Effective Modeling: 4 Key Components

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It’s now widely recognized that teachers must teach students the routines of the classroom. This is actually a shift. Years ago, it was often just assumed that kids should know how to walk respectfully in the halls, get supplies and move around the room efficiently, and work cooperatively in groups. Now, there are hundreds of articles and books that emphasize the importance of teaching students how to maneuver throughout the school day effectively, especially in the beginning of the year.

This article is a bit different–it focuses on a process for how to teach routines (as well as straightforward academic and social-emotional skills): effective modeling.

According to research summarized by John Hattie, it is important for learners to view skills demonstrated by a competent individual. Students should also be active, having a chance to practice with coaching (Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, p. 73). So, in order for modeling to be effective, it must go beyond a teacher simply demonstrating what to do (where learners are passive). It must also involve more than students sharing ideas for what to do (since the ideas may be disjointed or conflicting and therefore confusing). Effective modeling incorporates viewing, reflecting, and practice–all in a short amount of time.

When modeling a skill with students, consider four key components:

  • Goal Statement: What are you modeling, and why? State this clearly, briefly, and in terms that resonate with the learner(s).
  • Demonstration: Someone who is highly skilled in the behavior or skill (either an adult or student) should demonstrate, giving a strong, simple and positive example.
  • Reflection: Learners should reflect on the modeling. What did they see? What worked? Learners may reflect individually, with partners or groups, or as a whole class.
  • Practice: Learners should immediately get to try the skill or task being learned while receiving feedback.

Though these four components should nearly always be used, the order and number of times each is needed may vary. I recommend always beginning with a clear goal statement and then a demonstration. After that, consider how to best meet the learning needs of your students. Their age and experience with the skill is important to consider, as is the complexity of the skill itself. Here are two examples that show how you might model two different skills to two different age groups.

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Though effective modeling is an especially important part of the first weeks of school, we can model skills all year long using these four key components. We might model reading strategies, math algorithms, science experiments, revision strategies, presentation skills, art techniques, and so much more.

I don’t normally recommend that teachers have students choose their own partners, but if you decide to do this, modeling is a great way to set students up for success. To see an amazing video of a highly skilled teacher doing just this, check out how Michelle Gill uses effective modeling as part of her teaching of this challenging skill.

Let’s finish with a few quick tips for modeling well.

  • Keep planning simple. Be careful not to over-plan. If we take 15 minutes to plan every 5-minute modeling session, we’ll burn out pretty quickly.
  • Focus on the first two components. When working with teachers, I encourage them to write out, word for word, their initial goal statement to make sure it’s really clear. Then, I encourage them to make sure they know just how they’re going to demonstrate the skill or routine. (When we make these parts up as we go, we often miss key ideas or accidentally model something we don’t want students to do.)
  • When demonstrating, don’t narrate. Students should be watching to see what they notice about the demonstration. If you explain what you’re doing as you demonstrate, you rob students of the chance to do the thinking.
  • Keep modeling sessions brief. For simple routines, 3 minutes may be all that’s needed. Be careful not to overdo modeling–it can be boring or feel condescending.
  • Don’t model what not to do. Though this might elicit a chuckle from students, I recommend not doing this. (I know that some programs and approaches recommend doing this. Still–don’t do it.) Especially for students with processing or attention challenges or students who are acquiring a new language, the modeling of what not to do can be really confusing. Find other ways to be playful and to have fun with students.
  • Plan on remodeling again. And again. And again. No matter how well you model something, many students will need a reminder sometime soon. Be ready to remodel, perhaps in an abbreviated session, in the next few days to make sure everyone remembers what to do. By the way, be ready to remodel many routines and skills around the holidays and toward the end of the year as well!

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  • Mike Anderson

    Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including The Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.

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    Leading Great Learning

    Mike Anderson is an energetic, experienced, and highly sought-after educational consultant who helps facilitate great learning in schools all over the United States and beyond. He has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, consultant, presenter, and developer and has authored many books and articles about great teaching and learning.