• Paul Wade

Modelling, or Showing Kids How to Do Stuff

If you ever remember a teacher saying, “that’s not how I told you to do it” then you would be remembering a teacher who missed out a very important teaching skill. They forgot to model.

Loosely put, modelling is just doing the thing you have explained to the kids, so that they can see how it works. The can be anything from showing them the process for column addition to writing out a sentence with an adjective in it to carefully and painstakingly creating a small artistic masterpiece in front of their eyes. But it is also more than that. At each stage of the ‘model’ you need to be discussing the steps that you have taken, asking what you have already done and what might come next. This is what a mentor of mine used to called the ‘Tango Man’ act.

In Britain there is a popular(ish) soft drink called Tango. Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, there was a series of television adverts in which the main protagonist would narrate their own thoughts and actions. For example, a young couple arrive at a restaurant and the male half of the couple starts a narration of the process of choosing the food, he says something along the lines of really wanting the steak but being a bit too tight to order it, then mentions that his date is looking a bit uncomfortable. A waitress comes over and he narrates finding her quite attractive. His date gets cross with him and he narrates this too, continuing to narrate as she walks out of the restaurant. He then drinks some Tango. I never really understood the link.

Still, the illustration is useful, as the point of modelling is to talk through every single stage of the process, almost as though you are narrating your own actions. This way, children make the connection between what you are doing and why you are doing it. It feels faintly ridiculous at first, but you get used to it and it really does work. When children are learning something new, or finding a task challenging, giving them a modelled example of you doing a similar task can be reassuring, inspiring and amusing.

I will leave you with a real life example of a task I once modelled to a class that I was teaching. Let’s see if you can get it (it was a literacy lesson on instructions).

So, first I have to pick up the two loose ends. I have one loose end in one hand and the other loose end in the other hand. Now I am crossing the two loose ends over each other. Can anyone work out where this loose end goes now? That’s right, it goes back under the middle of this loose end. Now I pull both ends a bit tighter. Can someone show me with their loose ends what to do now? Excellent, you turn both loose ends into loops. Now I am holding the bottom of each loop. I am going to cross one loop over the other and then back underneath again. I want you all to show me what you think we need to do now. Super. We pull them both tight once more.

(I remember it like that, though it may have taken longer and involved my dropping the laces several times.)

Then we wrote it all up as instructions, but not before I modelled a different set of instructions for doing up a zip. I was multi-tasking, as they all needed to learn these life skills too.

Which brings me neatly to our next post – learning real life skills.

Good luck with the modelling, everyone.


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