Research School Network: Mastering Modelling

Mastering Modelling

by Durrington Research School
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According to the EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning effective modelling and metacognitive instruction are intrinsically linked, enabling students to transition from novice learners to students capable of independent learning and metacognitive thinking. Subsequently when used appropriately teacher modelling can be highly effective tool, however when used inappropriately it can be a crutch that inhibits learning (Haston, 2007).

Modelling is neither a new or surprising concept in regards to effective instruction, with traditional teaching and learning once accomplished through apprenticeships rather than formal schooling. In apprenticeships learners can see the processes of work, for example a carpenter will teach an apprentice by allowing them to observe their movements and techniques. As such the expert carpenter models his or her craft and in so doing so reveals their expert subject knowledge and skills to the novice apprentice. In formal schooling the art and practice of problem-solving/task completion is not necessarily demonstrated or observable to the students, and it is the norm for too little attention is paid to the reasoning and strategies that expert teachers employ when they solve problems (Collins et al, 1991). Meanwhile in traditional apprenticeships the expert shows the novice how to complete the task and provides feedback by explicitly directing students to monitor and evaluate, until the apprentice/​student can do so alone. While Collins et al (1991) do not advocate a return to full apprenticeships, they do advocate an approach they term cognitive apprenticeships” in which explicit teacher modelling aims to make visible the covert processes of experts.

It must be noted however that modelling is not as simple as showing a student how to complete a task, whether that is hitting a tennis serve or completing a quadratic equation. Schonfield (1985) claims that problem-solving knowledge remains inert for many students, and that many schooled students fail when faced with problems that fall outside patterns they are familiar with, this may be due to a lack of modelling or ineffective modelling they have observed. Effective modelling should enable students to reflect on the processes of task completion and then gradually remove the modelling scaffolding, thus developing independent and highly metacognitive students. The question must be asked then; what constitutes effective modelling and how can we, as teachers, become not only subject experts but also expert modellers?

Live modelling and think-aloud

Simply providing students with a model of a completed task, such as a piece of extended writing created prior to the lessons, is unlikely to have much success or sustained impact on student outcomes. Doing so only acts to simply obscure the processes used by experts during the tasks creation. The EEF clearly state that modelling is more effective when teachers and students are engaged in the task being modelled and the model creation – the model is created in front of students eyes. In this process teachers should be encouraged to think aloud” (Hartman, 2001) verbalising the metacognitive processes undertaken by experts when engaging with a task. It is these regulative processes, such as planning, monitoring and evaluating before, during and after task completion that students are generally unware of. However live modelling and thinking-aloud” is not easy, for one trying to do this while managing a class full of students is challenging, but more importantly as Tanner (2012) notes it can be difficult as a professional to remember a time when we did not think as one and, therefore many of the skills and processes we use when completing tasks become tacit and covert; even to ourselves. If modelling is to be effective than it must make these tacit processes explicit to our novice learners – this means that there should still be a certain amount of preparation to ensure that you have considered all the processes and steps you will need to verbalise/​model to students. Teachers should also consider how they can punctuate their modelling with questioning that ensures students are thinking about their/​your thinking”, using questions such as what am I doing” and what is the reason for doing this?”.

Mastery vs Coping Models

Braamska et al (2002) have conducted research into the effectiveness of different types of modelling. In their research they discuss two types of models – the mastery and coping model. The mastery model performs the task perfectly, demonstrating positive attitudes towards task completion and high levels of confidence. A coping model may be considered slightly more empathetic, showing hesitations and errors in the modelling process but demonstrating a gradual improvement in the quality of work produced by the model. In a study of 214 Dutch students Braamska et al found that there was a correlation between observer-model similar competency and the model effectiveness. As such they suggested that high attaining students may benefit more from focusing on mastery/​better models, whereas weak students may benefit more, in the short term, from observing weak models. They argue that seeing a weaker/​coping model will normalise the struggle they need to engage with them, but also demonstrate the ability to progress beyond this initial difficulty to successful task completion. Importantly they did note that the positive impacts of observing weaker models became less with time, and that both low and high attaining students would begin to benefit from observing strong models and then having the opportunity to do it themselves”. The EEF advocate that providing students with this opportunity to immediately practice the task after demonstration is vitally important.

By Ben Crockett, Research School Associate, Durrington Research School

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