before and after the problem sentence to see if there are structure problems." In subsequent sessions, as the need arose, Tanya and her tutor continued to develop strategies for editing and revising.

One goal in Tanya's sessions was to help her to construct metacognitive knowledge about how texts are structured. However, rather than addressing this issue using direct instruction (e.g., providing explicit instruction about typical text structures), Tanya's tutor helped her construct metacognitive knowledge while working on reading and writing tasks. For example, in the second session, Tanya and her tutor co-constructed strategies for understanding and interpreting an article in preparation for an in-class essay exam. The tutor helped her analyze the relationship between ideas in that text and develop a strategy for finding key points. Tanya ultimately included the following steps in her strategy (reproduced exactly to reflect Tanya's spelling and grammar mistakes): "look at topic sentences and key phrases," "prevewng artikel," and "using the headings to to relat to ideas in the story." Similarly, after working on reading in session 4, Tanya added (in her own words): "read it thro once = to find what the paragraph is about ... to find a sentence that supports the evedens (find the one sentes that supports the evedens in the paragrophe)." Thus, Tanya's reading strategies reflected her developing sense of the overall organization of text and of how ideas within and across paragraphs were related.

Tanya's developing knowledge about text structure also was reflected in the writing strategies she constructed to help her focus, plan, and organize her essays. For example, in session 3, she indicated the importance of "keeping queschens in mid wiel readg a pec of work to make projects in the fuche more manajabel" (i.e., "keeping questions in mind while reading a piece of work to make projects in the future more manageable"). In session 5, she decided to "write down topic sentences as headings" and "reduce informashen by means of aliminating (which topics relate moor to one another)." During session 7, she added "write ideas for in class essay in point form or heading." In session 10, she added (orally), "If run out of time in the in-class essay, number the intro, body, and conclusion instead of rewriting it all." Finally, in her posttest strategy interview, Tanya explained that she should "define a thesis after doing brainstorming to help keep on track."

The evolution of Tanya's strategies suggests two conclusions. First, the nature of the strategy steps suggests that Tanya developed a better understanding of what constitutes good writing, including the importance of establishing a clear and consistent thesis and creating a structured, focused, and organized discussion. Second, SCL worked by supporting Tanya to develop metacognitive knowledge over time, in the context of meaningful work, across two different tasks (reading and writing) and a number of writing assignments.

Finally, over time, Tanya and her tutor worked to develop strategies to help her reflect on her performance, self-evaluate progress, diagnose and interpret problems, and utilize strategies to remediate difficulties. Evidence that Tanya started to problem-solve effectively emerged during the fourth session. Tanya decided that, since she continually misread her course text, she should take advantage of books on tape. She thought the taped books would reduce her cognitive load and help keep her on track with respect to assignments. By the midpoint of the semester, Tanya also had developed several of her own strategies for writing and had modified them to suit her needs. Moreover, her tutor reported that Tanya no longer relied on him during sessions to help develop ideas. Tanya herself described how her writing had improved. She said that she did not rely on others for editing as frequently, and that she was able to get her ideas down on paper more quickly and in a more organized fashion. Further, near the end of the semester, she decided that she did not need to meet with her tutor as frequently, given that she needed little assistance at that point and was able to finish her essays independently.

Outcomes. To characterize Tanya's gains in metacognitive knowledge, her scores on the metacognitive questionnaire and strategy interview were averaged. Results showed that, between pre- and posttest, Tanya's scores improved on three of the four dimensions. (Her scores increased from 1.5, 2.5, and 2 on the task description, strategy description, and strategy focus dimensions, respectively, to scores of 2.5, 3, and 2.5.) In contrast, she scored near ceiling at both pre- and posttest on the monitoring dimension. Nonetheless, as described above, Tanya's tutor observed considerable improvements in Tanya's ability to monitor her performance. Specifically, he described how Tanya successfully evaluated her work and made decisions about how to remediate difficulties. He also observed that she independently developed strategies as solutions to a variety of problems.

Tanya's perceptions of self-confidence also improved during interventions. Tanya made numerous comments during sessions that reflected her increased self-confidence (e.g., she required less help from others, she was finding essay writing easier, she felt comfortable going into her final essay exam). Similarly, Tanya's judgment of her competence as a writer improved from "below average" at pretest to "average" at posttest. On the Self-Efficacy Across Tasks Questionnaire, she rated herself at posttest as having fewer difficulties with writing and across a range of other academic tasks. However, her ratings of self-competence on the Self-Efficacy Questionnaire was not consistent with these positive shifts (from an overall average of 2.75 to 2.50 out of 5.00 from pre- to posttest).

