Modelling: how, why and what can go wrong

MELCmodellingThe DHS 2015-16 15 minute forum programme was kicked off tonight, with Andy Tharby talking about modelling.

In his first year of teaching, Andy taught a top set Y11 class.  He worked his socks off for a year, but come the summer, only four of them achieved a grade A.  On reflection he soon realised why – he wasn’t modelling to the students, how they needed to apply their knowledge and skills.  It soon became clear to Andy that modelling is teaching.


Within our six principles of great teaching, modelling is key.  Why?

  1. It sets a benchmark for excellence, by showing students the quality they should be aspiring to.

2.  It makes abstract success criteria concrete.  Simply telling students what the success criteria are, or writing them down can be relatively meaningless for students.  They need to be able to see what they are aiming for.

3. It excavates the thought processes of experts – ‘what to do’ and ‘how to think’ (metacognition).  Modelling our thinking with them, helps them to develop their thinking e.g. by them seeing us overcoming struggles, it makes it OK for them to struggle.

4. It inducts students into academic genres of writing.  Many of our students live in a household where academic language is not routinely used – so we need to model this for them.

How do we do it?

There are two ways to approach modelling:

  • Model the creation of products/procedures – show students how to produce a piece of writing, answer an exam question, make a product, carry out a performance etc from scratch.
  • Deconstruct expert examples and use worked examples – start with the finished product and unpick with students why it is so good.  What are the steps that they would have to go through to produce something similar?


  1.  Live modellingI do, we do, you do.  Start off by producing a product yourself on the board, talking them through the steps you are taking as you do (I do).  Then do another example together – perhaps get them to come up to the board and do it with you, or just question them more to get their input (we do).  Then finally, get them to try it out on their own (you do).  This will feel ‘messy’ initially – especially the ‘I do’ stage.  You may feel pressurised, producing a piece of work ‘live’ in front of your students and you’ll need to think on your feet – especially when you make mistakes (as you will!).  All of this is fine – because you are modelling reality and the way in which we work normally.  You are showing them that struggle is normal!


2.  Comparative modelling – it’s much easier for students to pick out what is good about a piece of work, if they have something not so good to compare it to – so give them a good and a bad example.  See the two examples of a geography piece of writing below.

“There is no absolute judgment. All judgments are comparisons of one thing with another”.

(Human Judgment: The Eye of the Beholder by Donald Laming, p.9).

modelling eg

Model 1 is best, because it contains more examples, a number of discursive markers and subject specific language.  However, this is more obvious, because you can compare it to model 2.

3. Use student exemplars – these can be more powerful, than using examples of ‘products’ that you have produced e.g. a piece of writing produced by an adult with an English degree might actually put them off, because it just feels too unachievable.  However, something produced by their peers seems more achievable.

What are some of the perceived problems with modelling?

1. It limits thinking. If students produce their own work, straight after you have modelled it, there is a risk that they are doing little more than copying.  Avoid this by building in a gap between the example you model and the one that they have to do – so they don’t have to just produce exactly the same product as you.

2. It holds back the more-able.  This doesn’t need to be the case – simply model at a really high level, in order to really challenge the students.

3. It fosters a dependency culture.  Only if you model everything and never slowly take away the scaffolds and let them do it alone.

4. It is used in place of detailed background knowledge. This is a common error e.g. there is no point in modelling how to write a historical essay with students, if they don’t have the historical knowledge in the first instance.  Teach them the knowledge first and then model what to do with it.

no_pptThere is nothing wrong with powerpoint as such – it’s a great way of sharing images etc with students.  However, if you really want to develop your modelling skills, go powerpoint free for a few lessons – you’ll be amazed!  Once you reacquaint yourself with the art of showing students how to construct answers/ writing etc on the board by writing it yourself, you can’t help but improve your modelling skills.




This entry was posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Modelling: how, why and what can go wrong

  1. Pingback: More on modelling… | The Burgate Blog

  2. Reblogged this on David J Terrell and commented:
    When teaching goes beyond the transfer of information you have to get into ‘m o d e l l i n g.’ Have a look at this great blog where Shaun Allison shares ideas and examples including Andy Tharby’s talk.

  3. Sarah Burke says:

    Excellent blog on modelling in the classroom

  4. Luke Harding says:

    Great post. Modelling is the key to real teaching. In English lessons, I project student writing on Word and talk through my thoughts as I alter, improve, rewrite. By the time the students can take over this process, they are vastly improved writers. I think they learn more from this kind of lesson than any other.
    It’s so important for new teachers to understand the difference between ‘live’ modelling and simple demonstration (which is often mistakenly called modelling, but carries almost none of its benefits).
    A really important topic to blog about!

  5. julietgreen says:

    It’s so often forgotten. Teachers strive to explain or give ‘success criteria’ or checklists for success. What pupils and students need is to see what we are talking about. In the old days, UK primary pupils were required to write fiction stories within a short space of time – 40 minutes in the old SATs texts. I was always seething about this, as there are almost no models of these out there in the real world. I used to provide my own ‘cod’ examples, but all the while knowing it was fakery. It never stops being useful, either. I recently took a Master’s degree where it was just assumed we all knew what a dissertation was like. I was very grateful to the Internet for the models I could find, just to know that I was on the right lines.

  6. Pingback: The power of comparison | Reflecting English

  7. Pingback: INSET Day 7/10/15 – Learning & Teaching Magpie

  8. Pingback: Models and Modelling – Learning & Teaching Magpie

  9. Pingback: Stop disadvantaging the disadvantaged // Some practical tips for teaching & learning. | @mrocallaghan_edu

  10. Reblogged this on Design Technology & Engineering Teaching Resources and commented:
    Modelling: how, why and what can go wrong…

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