How I’ve changed my approach to…. modelling

Each week I attempt to read an academic article or book chapter in one of our learning centers, modelling to our students that I am also learning and working rather than hiding in an office. This week, I read Beliner’s 2004 paper on the development of expert teachers and, whilst there are limitations to the work, this has resulted in reflections on my own journey from novice teacher to being proficient. The diagram below describes the heuristic model of teacher development. 

This reading led me to reflect on how I used to do things and how I do them now. This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts that describe how my practice has changed. I should add that I’ve always tended to ignore any directive to teach in a certain way.

This post will focus upon modelling, a key aspect of a teacher’s toolbox and something that I have always done. Shaun Allison gives some eloquent reasoning behind why we should model and it is undoubtedly important. Indeed, from working with trainee and new teachers, it’s clear that modelling is one aspect of practice that is either absent or not done effectively. In this example, I use a recent geography lesson within the curriculum context of economic development where we revisited and developed the skill of identifying and describing patterns. This was followed by retrieving knowledge in order to explain the patterns, although that part of the lesson is not described here. 

The activity above was given to students and they had 5 minutes in which to write a response. 

What I used to do:  After the time is up: Provide a pre-typed, model response on a PowerPoint slide. I spent some time discussing and then moved on after giving a mnemonic (such as GCSE or PEE).

What I do now: During the 5 minutes, I also answer the question, handwritten. When the time is up:

  1. I don’t share my work straight away but then work through my thinking. The curse of knowledge means that it’s easy for me to assume that spotting patterns, rather than giving a list, is easy.

I therefore draw on the resource, modelling using the key and classifying the countries. I add in the lines of latitude (demonstrating how to approximately position them). Then, through targeted Q&A I ask the class to revise their own answers at this point. 

2. I then write the two paragraphs needed, using a visulaiser. This is important as legible handwriting is vital for written examinations and, no matter what we think or feel, a student who is unable to legibly and coherently share their knowledge and demonstrate skills isn’t going to do very well come exam time. 

It’s important to note that I don’t share a scaffold or sentence starters here. This is because the group is in Year 10 and I would expect them to be able to write these, having encountered many similar problems in the past.

We write the two paragraphs together (to save the reader issues, I’ve typed the answers here)

This opportunity allows me to demonstrate how to overcome the common pitfalls:

  • Students often start to explain the pattern. This is in the follow up question and not part of this question. This is a key part of exam literacy. 
  • Students often simply list countries or continents and fail to describe the overall pattern.
  • To gain full marks, data must be used and the question covered in full.
  • Some students find difficulty in interpreting the key

It should be noted that the style of response will vary according to some examination boards.

3. Students look at their own answers and self assess then peer assess. This is part of a routine. They have the opportunity to change their answer and then, stick a copy of their map next to their answer.

4. Most importantly, I follow this up with an opportunity to practice on similar problems both within the lesson and at home. I then follow up with a similar, unseen example at a later date. 

5. We then move on to looking at the reasons behind the pattern, an aspect where this particular class are strong at. In the past I would not have taken in to account the class context when planning this particular sequence of learning.  I won;t consider this skill mastered until each individual demonstrates this on several separate occasions. 

This approach does take more time but it does mean that a crucial geographical skills is well developed and understood. This particular skill can account for almost 10% of the final GCSE mark and, from my knowledge of the class, needed attention. In a similar Year 11 lesson, we worked on how to refer to place specific detail in an essay answer, again through modelling in a similar way.

How has your own teaching developed over the years?

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