Effective teacher modelling

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Effective teacher modelling can help to address misconceptions before they arise. Adam Riches advises how teachers can make this approach work in their classrooms

Effective feedback plays a vital role in boosting student progress. However, there is an equally important place for teaching practice that addresses misconceptions before they arise. Measured failure and desirable difficulty are also key parts of learning, but making sure that the difficulty and failure come at the right time is key.

Modelling is a great way to make sure that your teaching has the right levels of success and challenge. Efficient modelling can also drastically reduce your workload outside of the classroom. But how many teachers really think about how they model in class?

In the most simple form, modelling is about seeing before doing and therefore minimising the ambiguity around an outcome. It follows that learning and the application of learning is then streamlined and students are able to effectively mould their own practice around the teacher’s examples.

It is of course a bit more complex than this in practice, especially as subjects vary so much in terms of content and outcomes. However, there are some simple ways to ensure effective modelling.

Live modelling

There is nothing more empowering for a class than seeing their teacher do what is expected of them (and do it really, really well). Live modelling allows students to see how an answer can be formulated. That correlation between thought process and articulation of ideas on paper is often a step that teachers miss – but it is such a powerful tool. Live modelling allows students to see how to formulate a paragraph, an argument or a response. It also allows teachers to question students and get their input. Of course, you have to be confident in your subject knowledge to succeed with this approach – you need to be able to practise what you preach.

Knowing what ‘right’ looks like

Modelling is all about providing a target for students to aspire to. The model you provide needs to be of sufficient quality and so being clear on what the success criteria are is of paramount importance (teaching topics can be tough enough without creating misconceptions from sub-standard modelling). For exam groups, it is always good practice to use exam board exemplars to inform your modelling to ensure that you do not model the wrong thing. At key stage 3, modelling should follow similar criteria to that in key stage 4 – the way in which the information is presented will of course be very different, but the end goal remains the same. Ultimately, consistency in approach is key.

Pre-planning to avoid misconceptions

Regardless of what you are teaching, misconceptions will arise. Making sure that your modelling is planned to “pre-address” common misconceptions means that you do not waste valuable teaching time and that students remain engaged and motivated. Doug Lemov’s tracking model is one way misconceptions can be tracked live within lessons, and his principles for planning for misconceptions during curriculum design are an equally powerful tool (see Teach Like a Champion, 2010).

Modelling is an effective way of avoiding misconceptions altogether. By highlighting common stumbling blocks, you can prepare your lessons and sequences of learning accordingly. A lot of confusion in learning comes during the application and well planned and well timed examples are an effective way of circumnavigating issues – if you see them coming. If you cannot see them and they arise, you can then use live modelling to clear up misunderstanding.

Modelling success and failure

One of the big misconceptions from teachers when it comes to modelling is that it is removing the challenge from tasks if you show the students the outcomes you want. I vehemently contest that.

When I do training on modelling, I often use the analogy of drawing a tree . My instruction is to draw a tree: one person draws a palm tree, one draws an oak, and two draw a tree with no branches. Now I have a problem – all have followed the instruction, but what kind of tree was I expecting? Without a clear model of expectation, how is a student going to do exactly what you want of them?

Of course there are times when you model the intentional opposite; it is not all about showing students exactly what to do, but also what not to do.

Modelling bad responses is also a good way of allowing students to engage with common errors. By highlighting what not to do, teachers are able to teach students what to look out for in their own work. In my subject, English, my favourite is starting creative writing with “The...” . Pupils are in absolute uproar if I ever start any writing with this determiner because it is something they have been conditioned to avoid.

Boxing clever

Modelling is about showing and applying. One big mistake that teachers often make is that they do not allow students to apply the learning from the model in a suitable context. It is futile giving a model and then getting students to simply apply it (perhaps having changed only minor details) – they will just copy blindly. Instead, the stimulus, the input, the quote or the source need to be substituted so that pupils have an opportunity to apply the modelled ideas in a separate and different task.

Removing the scaffolding is something that increases the desirable difficulty and moves tasks much more toward the level of challenge that we know is so necessary for learning. Remember, if we do not increase the level of challenge, we are not effectively modelling.

Effective modelling makes you a better teacher. Models are enablers – they are there to help students see what outcomes could/should look like. It allows your students to engage and succeed and it reduces your workload because common misconceptions are addressed as or before they arise.

Further information & resources

Teach Like a Champion: Doug Lemov’s blog: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/


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