In my 17 years of teaching, I’ve often wrestled with the concept of modelling. While I want my students to understand how to do what is being asked of them, does modelling steal the thinking from them? If I show my students how to do something through modelling the skill, will they get stuck in their thinking? Will they be unable to find other ways to solve the problem? I worry that when I model a new skill or activity, my students will simply regurgitate what I showcased in the work they complete and turn in, and where’s the learning in that? But, and of course there’s always a but, what if I don’t model or properly explain a new skill or activity? Will the students be too perplexed or lost to effectively showcase their learning? If I don’t show them what to do and how to do it, will they be able do it? Is there a balance in modelling new skills and activities for students in the classroom so that they know what to do but are still able to demonstrate their own, original thoughts and learning?
I’m not sure if I have the exact answer because, as all teachers know, every student is different. What works for one student may not work for another. The method that I’ve had luck with recently is the I do, We do, You do approach to modelling a new skill in the classroom. I start by engaging the students in a discussion regarding the purpose of the new skill they will be learning. I want them to always understand the why of everything we do in the classroom. Relevance is a huge part of ownership in the class for our students, according to research on learning and the brain. I then briefly model the new skill with help from the students, combining the I do and We do steps so that they are actively engaged in the modelling and not passive watchers. I then provide the students with an opportunity to practice the new skill in the You do step. During this part of the lesson or activity, I observe the students and provide feedback to each of them on their progress and ability to utilize the new skill. I then close the lesson by reviewing the big ideas and concepts covered by this new skill learned. This method seems to be the most effective for me in the classroom. While I still do need to differentiate my instruction a bit during the You do phase for a few of my students, it does work for the majority of my students. The You do step is structured in such a way that I’m able to provide extra assistance and help to those students who need it.
Yesterday in my study skills class, I introduced the two-column note taking system to the boys. I began the lesson with a few discussion questions. What are two-column notes? What purpose do they serve? I wanted to be sure the students understood why they were learning this particular method of taking notes. I explained to them how this is the most common form of notetaking used in the other grades at our school. This is a key skill they will need to have in their academic toolbelt in order to be successful students next year and beyond. They all seemed to understand my explanation. I then walked the students through the skill itself. I had them set up their lined sheet of paper with the proper heading as I had done on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. I asked a student volunteer to tell me the first step in organizing the paper for two-column notes, as I wanted to be sure that my students were actively engaged in the learning process. After drawing the line on the board as they drew the line on their paper, I called on various students to determine the importance of information in a passage on the Boreal Forest before paraphrasing it for our notes. As the students paraphrased the information, I wrote it onto the board and instructed the students to copy it onto their notes. My co-teacher wondered around the classroom, helping those students who needed more guidance and support. I then asked other students to tell me if the information paraphrased was effectively paraphrased to be sure that the students understood this skill discussed earlier in the week. After going through three sentences together as a class, I had the students complete the remainder of the passage on their own. As the boys worked, my co-teacher and I helped those students who needed extra scaffolding and provided feedback to those students who were completing it effectively on their own. By the end of the period, it was clear that every student in the class had a pretty firm grasp of how to effectively complete two-column notes using expository research.
Did yesterday’s lesson go so well because there were two teachers in the classroom to help monitor the progress of the students? Perhaps. I do think that effective co-teaching makes a huge difference in how our students are able to practice new skills. If one of us is modelling at the front of the classroom, the other is able to observe the students, and help those struggling students as needed, not slowing down the overall pace of the lesson. With just one teacher in the classroom, lessons go much slower to allow for help, questions, and differentiation. This prevents the high functioning students from being effectively challenged. Co-teaching is a great model for teaching a diverse population of students. I also feel as though the method of modelling we utilize in the sixth grade classroom helps to support and challenge all of our students. Those boys who learn quickly are able to see the skill modelled a few times and then try it out on their own, while those students who need more help, are able to receive it during the practice stage of the process. Having the students help me complete the I do step of the process also allows for more engagement in the classroom. By cold-calling on the students throughout the modelling process, I can ensure that they actively engaged in the lesson and learning the material. Every part of this modelling process helps to make sure that I’m not stealing the thinking or creativity from the students while also making sure that they understand what is being asked of them. So, to answer the question posed in my title, Yes, I do feel as though effective modelling is the right approach to the instruction of a new skill. The learning process needs to be active and more of a two-way dialogue, not simply direct-instruction from the teacher. When done well, modelling helps engage, challenge, and support students in the learning process.