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Aurora Institute

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Modeling

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

LettersThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 19, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Modeling, or making thinking around behavior, concepts, and skills explicit, is one of the most powerful instructional strategies an educator can use. It is also one of the hardest, especially when it comes to those skills and processes we, as adults, have internalized. These three tips are great way to grow your modeling skills:

Plan it Out

First, identify exactly what it is that needs to be modeled. Is it a behavior? Is it a physical skill? Is it a cognitive skill? Whatever it is, be sure to name it. I might decide that my students need to see a model of someone adding to a conversation, so that is what I will call the skill: adding to a conversation. Next, I am going to think about all the times I have done whatever it is I am modeling and break it down into super-obvious steps. This part can be hard, so take all the time you need and don’t be afraid to revise the steps! So for “adding to a conversation” I might come up with these steps:

  • listen to get an understanding of the topic and people’s thoughts
  • wait for a pause in the conversation flow
  • physically turn towards the person I want to address first
  • use a phrase to enter the conversation before sharing my thoughts, such as…
    • yes, and…
    • I have always thought that…
    • that is a great point…
    • well, I wonder about ……..
    • pardon me, I just heard you talking about…

Once you have the steps on paper, now it is time to plan your modeling lesson. I recommend creating a cheat sheet for yourself to use in front of the students. Think of it as your script. Modeling is a bit like acting after all, or a rehearsed play-by-play.

Make it Look Hard

A common pitfall of modeling is making it look perfect. Remember that our students are still learning these skills and behaviors, and we tend to model for our student early on in the learning process. Not only do students need a model of what the intended behavior or skill looks like, they also need a model of what it looks like to learn. Giving our students a messy model makes it easier for them to be messy learners. They can see themselves in the modeling more easily when it is not smooth and perfect. Consider including pauses where you talk through possible choices, or revise as you go. Cross ideas out, comment about your own thinking. You may even notice that the students start trying to talk you through your own modeling!

Let Students Practice

Once students see the model, give them time to practice. This might look like a quick moment right then and there to try it out. It might look like sending them off to practice for a while on their own or with partners. It might look like a more formal group doing. What matters most is that the learners are given an opportunity to practice very shortly after the teacher models. It also matters that they get immediate feedback. Help students notice when they are doing it right as well as when they need to adjust.

Here are some videos of educators who have modeling down:

Painting a Tree

Making Guacamole

Tying a Bowtie

Perspective and Point of View

Do you have something you would like to model for your students? Reach out, I’m here for you. Maybe I can come model modeling!

See also: