By Andy Tharby
Modelling is such a vital element of effective teaching. To learn how to do something, students need to watch and listen to experts as they guide them through the process, step by step, before they make an attempt themselves. This also works in reverse through deconstruction. Students start by seeing an example of an end product and work backwards from there, carefully identifying and dissecting the stages and parts that, together, contribute to its overall quality and accuracy.
However, modelling is often a step that is left out the teaching sequence, with teachers too quick to move from explaining a fact, concept or procedure to letting students practise this for themselves. This can lead to misconceptions and the development of poor habits – of work and of mind. Great modelling sheds light on the invisible, and allows students to see the way that the parts join together into a whole. Great modelling allows students to see the ‘moves’ an expert makes and allows us to make our expectations clear, distinct and, most importantly, achievable.
In this post, we will look at a three simple strategies that teachers can use in their day-to-day practice to improve the quality of modelling.
Live modelling is performing a procedure – be it scripting a text, solving a problem or kicking a football – at the front of the class, often with the help of students. It is a messy and stop-start affair which mirrors the thinking processes that support independent writing. Your students see you, an expert writer, in your subject domain, modelling the decision-making process that leads to a successful piece of work. Many unconscious habits can then be made explicit to students who may never have thought in this way before. The final product then acts as an exemplar for students to emulate in their own work.
There are some advantages to designing models prior to lessons – the ‘Here’s one I made earlier’ approach. Although students will not witness real-time construction you have more time to fine-tune the model and prepare accompanying questions and explanations in advance. A teacher-generated model has the benefit of being bespoke. You can design it to perfectly match the needs of the class with the assessment criteria. You can model a whole product or you can micro-model a key part of the product. Be sure to take the time to analyse and deconstruct these exemplars; you should aim to explain very carefully the procedure or strategy that helped you to create the product in incremental steps.
Departments would be wise design their own set of labelled models (or worked-examples) to set the standard for all students in the subject. If these are clearly labelled with the steps and success points, students can study these wherever they are, and use them as springboards for their own work.
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 I–stage) 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 You–stage 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.
And finally. Be sure to read this excellent post by Ben Crocket on the Durrington Research school website for more ideas on ‘thinking aloud’ and ‘mastery vs coping’ models.