Shifts in Tanya's patterns of attributions from pre- to posttest were not large. However, the patterns were puzzling and inconsistent with predictions and other outcome indices. For example, at posttest, Tanya was more likely to attribute success to strategy use (predicted) and to luck (unexpected). She was less likely to attribute successful performance to help from others (expected), but also to ability or effort (both unexpected). Similarly, at posttest, Tanya was more likely to attribute poor performance to luck or low motivation (unexpected). And she was less likely to attribute poor performance to help from others (expected), effort or strategy use (both unexpected). It may be that these anomalous and inconsistent responses resulted from a misinterpretation of question scales.

Finally, average scores assigned to Tanya's pre- and posttest writing samples reflected improvement from 3.13 to 3.63, for a gain of 10% (see Table 4). Her greatest gains were in the areas of thematic salience and organization, consistent with the emphasis in her strategies on creating a better focus and structure in her writing. Tanya's performance improvements also were observed to maintain in the semester following intervention. During that term, she submitted an essay that earned her highest overall score (an average of 4.75 across all four dimensions).

Cross-Case Observations

Analyses of students' initial approaches to writing suggested that Nancy, Brent, and Tanya each experienced a range of difficulties that interfered with their successful performance. Moreover, each student's various difficulties were not independent. For example, Nancy's problems with task analysis could be associated with a lack of success when writing. In turn, her lack of success undermined her confidence and led her to avoid writing tasks. Brent's rigid vision of writing tasks shaped his writing strategies and restricted the criteria he used for judging his work. Tanya's limited understanding about text structure undermined her ability to judge the completeness and quality of her writing. Similarly, gains students experienced during tutoring could be related to one another. For example, Tanya's improved writing performance could be associated with her increased knowledge about text, her development of focused writing strategies, and her increases in self-confidence.

At a general level, students experienced some problems in common. For example, all three students had trouble analyzing tasks and deciphering assignment requirements. However, within these general areas, their specific problems varied. For example, Nancy's problem with task analysis stemmed from her failure to scrutinize assignment descriptions. Once her attention was redirected to instructions, she had little difficulty interpreting assignments. In contrast, Brent knew that he had difficulty interpreting questions and invested considerable effort trying to do so. His problems stemmed from a lack of strategies for extracting the main idea from essay questions. Finally, Tanya's major difficulties with task analysis derived from inadequate metacognitive knowledge about text structure. Thus, although SCL intervention followed a common frame for each student, addressing the same general areas (e.g., supporting self-regulated processes, starting with task analysis), instruction within that frame was individualized to match students' particular needs.

These case descriptions illustrate how, in SCL, tutors assist students in problem-solving strategies based on a clear understanding of task requirements and building from strategies they already know. This approach is intended to promote students' sense of ownership over strategies, transfer of strategy use across similar tasks, and ability to problem-solve new strategies when faced with fluctuating task demands (see Butler, 1993, 1995). Thus, when tracing students' participation in SCL tutoring, attention was paid to documenting their involvement in strategy development as well as their transfer of strategy use across contexts and across tasks.

Table 5 summarizes students' active strategy development and use in each of these three areas. First, these data reveal that all three students independently contributed steps to their developing strategies (*), often in early sessions. These findings suggest that the three case-study students had the strategic skills necessary for developing strategies, prior to intervention. Thus, .these findings lend credence to characterizations of students with learning disabilities as "actively inefficient" (Swanson, 1990). Further, these students apparently were not strategic "blank slates" (Butler & Winne, 1995). They were capable of problem-solving better strategies for writing when engaged in meaningful tasks.

Second, Table 5 also shows that the case study students transferred use of their new writing strategies to tasks outside of intervention sessions (A). For example, Nancy used her strategy for interpreting assignments when completing a group project, Tanya used her strategy when writing in-class essays, and Brent applied his strategies when writing for his English class. Finally, both Brent and Tanya independently developed strategies for use across noninstructed tasks ([square root of]). For example, Tanya reported applying what she had learned during tutoring to other situations in her life. She explained that she had developed a way of thinking that helped her solve a range of problems, not just writing difficulties. She argued, "It's like when you learn how to do one thing, like a recipe to make vinaigrette, you will be able to learn how to do lots of things from that one process. You can make an orange vinaigrette [or] other salad dressings."


In a series of studies, results have suggested that SCL is an effective model for promoting strategic learning by postsecondary students with learning disabilities (Butler, 1993, 1995, 1998c, 1999a, 1999b). This article supplements previous research reports by illustrating one way in which SCL has been implemented, as a model for one-on-one tutoring, and how SCL instructional principles can be personalized in that context to meet individuals' needs.

