A Model Dilemma

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shutterstock_97618565 Two children making science experiments. Education.

Jen Willis

Jen Willis writes for Teacher Toolkit from a primary perspective. She is currently an assistant head in a primary school in Bolton, Lancashire. She has taught all three key stages in primary with a particular love of year six. She leads EYFS / KS1 and...
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What is the next step – the next key objective that will help students make progress?

As the summer term approaches, finding ways to get students to meet and master lesson objectives becomes increasingly demanding. Is there a short-cut?

I often find myself reflecting on best practice at the end of a term. As the silly season beckons, the classroom has an added emotional charge, especially for those at end of key stages.

  • How to get students ‘school ready‘ more quickly?
  • How can we close that gap?
  • How can we help students find independence in applying the skills and mastering the curriculum?
  • Is there a quicker way to progress than a traditional teaching sequence?

Explicit Teaching:

Returning to some of the best teaching that I had observed, a commonality could be extracted.  No matter how high the expectation of creativity, originality or independence was, no matter how quickly the children needed to grasp the concept, there was always an explicit model and it was a step that could not be missed.

Sometimes, a direct model opened the teaching sequence; sometimes the students had to experiment and investigate to find that perfect model. However, in the sequences where the children made the most progress, they were always clear about what it was they were trying to achieve and what that could look like.

We know deep down, there are no quick fixes.

What is their next step – the next key objective that will help students make progress?

shutterstock_96833425 Two children making science experiments. Education.

Image: Shutterstock

Teach that, and teach it well.  We are educators, not gap fillers.

Tips for the Next Top Model:

  1. Show not only what a good [piece of work] looks like, but how it is created, step by step, piece by piece. Demonstrate the whole process of creation, whether that is the perfect cart-wheel, a neatly, crafted butt-joint or a well-written argument.
  2. Talk it through, and not only the things you decide to do, but also the things that you don’t. The class need to hear you say, “I know it can’t be 17 because the answer’s final digit is 0” and “I need to say ‘sat’ but I want it to show that I’m grumpy. I’ll use ‘slouched’.
  3. Speak your thoughts! It is these very thoughts that our students cannot hear or see that they need to understand the most – those times of doubt and uncertainty when you question your knowledge base; the conundrums of which method would be best or which style of recording is most suitable; or those ‘penny-dropping moments’ when connection between ideas finally make sense. (Pie Corbett is a fabulous advocate of shared writing techniques.)
  4. Make mistakes! One of the hardest skills in the world is editing, especially when you’re not yet ten.  It needs to be modelled.  Children need to see that crossing out and making mistakes is part of the learning process and nothing to panic about.
  5. Show them what to do when you don’t know what to do. Model ‘just drawing a line’ when you are not sure of the word to put and don’t want to waste ten minutes thinking time.  Demonstrate ‘just having a go’ at a problem when you don’t know where to start- (Guess, check, improve)  Talk through any doubts you have and how you sometimes just need to try to see what happens
  6. Don’t use up all of your modelling tips at the beginning of a lesson. It can be equally (and sometimes more) valuable to stop the class after an initial experiment to address any common misconceptions found, or at the end of the lesson to build success criteria together and challenge thinking.
  7. In a classroom climate built on trust and a belief that with good practice you can get better, a visualiser is your friend and a piece of child’s work can be the next top model. (@ICT_MrP has top ICT tips if you can’t get your hands on a visualiser.)
  8. Never make assumptions about what the children already know and understand. The most basic of concepts also need modelling – from letter formation and counting slowly to what does good listening look like.
  9. Model the learning in many ways – as imaginatively as possible. It is important that your modelling acts as a creative catalyst and not as an inhibitor, especially for the most inspired in your room.  They need to see possibilities, not one solution.
  10. Have at the forefront of your mind your goal – and within this should be the independent application of whatever it is you are teaching! Some children will be ready to run and make it entirely their own after one tiny exposure.  Some may need a little guided work, and some may need the same skill modelled in different contexts many, many times before those connections are forged.

It isn’t one size fits all. It’s about providing the right level of scaffold, support and inspiration for your pupils, silly season or not.

That’s the true craft of teaching.


Written by @JenWillis1 who writes for Teacher Toolkit. Read more of her articles here.


3 thoughts on “A Model Dilemma

  1. Well said. Taking the learner with you on the learning journey is critical. If you don’t they may as well be watching the television with the sound turned off.

    My advice on lesson planning involves the LQ (Learning Intelligence) approach and the emotional side of learning. It includes some additional aspects on the part of the teacher that augments the excellent advice given here. The article can be found here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6 but here are some of my planning considerations.

    How do my students feel about what they have learnt already?
    How do I begin by sharing the learning challenges ahead?


  2. Thanks for your kind comments, Kev. I read your article with interest, especially with regard to sharing the learning challenges ahead and learning maps. I’ll be sure to look out for future articles.

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