Research School Network: Modelling regains its mojo! Modelling is back where it belongs, at the heart of great teaching and learning, says Andy Brumby

Modelling regains its mojo!

Modelling is back where it belongs, at the heart of great teaching and learning, says Andy Brumby

by Kingsbridge Research School
on the

‘Great modelling allows students to see the ‘moves’ an expert makes and allows us to make our expectations clear, distinct and, most importantly, achievable.’

The Apprentice

One of my earliest memories is of my dad, a joiner by trade, patiently showing me how to hammer a nail into a piece of wood without bending the nail or damaging the wood, the hammer or myself! I remember him talking to me as he performed this skill, gently explaining why he hit the head of the nail softly at first and then harder as its point began to disappear into the timber. This example of apprenticeship from more than 50 years ago – including my novitiate efforts to copy the master – remains vividly fixed in my memory. To be shown how to do something by an expert (and then attempt to emulate it) is a powerful and fundamental learning experience.

All teachers use modelling to some extent. The most effective teachers—like a master craftsman working with their novice apprentice—are aware of their expertise and of how to reveal their skills to learners.

The Holy Trinity’

As a teacher and school leader I have always considered modelling, along with effective questioning and feedback, to be part of the holy trinity of great teaching and learning. Over many years I have been privileged to visit hundreds of classrooms and marvel at the ways in which highly skilled practitioners use these three aspects of pedagogy – on their own and in combination – to such great effect, whether in an Early Years or a Sixth form setting, whether in science, music, geography or P.E.

The Missing Link?

Of the three mighty aspects of pedagogy listed above, it is perhaps modelling, though, that has most often been missing from lessons in recent times. What happened to this pedagogic giant? Did it go out of fashion as teachers were urged to become the guide on the side’ rather the sage on the stage’? Were its purposes misunderstood in ways that led to it being associated with passivity’ and mindless copying’ of the teacher’s examples? Was it that teachers became wary of assuming the mantle of the expert or thinking of their pupils as novices? Perhaps teachers, including me, just had too much to get through’ if they were going to cover everything’ they were supposed to! Whatever the reason(s), modelling seemed- at least, for a while – to have lost something of its position of prominence, its pedagogic mojo.

To move from novice to expert, our pupils need to know how an expert athlete, artist, historian, or scientist habitually thinks and acts. We need to make these largely implicit processes explicit to our novice learners.

The Renaissance

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But perhaps all that is about to change. Some interesting and thought-provoking articles from Andy Tharby, along with the publication of the EEF’s Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report (2018), have put modelling firmly back in the spotlight. According to Tharby, modelling is the bit in the middle. It is the teaching stage that comes between the teacher’s explanation of a task or procedure and student practice. It is also the stage that is so often left out or not given enough attention by teachers.’ Without modelling, he goes on to say, many pupils are left rudderless and at sea. They have little conception of what the final product, the goal, should look like, and they do not understand the small steps they need to go through to achieve success. Inevitably, without models their thinking – and subsequent work – becomes patchy and filled with avoidable errors. Ultimately, modelling brings greater clarity.’

Modelling also features as the third step in the EEF’s seven-step model for teaching metacognitive strategies (see above), coming after activation of prior learning (step 1) and explicit strategy instruction (step 2) and before memorisation of the strategy (step 4) and guided and independent practice (steps 5 and 6). Ultimately, we are reminded, the purpose of modelling is to help novice pupils become more capable of learning independently and thinking metacognitively. The modelling process involves teachers making gradual changes in support. Initially, scaffolding such as direct modelling and support from the teacher, is necessary, but as guided practice moves to independent practice, teacher input will change to monitoring and intervening only when necessary.’

Modelling methods and techniques

As the EEF’s Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report reminds us, modelling takes different forms in different subjects. In mathematics, for example, a teacher might start by sharing a completed worked example of multiplying fractions before going on to look more closely at the steps involved in working out the solution. Following this step-by-step modelling, the teacher gradually removes the scaffold, getting pupils to attempt a partially completed equation.

In PE, while teaching young pupils how to perform a forward roll safely, a teacher might talk through her actions as she demonstrates:

‘I don’t want to hurt my neck and want to do this neatly. So first, to protect my neck, I need to tuck my chin to chest like this. Then when I start to roll, I remember not to roll onto my head. Instead, look how I’m going to roll onto my back and shoulders. This also means my back is round, so I can smoothly roll like this. Now, who can remember what I did first to protect my neck?’ - EEF

I do – We do – You do

One very powerful strategy for modelling which is currently having some traction in schools is the I do – We do – You do’ model. Andy Tharby describes this as a simple apprenticeship model, in which the teacher passes over their expertise to the student in a series of staged, scaffolded steps.’ It fits very well with steps 3 to 6 of the EEF’s model for teaching metacognitive strategies

- I do it first.
- We do it together.
- You do it on your own.

In the I do’ stage the teacher models the skill without input from pupils, sharing her thoughts out loud as she takes them step-by-step through the relevant skill or procedure. This could be doing a forward roll, writing a paragraph or playing a sequence of chords.

In the We do’ stage the teacher and pupils work collaboratively to construct a modelled example together, this time with questions, input, ideas and suggestions from pupils as well as the teacher. It may be necessary to repeat this stage of the modelling many times (using different examples) before pupils are ready to move onto the next stage.

In the I do’ stage pupils finally begin to work independently with the teacher in the background ready to offer support to individuals who need it. Pupils may still need scaffolding such as sentence starters or visual access to the previous worked examples. The teacher’s role at this stage is to carefully monitor how much scaffolding needs to be kept or removed to enable pupils to progress. Deciding when to remove scaffolding requires artistry, and trainees and new teachers are likely to benefit from seeing this aspect of modelling modelled by expert practitioner.

Modelling is back

Yes, modelling is back. Back where it belongs at the heart of great teaching and learning.

It is back to reveal and make explicit the hidden thinking of experts; to vividly demonstrate and break down step-by-step procedures and skills; and to provide examples of excellence for pupils to emulate.

Andy Brumby is co-Director of Cornwall Associate Research School, part of the EEF Research Schools Network.


Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report (2018) – EEF

Everyday modelling by Andy Tharby

I, We, You – a Simple Approach to Modelling by Andy Tharby‑we-you-a-simple-approach-to-modelling/

Photo by Andy Barton from FreeImages

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