Several characteristics of SCL instruction are evidenced in these case-study reports. First, it is clear that students participated in explicit discussions about strategies. That is, students and tutors worked deliberately on developing strategies and explicitly discussed approaches to tasks. However, students were not provided with direct instruction regarding a series of predefined writing strategies. Instead, instructors and students worked together to construct strategies based on a clear understanding of task goals in the context of meaningful work. When asked by her tutor to describe how SCL worked (in an exit interview), Nancy explained:
 We worked together, and I thought it was really great the way you taught
 because you didn't tell me how to do it. You sort of made me think it
 through. So, not only did I understand it, because I had to think it
 through, but it also made more sense to me that way. And it was great
 because you gave me, you explained to me, OK, you're stuck here. What do
 you think you can do here? And you gave me options, and uh, I sort of
 picked the options, and I worked it from there. It, sort of, you weren't
 telling me what to do, but you were sort of leading me in the right

It is significant that SCL promotes self-regulated processing without direct instruction and modeling of task-specific strategies (see Butler, 1998a, 1998d). We argued earlier that instructional models often characterize students as "internalizing" cognitive processes, and so emphasize direct explanation and modeling (e.g., Palincsar & Brown, 1984). In contrast, in SCL, students are thought to construct idiosyncratic understandings about learning processes (including strategies) that are developed during goal-oriented problem solving and shaped within sociocultural contexts (Butler, 1998a). Thus, SCL's efficacy suggests that further research is needed to clarify the relationship between individual and sociocultural processes in students' development of self-regulation (see also Harris & Pressley, 1991; Stone & Reid, 1994).

Another feature of SCL illustrated in these case studies is that the focus is not solely on strategies. Self-regulation entails not only strategy selection and use, but also task analysis and monitoring. It has been argued that task analysis and monitoring establish a frame within which self-regulating decisions are made (Butler & Winne, 1995). That is, effective writers make decisions about strategies based on a clear sense of what they want to accomplish and in light of observed progress towards goals. Thus, to support self-regulated writing, attention must focus, not only on helping students master effective writing strategies, but also on supporting their engagement in task analysis, strategy adaptation, and monitoring (see also Harris & Graham, 1996).

Because SCL is a principle-based approach, certain instructional features are constant, across contexts and across students (e.g., asking students to analyze tasks and participate in strategy development). At the same time, SCL instruction is individualized. Participants are assisted in developing personalized strategies, applicable in contexts that are immediately meaningful to them, building from their strengths, and responsive to their particular difficulties. Of course, it is not so difficult to individualize instruction when resources are available for one-on-one tutoring. However, more recent research suggests that SCL also can be associated with positive outcomes when employed to structure small-group discussions (see Butler, Poole et al., 1999). Case-study analyses have also documented how tutors and peers interact to co-construct personalized strategies when working in groups on common tasks (see Butler, Elaschuk, Poole, Novak, Jarvis, & Beckingham, 2000).

A strength of the case-study approach to examining instructional efficacy is that it is possible to link instructional processes with outcomes, thereby bolstering internal validity (Yin, 1994). In this article, it was possible to trace relationships between students' areas of difficulty, the focus of instruction, and the gains each student made. Further, case-study descriptions paint a complex portrait of interrelationships among mutually dependent outcomes. In this article, specific associations could be drawn between gains students made (e.g., between strategy development and self-efficacy), from both the researchers' and the students' points of view. Further, case-study reports present naturalistic descriptions that can provide useful guidance for practice. Although reading generalized descriptions of instructional principles can be useful, multiple exemplars of how principles are adapted may better guide practitioner action. Thus, it is hoped that supplementing general descriptions of SCL with these case profiles will serve to inform theory, about self-regulated processing and the instructional practices that support it, and practice, about instructional strategies that effectively meet individuals' needs.


Baker, L., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Cognitive monitoring in reading. In J. Flood (Ed.), Understanding reading comprehension: Cognition, language, and the structure of prose (pp. 21-44). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28, 117-148.

Borkowski, J. G. (1992). Metacognitive theory: A framework for teaching literacy, writing, and math skills, Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 253-257.

Borkowski, J. G., & Muthukrishna, N. (1992). Moving metacognition into the classroom: "Working models" and effective strategy teaching. In M. Pressley, K. R. Harris, & J. T. Guthrie (Eds.), Promoting academic competence and literacy in school (pp. 477-501). Toronto: Academic Press.

