Explicit Instruction: Modeling

In a systematic review of the literature, Hughes, Morris, Therrien, and Benson (2017) reviewed 86 studies and determined that explicit instruction has 5 Pillars. The first pillar is segmenting complex skills. The second pillar is large, so I divided it up into two posts, think-alouds (teacher talk) and modeling.

In order for modeling to be effective, a teacher must have their teacher-talk down pat. As we are communicating our model, our language must be concise, clear, and strategically repetitive. Being concise is essential because our students are novices and do not have a well-developed schema. Being concise saves their working memory for the content of our course and the repetition helps ensure the content is integrated into their schema. However, concise-ity alone is not all we need. 

We must pair our conciseness with clarity. To speak clearly you ought to plan ahead, avoid ambiguity, and use proper grammar. In addition, be careful with figurative language. If you must use it, and it’s quite likely that you must, explicitly explain the figurative phrases to your students. 

Modeling

Modeling is one of the most efficient ways to learn new skills or knowledge (Bandura, 1986). At its most basic, modeling helps students learn skills, procedures, or behaviors through observation rather than through direct experience (Salisu & Ransom, 2014).

Modeling is important because it increases access to the curriculum. When we leave modeling out of our instruction, less students will be able to acquire and apply complex comprehension strategies (Fielding & Pearson, 1994).

When to Model

Modeling has been found to be particularly useful for well-structured tasks. These are tasks that can easily be broken down into component steps. Math is the most obvious example, you have a standard algorithm to follow that can be broken down into smaller sub-steps.

Less-structured tasks are tasks that cannot be easily broken down into sub-steps. As a result, these tasks are seen as higher-leveled. Modeling with less structured tasks is likely to be more difficult and less effective because, in order to succeed, students will need to pull knowledge and skills from a variety of areas. 

How to Model

Before you start modeling a concept or skill, bring your students’ background knowledge to mind. This can be done through review, sharing an image or video, etc. I am partial to using a combination of choral response and think-pair-share as a way to bring background knowledge to mind. By having students think about what they already know, you are making it easier for them to integrate the new knowledge into their existing schema and allowing students to move forward with the least amount of confusion.

When we are modeling a concept or skill for our students, we should make it as short and simple as possible. Only include what is important, don’t go down the rabbit hole. Interesting asides can wait. In addition, check for understanding throughout the modeling process. Even if you have your teacher talk down pat and have a well planned model, don’t assume that you can just run through the model once and have your students understand. Even with the most precise, perfect model, you still need to break it down into small steps and check for understanding.

Steps to Modeling

  1. Bring background knowledge to mind
  2. Make each step of your modeling short and simple
  3. Check for understanding between the steps
  4. Give students guided practice with feedback

Modeling Behavior

Disposition Modeling: When done well, this helps convey personal values and thought processes. By modeling a disposition, we are often able to make abstract rules and expectations more concrete.

To model dispositions we can simply explain and act out what we feel or think when a student is misbehaving. It is very important to note that this is not done with a condescending tone. It is done to help students understand the expectations, not to shame or let off some frustrated steam.

Educational Modeling

As far as education goes, there are many different types of modeling.

Meta-Cognitive Modeling: This is the classic think-aloud. Teachers talk through their own thought process and intentionally make the implicit steps explicit. This is particularly useful for teaching students how to interpret information, analyze concepts, and draw conclusions.

Modeling as Scaffolding: This takes into account where individual students are in the learning process. This type of modeling is the most difficult, because different students have different levels of knowledge and differing knowledge gaps. So, in order to model as scaffolding, a teacher must not only know the curriculum inside and out, he or she must also know their students.

In order to scaffold effectively, it is useful to think about where you expect students to struggle. Ask yourself, “What makes this concept difficult? Will my students lack the necessary background knowledge?” 

This planning helps in at least four ways.
1. If your students lack the necessary background knowledge, give it to children so that they have a chance to understand the model and concept you are trying to teach.
2.  It reduces your stress levels. If you have additional explanations and models at the ready, you will not be racking your brain for an example to give a student in the middle of class.
3. By preplanning additional models or supplementary explanations, you will likely help your struggling students understand the materials better.
4. You may even find that all your students benefit from the additional models and explanations. When this is the case, everyone’s’ life is easier (teacher & students) because more students understand from your teaching (whole class scaffolding) and less students need customized help, improving class flow and learning.

Task and Performance Modeling: In this, the teacher demonstrates a task to students before they do it on their own. This is the type of modeling that teachers most often used in a preplanned manner.

For complex processes like the scientific method or writing, it will likely be best to break down your modeling rather significantly by teaching one step per lesson. 

For example, I have tried to teach students how to form a hypothesis in one day, and the results have never really been pretty. The reason for this is that making a hypothesis involves many sub-steps including: observations, inferences, background knowledge, and asking scientific questions. Each of these sub-steps is relatively complicated by itself, let alone when you combine them! When students new to the scientific method try to apply all those steps at once, they experience cognitive overload. And, even if they follow the steps correctly, they are unlikely to remember how to use the scientific method the next day.

When dealing with complex material, students need to be exposed to one idea at a time. They do not yet have a developed schema with which to hold all this information. We need to remember this, and to build their schemas over time, they need to know and understand each sub-step. And, as we teach, we build on the previously learned material.

So, after learning from my own teaching failures, I have changed how I teach complex skills. Now, when I teach the scientific method to 5th or 6th grade students, I will generally start by teaching observations and inferences. We spend nearly a full lesson on this. After my students understand both observations and inferences, I will then teach them how to transfer that knowledge into a hypothesis.

In strategically breaking down my model of the scientific method into multiple days by focusing on one sub-step at a time, I have initially made the choice to cover less content. I have found that this approach pays dividends quickly and repeatedly. Now, my students better understand the complex process that is the scientific method. In addition, their better understanding allows for us to move through the content more quickly, which also gives us more time to go deeper.

Sometimes less leads to more.

Other blogposts in this series.

  1. What is Explicit Instruction?
  2. Explicit Instruction: Segmenting Complex Skills
  3. Explicit Instruction: Teacher Talk and Equity
  4. Explicit Instruction: Modeling
  5. Explicit Instruction: Concreteness Fading

Sources

Bandura A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fialding, L. G., & Pearson, P. D. (1994). Synthesis of research reading comprehension: What works. Educational leadership, 51, 62-62.

Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. R., Therrien, W. J., & Benson, S. K. (2017). Explicit Instruction: Historical and Contemporary Contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 32(3), 140–148. doi: 10.1111/ldrp.12142

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., & Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching Students to Generate Questions: A Review of the Intervention Studies. Review of Educational Research, 66(2), 181-221. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1170607

Salisu, A., & Ransom, E. N. (2014). The Role of Modeling towards Impacting Quality Education. International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, 32, 54–61. doi: 10.18052/www.scipress.com/ilshs.32.54