I, We, You – A Simple Approach To Modelling

By Andy Tharby

Modelling is the bit in the middle. It is the teaching stage that comes between the teacher’s explanation of a task or procedure and student practice. It is also the stage that is so often left out or not given enough attention by teachers. Modelling has a number of purposes: to lift the veil on hidden thinking; to demonstrate and break down step-by-step procedures; and to provide excellent examples for students to emulate.

Without careful modelling, many students are left feeling rudderless and all at sea. They have little conception of what the final product, the goal, should look like, and they do not understand the small steps they need to go through to achieve success. Inevitably, without models their thinking – and subsequent work – becomes patchy and filled with avoidable errors. Ultimately, modelling brings greater clarity.

What is less clear, however, is the best way to encourage and train teachers to become better at modelling. We know we should be modelling as often as we can – but when, and how?

We have tried a number of approaches at Durrington, but the one that has had the most traction with teachers and students has been the simple I-We-You approach:

  • I do it first.
  • We do it together.
  • You do it on your own.

It is a very simple apprenticeship model, in which the teacher passes over their expertise to the student in a series of staged, scaffolded steps. It also dovetails perfectly with what education research tells about effective teaching – see Rosenshine’s Priniciples of Instruction, for instance, or the research on the need to reduce cognitive load.

  • The I-stage involves the teacher demonstrating to the class how to perform a task or procedure. This might be writing a paragraph, solving an equation or serving a tennis ball. This could take the form of a ‘live-model’ – when the teacher uses a visualiser, the board or a physical demonstration to talk their students through a new procedure. A pre-written worked-example is another option – these are especially useful when they are labelled with the steps students should go through. Models should always be deconstructed in the first instance.
  • The We-stage involves joint construction. In this step, students encounter a second problem which has the same deep-structure as the first problem (that covered in the Istage) but with different surface features. For example, an equation that needs to be solved through the same procedure, or a paragraph about a slightly different topic that requires students to use the same strategy. In the We-stage, teachers and students collaborate on the building of a second example, usually through questioning and dialogue.
  • The Youstage involves independent practice. This means that the students work alone on a third, similar problem. This might be a partially completed problem or task – perhaps they are given sentence starters or some of the steps are already done for them. Another approach is to ensure that the original model or worked example remains visible to remind them of the steps they need to take. At this stage, the teacher might be quietly intervening with individual students who need extra support. The You-stage should not be considered to be analogous with exam-conditions; instead, it is about withdrawing, or fading, some level of support, rather than removing it altogether.

This has been a very simple overview of the I-We-You model. It is important to keep it a flexible and adaptable model of teaching – sometimes classes might need repeated ‘we’ modelling, sometimes you might need to stop the independent practice and go back to the starting blocks.

This form of modelling does come with its own pitfalls and can lead to misunderstandings among teachers. For instance:

  1. It’s important to remember that the goal of this kind of modelling is to introduce new procedures in a gradual, incremental way so that, eventually, students can apply them to new and novel scenarios. The You-stage, therefore, is the most important – and it needs to be repeated regularly. If this does not occur, then students will learn the examples – i.e. what the teacher  wrote – but will not know how to (or that they need to) use the procedure in new situations. The goal of modelling should always be that students learn to independently transfer the procedure to new contexts.

2. Removing scaffolding is part of the artistry of teaching. Remove too quickly and students will not be ready and will miss out vital steps. Remove too slowly and you might cause learned helplessness, which occurs when students become too reliant on the scaffold and struggle to work independently.

3. Lack of reflection. It’s important to think through and talk through the effectiveness of the strategy with the group. Useful questions include: What worked well? What did you find hard? How would you approach it differently next time?

4. Modelling is no substitute for knowledge. This is especially the case when modelling writing. Students always need a handle on the subject they are writing about before attempting more difficult writing tasks.

We have found the I-We-You approach to be a useful way into modelling with many teachers. We urge you to try it out for yourself.

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