Brown, A. L. (1987). Metacognition, executive control, self-regulation, and other more mysterious mechanisms. In F. E. Weinert & R. H. Kluwe (Eds.), Metacognition, motivation, and understanding (pp. 65-116). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Butler, D. L. (1992). Promoting strategic learning by learning disabled adults and adolescents. Exceptionality Education Canada, 2, 109-128.

Butler, D. L. (1993). Promoting strategic learning by adults with learning disabilities: An alternative approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Butler, D. L. (1994). From learning strategies to strategic learning: Promoting self-regulated learning by post secondary students with learning disabilities. Canadian Journal of Special Education, 4, 69-101.

Butler, D. L. (1995). Promoting strategic learning by post secondary students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 28, 170-190.

Butler, D. L. (1998a). In search of the architect of learning: A commentary on scaffolding as a metaphor for instructional interactions. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(4), 374-385.

Butler, D. L. (1998b). Metacognition and learning disabilities. In B.Y.L. Wong (Ed.), Learning about learning disabilities (2nd ed.) (pp. 277-307). Toronto: Academic Press.

Butler, D. L. (1998c). The Strategic Content Learning approach to promoting self-regulated learning. In B. J. Zimmerman & D. Schunk (Eds.), Developing self-regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice (pp. 160-183). New York: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Butler, D. L. (1998d). The Strategic Content Learning approach to promoting self-regulated learning: A summary of three studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 682-697.

Butler, D. L. (1999a, April). Identifying and remediating students' inefficient approaches to tasks. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal, Quebec.

Butler, D. L. (1999b, April). The importance of explicit writing instruction for postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Council for Exceptional Children. Charlotte, North Carolina.

Butler, D. L., Elaschuk, C., Poole, S., MacLeod, W. B., & Syer, K. (1997, June). Teaching peer tutors to support strategic learning by post-secondary students with learning disabilities. Paper presented at the meetings of the Canadian Society for Studies in Education, St. John's, NF.

Butler, D. L., Elaschuk, C. L., Poole, S. L., Novak, H. J., Jarvis, S., & Beckingham, B. (2000). Investigating an application of strategic content learning: Promoting strategy development in group contexts. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Butler, D. L., Kamann, M. K., Poole, S., & Elaschuk, C. (1998). Strategic Content Learning: An instructional analysis. Manuscript in preparation, University of British Columbia.

Butler, D. L., Poole, S., Elaschuk, C. L., & Novak, H. J. (2000). Promoting self-regulated learning in group settings: An application of the Strategic Content Learning approach. Manuscript in preparation, University of British Columbia.

Butler, D.L., & Winne, P.H. (1995). Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65, 245-281.

Campione, J. C., Brown, A. L., & Connell, M. L. (1988). Metacognition: On the importance of understanding what you are doing. In R. I. Charles & E. A. Silver (Eds.), The teaching and assessing of mathematical problem solving, Vol. 3 (pp. 93-114). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Como, L. (1993). The best laid plans: Modern conceptions of volition and educational research. Educational Researcher, 22(2), 14-22.

Ellis, E. S. (1993). Integrative strategy instruction: A potential model for teaching content area subjects to adolescents with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26, 358-383, 398.

Englert, C. S. (1990). Unraveling the mysteries of writing instruction through strategy training. In T. Scruggs & B.Y.L. Wong (Eds.), Intervention research in learning disabilities (pp. 186-223). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Englert, C. S. (1992). Writing instruction from a sociocultural perspective: The holistic, dialogic, and social enterprise of writing. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 153-172.

Englert, C. S., Raphael, T. E., Anderson, L. M., Anthony, H. M., & Stevens, D. D. (1991). Making strategies and self-talk visible: Writing instruction in regular and special education classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 28, 337-372.

Englert, C. S., Raphael, T. E., Anderson, L. M., Gregg, S. L., & Anthony, H. M. (1989). Exposition: Reading, writing, and the metacognitive knowledge of learning disabled students. Learning Disabilities Research, 5, 5-24.

Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (1989). Components analysis of cognitive strategy instruction: Effects on learning disabled students' compositions and self-efficacy. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 353-361.

Graham, S., Harris, K. R., MacArthur, C., & Schwartz, S. (1998). Writing instruction. In B.Y.L. Wong (Ed.), Learning about learning disabilities (2nd ed.) (pp. 391-423). Toronto: Academic Press.

Harris K. R., & Graham, S. (1996). Making the writing process work: Strategies for composition and self-regulation. Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

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

Kamann, M. P., & Butler, D. L. (1996, April). Strategic content learning: An analysis of instructional features. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.

