Modeling is a popular show-and-tell teaching strategy used by teachers across subjects and grade levels. Although it’s sometimes perceived as easy, teachers must be strategic and consider student engagement, individual learning needs, and appropriate scaffolds.
Recently, I’ve used my academic blog as a model for a writing project in one of my college courses. My goal was to reinforce that writing matters to me as a teacher and as an individual, and it was important to me to use non-classroom examples to demonstrate the writing strategies I was teaching. Because of my established classroom relationships and knowledge of my students’ learning needs, they were intrigued with the idea of reviewing my work.
The strategy encourages teachers to practice (or should I say model?) what we preach. I think the strategy will prove useful for high school classrooms—and I want to stress that this requires previously established positive teacher-student relationships.
Here are the steps I followed.
Assessing the Appropriateness of the Text
To determine if your writing is appropriate, consider student characteristics such as grade level, race/ethnicity, writing needs, any learning differences, etc. To assess your text, consider the content, vocabulary, and length, and answer the statement, “My writing is suitable for my students because _____.”
You can use your own writing in different genres—fiction, nonfiction, poetry—depending on the unit you’re teaching, but regardless of the genre, ask yourself key questions, such as: Is the content extreme for this age group in any way? Would administrators have any foreseeable objections?
Explore how your piece of writing complements the course content. Does it reinforce ideas previously discussed? With my course for teacher candidates, we analyzed an article I wrote on visual aids to continue our examination of evidence-based teaching strategies. Also, consider how the writing compares to what you typically use with students: Does it highlight something not found in your other selections?
Modeling the Text
After I assess a piece that I’ve written and decide I want to share it with students, I use this process.
Revisit the model: Students have ongoing opportunities to revisit my writing sample as much as they like. They can review specific writing strategies that I used, and think about how they can use those strategies themselves.
Provide specificity: I give students a checklist to help them focus on specific elements in my writing sample, including the topic, the topic’s significance, and relevant details. For the topic, I ask students whether it’s similar to anything they already know, and I ask them to examine the type of evidence I used (facts, observations, quotes, etc.).
Share questions: I post student questions on our course discussion board if the information has not already been addressed. I also encourage students to post their own questions, which helps them see that it’s OK to ask questions and provides them with working examples of suitable question types written by their peers.
Demonstrate frustrations: I show students that it’s OK to experience frustration by pointing to the aspects of a piece of my own writing that I found frustrating. In the future I plan to share my frustrations with the revision process by sharing tough constructive feedback from editors and the steps I take to respond objectively instead of defensively.
I also provide some questions to scaffold coping with frustration. For example, when my students were frustrated with the process of narrowing their ideas down to one topic, I provided guiding questions such as: What concepts from our classwork have stood out most to you? What would you like to know more about?
Make time for reflection: To encourage students to think about the learning process, I include a reflection task. I ask students to share their ideas on what made the writing sample helpful and/or challenging. A review of the students’ learning experience pushes me to reflect on my academic writing and modeling process.
Tweaking the Modeling Process
Based on the student feedback I have received from the reflection step, I plan to tweak this strategy in the following ways the next time I share my writing with students.
Add student choice: I can incorporate more student choice and increase students’ role in modeling decisions. For example, I will ask students for feedback on ways to address questions during the modeling process, or which writing skills they would like to see modeled.
Meet individual needs: I’ll focus more on individual needs. My students’ writing projects revealed that some struggled to find their writing angle (because they didn’t correctly understand a topic’s significance, or their own interest in a topic).
If high school students are writing a research paper, they can begin to organize their findings using a sentence starter like: “Some articles I found focused on _____, but not ____.” If a teacher is modeling a piece based on personal experience, they could help students get started by providing a sentence starter like, “Having experienced _____, I have a point of view many people may not have.”
Increase scaffolds: I plan to use additional scaffolding strategies. I shared a final draft—a published article—and a daily pacing sheet, but students still experienced some frustrations. Instead of providing all the materials up front, it may have been more effective to offer the supports individually and gradually to allow time to check for understanding.