Sunday 23 February 2014

Role-modelling learning

Once every half term at CHS, the Pedagogy Leaders organise a Teacher Learning Community (TLC) meeting for our staff as part of our continuing professional development. Staff have a choice of six TLCs to join, and we have already met for three sessions so far this academic year.

TLCs provide a unique opportunity for cross-curricular collaboration and discussion about stuff that really matters (AKA Learning and Teaching), and the group of staff that I work with certainly bring a lot to the table. What I really love is the diversity of experience in the group: different subject backgrounds, number of years in the profession, approaches to teaching, classroom priorities, positions of responsibility, shoe size… basically everything! These wonderfully quirky differences all contribute to highly textured and thought-provoking conversations about all things pedagogical. Over the course of the year, the aim is to share existing good practice and learn from one another by drawing upon others’ experiences, whilst paying close attention to improving literacy across the school and raising the number of A/A* grades.

One of our meetings focused specifically on ‘role-modelling learning’. In true Accelerated Learning Cycle style, the ‘Connection’ came in the form of two video clips from YouTube of how to make a tuna sandwich. Please feel free to get in the spirit and click on the links to watch them yourself!

Afterwards, we thought about the following questions: 1) How important is it to role-model learning? 2) What makes for effective role-modelling of learning?

Research has shown that modelling is an effective instructional strategy in that it allows students to observe the teacher’s thought processes. Using this type of instruction, teachers engage students in imitation of particular behaviours that encourage learning (Bandura, 1986). According to social learning theorist Albert Bandura, ‘learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action’ (Bandura, 1977).

Following the sharing of some useful input and personal experiences from members of the group, attention turned to five distinct types of modelling for the ‘Activation’ portion of the TLC:
  • Disposition modelling - teachers and students convey personal values or ways of thinking.
  • Task and performance modelling - the teacher demonstrates a task students will be expected to do on their own.
  • Meta-cognitive modelling - this demonstrates how to think in lessons that focus on interpreting information and data, analysing statements, and making conclusions about what has been learned.
  • Modelling as a scaffolding technique - teachers must consider students’ position in the learning process. Teachers first model the task for students, and then students begin the assigned task and work through the task at their own pace.
  • Student-centred modelling - teachers can often call on students to model expected behaviours or thought processes. In student-centred modelling, teachers engage students who have mastered specific concepts or learning outcomes in the task of modelling for their peers.

In pairs, staff were assigned one of these types of modelling, along with a clear definition of its purpose, and were given around 20 minutes to design a learning activity to be delivered in the style of their given approach. This task was quite open-ended, except for the fact that the activities needed to be something that they could actually use for a real lesson, rather than basing it upon a hypothetical classroom situation.

The end results were tremendously creative. The ‘Demonstration’ element showcased activities ranging from the modelling and eventual assigning of specific roles to students working collaboratively in an art lesson, such as a Resources Manager and a Timekeeper (inspired by @thelazyteacher and his handbook – thanks Jim), to the teacher showing eager students how to use a microscope correctly for the first time.
Even after the TLC meeting had come to an end, days later in fact, group members were clearly still thinking about the conversations from the session, and were kind enough to get in touch and share with me what they had been developing in their departments since we met.

Over in economics, for example, SWh commented on her use of meta-cognitive modelling to translate information in a text (past paper) to economic theory.  The students were required to explain clearly what economic theory would predict what will happen in a given situation, such as bad weather will damage crops.  There is a step-by-step sequence of events which can be demonstrated graphically, so this sort of modelling was adopted to talk through the steps while doing the graphs.

In another economics lesson, JGb showed his students a model answer, which was followed by a detailed discussion of what students would include in each paragraph and what graph would need to be drawn before it appeared on the board. The students then attempted a similar question which required the same structure in their answer, and the majority produced a good answer having already gone through the thought process of how to answer the question.

Now over to the MFL department. HTl and JGl had developed graded modelling activities for the purpose of scaffolding learning, aiming to simultaneously build up students’ confidence in using the target language and focus on consolidating their written literacy. Firstly, students were provided with a model paragraph describing their school in Spanish, and were asked to make it a higher quality paragraph by adding or improving the variety of connectives within the text.

Secondly, students were provided with jumbled sentences that they needed to re-order in order for the paragraph to make logical sense.

This was followed by a cloze text activity, further differentiated by either showing or concealing a choice of words to fill the gaps.

The final activity was more open-ended. Students had a set of Spanish sentence starters (with English translations) and were encouraged to invent their own endings, with the added option of using vocabulary lists or dictionaries to support them if necessary.

The wonderful thing about all of these superb examples of supporting and advancing students’ learning through modelling is that these sorts of things are going on in classrooms across CHS all the time. Of course, what had been discussed and demonstrated in the TLC helped remind staff of how powerful effective modelling can be in the classroom, and perhaps sparked a renewed emphasis on its importance and on-going development to help make marginal gains. But it was great to hear from the teachers in the group that this session had helped confirm in their minds that what they were already doing in their lessons was truly making a difference to support their students to make meaningful progress. The ‘Consolidation’ phase continues...

Ultimately, this TLC was not about requiring teachers to re-invent the wheel. Rather, it was an opportunity, a space, an hour of reflection, to help make explicit and reiterate the importance of the little things that we do instinctively every day; the things that regularly make a real difference to the learning that takes place in our classrooms.

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