MacLeod, W. B., Butler, D. L., & Syer, K. D. (1996, April). Beyond achievement data: Assessing changes in metacognition and strategic learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.

Merriam, S. B. (1988). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Montague, M., Maddux, C. D., & Dereshiwsky, M. I. (1990). Story grammar and comprehension and production of narrative prose by students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23, 190-197.

Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175.

Paris, S. G., & Byrnes, J. P. (1989). The constructivist approach to self-regulation and learning in the classroom. In B.J. Zimmerman & D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 169-200). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Pressley, M., E1-Dinary, P. B., Gaskins, I. W., Schuder, T., Bergman, J. L., Almasi, J., & Brown, R. (1992). Beyond direct explanation: Transactional instruction of reading comprehension strategies. The Elementary School Journal, 92, 513-555.

Reid, M. K., & Borkowski, J. G. (1987). Causal attributions of hyperactive children: Implications for teaching strategies and self-control. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 296-307.

Sawyer, R. J., Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (1992). Direct teaching, strategy instruction, and strategy instruction with explicit self-regulation: Effects on the composition skills and self-efficacy of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 340-352.

Schunk, D. H. (1994). Self-regulation of self-efficacy and attributions in academic settings. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Self-regulation of learning and performance: Issues and educational applications (pp. 75-99). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Schunk, D. H., & Cox, P. D. (1986). Strategy training and attributional feedback with learning disabled students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 201-209.

Stone, C. A. (1998). The metaphor of scaffolding: Its utility for the field of learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(4), 344-364.

Stone, C. A., & Reid, D. K. (1994). Social and individual forces in learning: Implications for instruction of children with learning difficulties. Learning Disability Quarterly, 17, 72-86.

Swanson, H.L. (1990). Instruction derived from the strategy deficit model: Overview of principles and procedures. In T. Scruggs & B.Y.L. Wong (Eds.), Intervention research in learning disabilities (pp. 34-65). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weschler, D. (1981). Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corp.

Wong, B.Y.L. (1991). The relevance of metacognition to learning disabilities. In B.Y.L. Wong (Ed.), Learning about learning disabilities (pp. 231-256). New York: Academic Press.

Wong, B.Y.L. (1994). Instructional parameters promoting transfer of learned strategies in students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 17, 110-120.

Wong, B.Y.L., Butler, D. L., Drabble, S., Kuperis, S, Corden, M., & Zelmer, J. (1994). Teaching problem learners revision skills and sensitivity to audience through two instructional modes: Student-teacher versus student-student interactive dialogues. LD Research and Practice, 9, 78-90.

Wong, B.Y.L., Butler, D. L., Ficzere, S., & Kuperis, S. (1997). Teaching adolescents with learning disabilities and low achievers to plan, write, and revise compare and contrast essays. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 12(1), 2-15.

Wong, B.Y.L., Wong, R., & Blenkinsop, J. (1989). Cognitive and metacognitive aspects of learning disabled adolescents' composing problems. Learning Disability Quarterly, 12, 300-322.

Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research: Design and methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Zimmerman, B.J. (1989). A social cognitive view of self-regulated academic learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81,329-339.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1994). Dimensions of academic self-regulation: A conceptual framework for education. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Self-regulation of learning and performance: Issues and educational applications (pp. 3-21). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


The research described here was supported in part by a Standard Research Grant (#410-95-1102) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We would like to thank Michael Kamann, Sandra Jarvis, and the remaining members of our research team for their help on the studies from which these case studies were drawn.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Deborah L. Butler, Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.

DEBORAH L. BUTLER, Ph.D., is associate professor, University of British Columbia. CORY L. ELASCHUK, M.A., is a Ph.D. candidate, University of British Columbia. SHANNON POOLE, M.A., is a psychologist, Personnel Psychology Center, Public Service Commission of Canada, Ottawa, ONT.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Council for Learning Disabilities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Poole, Shannon
Publication:Learning Disability Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2000

Related Articles
Learning to effectively implement constant time delay procedures to teach spelling.
Effects of traditional versus tactual/kinesthetic instruction on junior high school learning-disabled students.
Independence day: with an increase in the depth and breadth of technology products to help the country's 2.8 million learning disabled students...
Writing issues in college students with learning disabilities: a synthesis of the literature from 1990 to 2000.
Supporting individuals with disabilities in postsecondary education.
Access to scientific careers.
Assisting students with learning disabilities transitioning to college: what school counselors should know.
A preliminary investigation of placement and predictors of success for students with learning disabilities in university-required mathematics courses.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters