Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Skills vs. Strategies: UCI Writing Project Challenge

By on January 16, 2009

The UCI Writers Project has monthly meetings for its alumni where we discuss certain topics, bringing our field studies and expertise into the conversation.  Last night we tackled an issue related to developing a common language: Skills vs. Strategies.

Many of us use these terms interchangably, yet there are differences.  After our meeting last night, the crowd nodded knowingly.  I joined them in a brief nod or two as well.  I must admit, however, that I faked it.

I have posed the question to my wonderful colleagues at The Teacher Leaders Network and have gotten some great answers, but a blog’s purpose is not only for readers to comment but to also advise; so here I am, asking for your take on this great debate:

What’s the difference between skills and strategies?

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  1. Stacy Lica
    January 17, 2009

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    Here is my attempt at explaining:

    Skills = those tools you apply to a task without thinking about it. It is the tool that you have mastered and you are consciously aware of HOW & WHEN to apply that skill no matter the change in the situation. There is a rule that can be memorized for it and it is usually the same every time. Ex: you always capitalize the first letter of the 1st word of a sentence – no matter what type of sentence or essay one is writing, this rule is always the same, no matter what (unless your texting; I jues that is an exception, huh? – hahaha) . Once a student has mastered that skill, it is the same everytime – no/minimal exceptions.

    Strategies = battle/attach plans. It is totally based on the context of the situation as to which strategy one will utilize. I think of it as the answer to the “what if” situation. ex = essay writing – what if it’s a persuasive essay? how does one attack it? OR what if it’s a narrative? how does one attack it?

    I think that strategies are used in more subjective tasks where as skills are used more in objective tasks. Think about math: adding simple number is a skill – once mastered/memorized, it doesn’t require much effort and the answers are the same every time: 2+2 = 4 ALWAYS! But finding the perimeter is more of a strategy because it depends on the shape one is measuring. If it’s a basic square you add the 4 sides together, but if it’s the perimeter of the Staple Center which is not square there might be more things that one has to take into consideration because edges protrude and concave. I think that the act of using strategies is trying out all of the skills you already know in order to find the answer/create the product. It’s hypothetical and it might not be the same process every time. Even when we teach a student how to write persuasively, we can’t prepare them for every prompt that they will ever see. They have to have an attack STRATEGY so that they can adapt to changing situations.

    I relate it a lot to sports. When I played water polo, we practiced play after play: offensive, defensive, special situations, etc. However, the same play didn’t always work the same or happen at the same time. We had to have an attack strategy, and that strategy had to change and adapt depending on the situation, the opponent, the weather, etc. Shooting the ball was a skill every player knows how to do, but when to shoot and which shot to use is a strategy because you have to anaylze the situation and have a multiple skills available from which to choose.

    I know that this is a long winded answer, but like you mentioned, it is a difficult thing to explain.

    So, what do you think? Does my explanation make any sense or do you think that I have simplified it too much? Don’t for a second think that I have this all figured out. This is just my take on it for now, but much like you, I am still trying to wrap my brain around this concept.

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