The Art of Modelling (in the classroom)

First posted on Tales From The Reach on 17 May 2018.

Modelling is an essential aspect of teaching and learning.  At its most basic, modelling is when a teacher demonstrates how to complete a piece of work, action or approach to learning whilst pupils observe.

Importantly, psychological research shows that modelling impacts on learners in a positive way. For instance, in the 1970s Albert Bandura claimed that “learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do”. He came to this conclusion after completing numerous studies on how skills and behaviours are often learnt by observing others. Bandura’s evidence includes his notorious Bobo Doll experiment (not the sort of modelling evident in our schools, thankfully).

Moreover, educational psychologists have found that “direct instruction” strategies, which include modelling, have far more impact on learning than “facilitating” teaching methods, which were somewhat in vogue five to ten years ago. Although there are times when facilitated group work or project work is relevant to the pupils’ learning, there now seems to be a growing consensus that direct instruction has a more immediate impact on learning. For instance, John Hattie found that the average effect size for strategies where the teacher acted as an “activator”, including the active modelling of learning, was 0.6, whereas teaching strategies involving the teacher as a “facilitator” stood at 0.17, which is significant as 0 is seen as having little effect on learning and 1 as having a strong effect. For more on the link between direct instruction and modelling on learning, please see Matt Bromley’s article in SecEd (click here).

To help us model answers and activities better, teacher and author John Tharby identifies five straight forward strategies that allow for high-quality modelling. The five strategies include:

  1. Live Modelling: demonstrating how to solve a problem, scripting a text at the front of the class, using subject-specific academic language in context etc.
  2. Showing empathy: making deliberate mistakes whilst modelling, addressing misconceptions and/or demonstrating your own frustrations with challenge and difficulty so that pupils can see that stretching their academic ability is not plain sailing.
  3. Punctuate with questions: stop pupils’ from becoming passive and keep their learning active by targeting them with “hands down” questions etc. This could include closed questions or pose, pause, pounce, bounce.
  4. Use multiple exemplars: giving pupils different exemplars to illustrate how – in some subjects – questions can be answered in various ways.
  5. Don’t overdo it: Tharby warns that modelling could lead to a dependency culture if used all the time; remember, pupils still need to think for themselves from time to time!

For a better explanation of this, see Tharby’s blog for the TES (click here). He has also written an excellent book, called Every Lesson Counts, with Shaun Allison that outlines what outstanding modelling looks like.

Furthermore, our very own Faizah Awan demonstrated how modelling can be used effectively during our April INSET. She suggested that it is useful to share a pupil friendly mark scheme, rubric or progress grid to scaffold the modelling, especially if you are using written text. The example below illustrates Faizah’s progress grid; this grid will be explained to pupils so that they can use it to analyse the modelled answers.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 16.05.06Pupils then read a modelled exemplar answer (see below). Whilst reading they need to use the progress grid, check for any SPaG mistakes and then evaluate the strengths and weaknesses through a “what went well” and an “even better if”. This prevents passivity when reading and gets them to actively think about the text. This is similar to Doug Lemov’s emphasis on ‘thinking ratios’ in Teach Like a Champion.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 18.36.31Pupils then read another exemplar (see below). As previously, they need to use the progress grid, check for any SPaG mistakes and then evaluate the strengths and weaknesses through a “what went well” and an “even better if”. Importantly, they can then compare and contrast the answers to see the difference between levels of response, such as a GCSE grade 4 or grade 6. This also allows the pupils to see how questions may be answered in various ways, as suggested by Andy Tharby above.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 16.05.44Finally, pupils can attempt their own answers. Faizah scaffolds this for pupils so they know how to construct the answer and the expectations required to complete it well (see below). This process of modelling, scaffolding and then independent work is, I am sure you will agree, pretty thorough.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 16.05.53.pngAlthough the ideas presented by Faizah are for 12 mark evaluation questions in history, I am sure the ideas outlined in this blog can be adapted in different ways to all subjects, including MfL, maths and PE, amongst others.

Featured image from Max Pixel and used under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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