I’m fortunate to watch a large number of lessons – being taught by brilliant teachers. There are many things that they all do well, but one thing they all have in common is that they are great at modelling. Now it seems fairly obvious that if you want to teach somebody a new skill, you need to break the skill down into the key ‘bits’ and then show them very carefully how to do it – you can’t just expect it to happen by diffusion. In my mind, this is what modelling is. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious to me that it is a key teaching skill that needs to be thought through and planned carefully, if effective learning is going to happen. It’s also key in the development of independence:
I’ve seen some brilliant examples of this:
- In art, when teachers very skilfully model particular techniques such as shading portraits, cutting out a lino print etc.
- In PE, when teachers demonstrate new techniques such as shot- putting, triple jump, javelin etc. In PE, teachers are very good at using students to model things to their peers.
- In English, when teachers are modelling how to produce a piece of creative writing from a visual stimulus.
- In maths, when teachers model how to work through and solve a mathematical problem.
- They make it explicit what it is they are going to be modelling and why it is important – and exactly what the students will be able to do as a result.
- They break the skill down into steps.
- They then show them how to do each step – whether this by physically doing it, or getting students to do it with them.
- As they do it, they are questioning students about why they are doing it that way, so they develop an understanding of the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’.
- They also point out common mistakes and misconceptions – and how to avoid these.
- They use examples of excellent work – to demonstrate the high standards that the students should be aiming for. This may be by using exemplar work as they are producing the piece of work, or the end product itself.
So, as a science teacher I’ve been thinking about how I can do this more effectively, with my Y10 and Y11 students. One of the skills that students find quite tricky to master in science is writing responses to ‘6 mark long answer questions’ e.g. Describe and explain how forces affect the motion of a falling object. So, last week when looking at these questions, rather than just expecting them to be able to ‘recall and use contextual knowledge’ or ‘plan their answer to ensure coherence and good English’, I modelled the process with them.
- We started with recalling the knowledge that they had to be able to use in order to answer the question – by going back and looking at some of the slides and images we used during the lesson when we were covering that topic.
- It was important to stress the contextual knowledge bit here. In the lesson we spoke about a falling parachutist, but the question was just asking about a falling object. As very few falling objects have a parachute, this part of the explanation wasn’t needed when answering this question.
- Next we spoke about the various command words in the question and what these actually meant e.g. describe – what forces were acting and their relative sizes; explain – how did this affect the motion at that point…and then how did this change the forces?
- Having identified the command words for the question, we then used this prompt diagram to identify an appropriate one minute plan to use:
- As this was the first 6 marker we had done for a while, I then wrote a one minute plan on the board for them – in one minute. Talking them through my thought process as I went on. Once I had completed it, I questioned them about the content of the plan – had I missed anything? Had I made sure that I had describes and explained each stage?
- Now we had the plan, we had to ‘put the meat on it’ – and do so in a coherent way, written in good English. So we took each section of the plan and turned it into sentences, using this connectives sheet to build the sentences into a paragraph:
- Finally we went through and checked for ‘faultless spelling, punctuation and grammar’
Although it took a while, by the end of the process students had an exemplary answer to look at and they understood the process of how it was produced. For the next question, we did the one minute plan together, but they then used it to write their own answer – with some very promising results. As they were working on their responses, this was an opportunity for me to be giving them individual verbal feedback to them about their work – using this strategy. Once they had finished, I had some examples of excellent individual written responses to share with the rest of the class and discuss why they were so good. Next lesson, they’ll try doing the whole process together.
So the mission for us all is quite simple really. Are we modelling what we want our students to do, in such a way that they will be able to do it well themselves, with an increasing degree of independence and excellence?