Adults do not walk around stumbling, to make one year olds feel better about their walking skills. We model the correct way to walk – and this shows a one year old what to aim for. Perfection does not happen the first or second time. They keep trying and eventually become proficient at walking. The same philosophy holds true for literacy skills (and other content area skills as well). If we want proficient readers and writers, we need to “show” them what we expect. We should never expect our students to do something we have not modeled for them first.
Modeling is an instructional strategy that calls the teacher to demonstrate a new concept or approach to learning while the students observe and process the strategy. The next step is for the student to try the strategy with guided practice and then independent practice. Research has shown that modeling 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 behaviors that encourage learning. Modeling can be used across disciplines and in all grade and ability level classrooms.
You might be wondering how to model reading comprehension? Comprehension happens inside our brains; it is invisible. “Think-alouds”, a type of metacognitive modeling technique, has been described as "eavesdropping on someone's thinking." With this strategy, teachers verbalize aloud while reading a selection orally, describing things they are doing as they read to monitor their comprehension. The purpose of the think-aloud strategy is to model for students how skilled readers construct meaning from a text.
Students need to know that reading and writing are not easy--it is OK to struggle! We LEARN when we struggle, and our students need to know that teachers struggle when we read and write just like they do. The important thing that students learn is what to do when they start to struggle as a reader or writer.
When thinking of the importance of modeling, I am reminded of the Chinese proverb: "Tell me, I'll forget. Show me, I'll remember, Involve me, I'll understand." To me, modeling is the glue that holds the learning together. Modeling our own thinking can be messy and uncomfortable, but it needs to feel real and authentic.
If you want more information on the importance of modeling in the classroom, Kelly Boswell has a new book out in February titled Write This Way- How MODELING Transforms the Writing Classroom. The audience for this book is K-5. Teachers in Grades 6-12 may find Write Like This, Teaching Real-World Writing Through MODELING & Mentor Text by Kelly Gallagher useful in learning how to incorporate modeling in middle and high school classrooms.