I’ve always been the type of teacher that likes to model what to do. I model a lot. Having taught students with autism for many years, I’ve seen great results with having a visual, providing an example, and really demonstrating what a final product should look like.
This year, I’ve made a lot of changes in my teaching style and approach to teaching and learning, and I’ve struggled with how much modelling I should be doing. Please don’t get me wrong here. I think students benefit from think alouds, I think that we need to do modelled lessons, and I think that strong examples help students better their work. Maybe the modelling though, doesn’t have to be modelling the exact activity. Maybe it’s okay to say that an activity is going to be a challenge, that the students need to work through the challenge, and that there’s a lot of value in doing this.
This week, I really pushed myself to not give all of the answers. In class, we’ve been working on a media literacy/writing/reading/art project inspired by Angie Harrison (@techieang), a Grade 3 teacher in York Region. My students researched past Olympic mascots using this website, and then reflected on what they learned. Then they created their own Olympic mascot for the upcoming Olympic games. After designing their mascots, students could choose how they wanted to create it. Here’s a book of the process and the results.
This was a very self-directed project. On Wednesday, when we created our mascots, I didn’t model how to make the mascots. I let the students figure out what to do. It was incredible to watch! The children helped each other. They problem solved together. When a child came to me with a question, I did something that I don’t normally do: I said that I wasn’t sure how to solve it. The child waited for a minute, looked at me, and then walked over to a friend and got the answer from him instead. Students were modelling for other students and becoming self-directed, self-motivated learners. I love this!
It wasn’t just on Wednesday that I saw this happen though. On Thursday, my Grade 1 and 2 students completed our final science project on structures (for Grade 1) and simple machines (for Grade 2). The Grade 1′s were inspired by Jared Bennett’s blog post on document cameras, and they used recyclable materials and classroom materials to make their own document cameras. Students made plans, experimented, and tried again. They helped each other solve problems, and in the end, all of the document cameras worked.
With the Grade 2′s, I tried a different approach. I told them up front that I have absolutely no idea how to make a car. This is very true. I showed the students all of the materials, and I explained that their car had to move with the use of a blow dryer. Then I let the students figure things out for themselves. The only thing that I did was help cut open some boxes, as I didn’t want any cuts. The students drew for me where to cut though, and I just did the snipping. The children figured out the rest on their own. Many students needed to make changes to their cars throughout. Numerous students helped each other out and problem solved together. A few students decided to work independently, and tried one way, made adjustments, and tried again. I wish that I had a video camera running in the classroom at the time, as it was incredible to just sit back and see this learning happen. The activity itself wasn’t modelled, and yet, all of the students met with success. Then, after testing the cars, the students even reflected on their learning and figured out what they would do differently the next time.
After seeing what happened this week, I definitely won’t give up on modelling for students, but my approach to modelling will change. I’m going to intervene less with help, and let students work through more problems on their own. I will support them in their learning, but not “steal their struggle.” It’s amazing what all students can do!
How do you balance the need to model, the need to guide, and the need to let students become independent learners? I’d love to hear your stories as well!