Strategies vs. Skills: What’s the Difference?

Strategies vs. Skills: What’s the Difference?

When supporting students’ executive function, many educators use the terms “skill” and “strategy” interchangeably. In the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum, we believe it is important to underscore the difference between such seemingly similar terms.

  • Skills refer to abilities that an individual enacts without much thought.
  • Strategies, on the other hand, are intentionally employed to accomplish a specific task, such as reading a book or studying for an exam. Students can use strategies to avoid executive function overload (aka a “clogged funnel”) and manage the demands placed on them in school and in extracurricular activities.

When it comes to teaching executive function, it is important to promote a strategies-based approach for many reasons.

Strategy instruction is a strengths-based approach 

This approach focuses on students achieving personally meaningful goals, supported by teachers’ explicit teaching and modeling of strategy use. Students who struggle may internalize their failures and come to believe that their efforts will not lead to success. However, when armed with strategies, students have options for how they can respond to an academic or organizational challenge, opening multiple pathways to success.

Strategy instruction promotes self-understanding

Using strategies is an intentional and deliberate process; students become active learners who engage in self-reflection about which strategies were most successful in specific situations. This metacognitive process is an important part of teaching students to understand how they learn most effectively. When students feel valued and involved in their learning, they are more likely to be motivated.

Strategy instruction is beneficial for all learners

All students benefit from having a larger set of strategies to pull from when they face academic challenges.

The SMARTS Executive Function curriculum helps students understand their areas of strength and challenge and explicitly teaches executive function strategies. Learn more about the three key tenets at the heart of the SMARTS program.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development: