Despite the huge shifts in pedagogical practice caused by the move to online learning, some tried-and-true strategies, such as modeling for English learners, remain crucial. Since teachers often can’t intervene in real time these days, effective modeling—in which the teacher’s expectations for student performance are made explicit through an example—is a lifeline for English learners because of the clarity they provide.
In our experience observing K–12 classrooms—including classrooms with only English learners as well as classrooms that contain a mix of ELs and fluent English speakers—modeling is consistently underutilized despite being an easy, high-leverage strategy. It’s helpful to remember that providing effective models saves time in the end, since it both provides clear examples of expectations for a given assignment and reduces the verbiage a teacher needs to explain a task.
5 Types of Effective Models
Effective modeling can take many different forms. In all cases, modeling should clarify the expectations of the task without giving away the answer, and should remain available for students to access throughout the task. The following are examples of effective models.
1. Completing the first one in a set as an example: This is the simplest form of modeling, yet we’ve found that it’s not used enough. Click here to see an example. In any kind of exercise in which students are working through multiple examples of the same type of question or problem, it’s helpful to model one or two examples so students see exactly what is expected of them.
2. Providing explicit guidance on the expectations of the assignment through visual models: Click here for a humanities example and here for a math one. These embedded models clearly show the teacher’s expectations for performance with visuals instead of many words, without giving away the answers.
3. Using language frames as models for conversational moves: Providing sentence frames models the kinds of conversations students should be having. ELs can engage in conversations more fluidly when they can focus on what they want to express instead of how to express it. See a See Think Wonder activity with language frames and contrast it with a standard version of this same activity.
4. Demonstrating how to complete the steps of the task through video: This video example by Megan Berdugo at Brooklyn International High School models how to solve an equation by showing students each step with an analogous problem. Students can rewatch it as many times as they want and pause where necessary to catch words and ideas they missed.
5. Chunking the steps of a complex process and using a corresponding template for students to complete: ELs can easily get overwhelmed by models of a paragraph, essay, or solution when there is a lot of language to wade through and it’s unclear which part of the model corresponds to which part of the assignment. Breaking the model into smaller chunks, and providing space next to each chunk, enables students to focus on one aspect at a time, reducing the cognitive and linguistic loads. Click here for a writing example and here for a math example.
We’ve heard concerns that providing a model reduces the rigor of an assignment. We would counter that while demystifying a teacher’s expectations does make the task less difficult for a student, it in no way makes it less complex as long as the model cannot be copied. In fact, great models enable students to jump to the heart of the work instead of spending precious mental energy and time on figuring out what a teacher is asking them to do.
Effective modeling is arguably the most straightforward of scaffolds and requires the least amount of customization for individual students. And like many scaffolds, effective modeling helps all students—not just ELs. For any students who struggle, it provides crucial access that can make the difference between frustration and success.