Helping their students become independent learners is an important goal for most teachers. However, like with most things in education, students need support to get there.
Therefore, for his fourth principle, Rosenshine believed that teachers should model their thought process when presenting new material to students. By breaking down a task and showing students how to complete it, teachers can help students learn more effectively. Here's how it works...
What does Rosenshine say?
Rosenshine believes that if you want students to actively engage with their learning and develop a fundamental understanding of how to develop a skill, you need to show them how to do it. Not only does it make the topic easier to understand, using visual examples reduces their confusion as well.
Modelling thought processes in the classroom is a branch of Vygotskian ‘scaffolding’. When modelling how to complete a problem-solving task, the teacher describes which steps they are taking to solve the problem and why they’re taking those steps. By breaking the task down and explaining each step, you’re guiding student learning.
However, modelling your thought process and explaining why you came to your specific decision can be quite challenging. But by providing a ‘mental model’ and sharing your own understanding and experiences, you help your students develop the same skill.
What does the research say?
Research shows that the interactive process of providing ‘mental models’ to encourage and guide student practice enables students to become critical thinkers. This is because students are allowed to actively interact and reflect on the material they need to learn, consequently performing better academically by making complex concepts more accessible.
One study found that students who were exposed to modelling in the classroom almost tripled their on-task behaviour compared to students who were not provided with mental models. Instead of feeling demotivated and discouraged when getting the answers wrong to a complex task and procrastinating, students see it as an opportunity to maximise their learning.
Practical Implications in the Classroom
For it to be effective, modelling behaviour and thought processes need to be carefully organised to ensure your students are getting the appropriate guidance for their academic level. Model too much and your students won’t get enough time to practice retrieval themselves. Fade out your support too quickly and your students won’t grasp the concept correctly.
Model your thinking
If your thoughts are not organised, are long-winded and not solely focused on the task you’re trying to explain, you’re going to confuse your students and they won’t remember anything. Research suggests that the best models are clear and concise so students can easily follow your direction of thought and replicate the task independently. Avoid using abstract reasoning to explain a concept.
Make sure that your demonstrations of how to complete a task are brief, broken down into small steps and are consistent with what you are trying to showcase. If a task is particularly complex or new, several examples of how to approach the task should be narrated, explained and clearly organised.
Use worked examples
Worked examples are a useful way to show your students the steps they need to take to complete a task correctly and to keep them focused on what they are meant to be doing. If you explain and showcase examples of each stage of the process, students develop a clearer understanding of what is being asked of them. This act of providing a template frees up working memory space, which allows them to primarily focus on the task at hand.
Use completion tasks
Completion tasks are one step above worked examples as they require students to actively interact with the material and do more of the problem solving themselves. Essentially, you’ve modelled the thought process of what they need to do and now they need to apply that knowledge to complete the task on their own. By slowly providing less support, students are challenged to practice their newly acquired skills, enhancing long-term recall.
Break it into chunks
Rosenshine suggests that the best teachers take a sequential learning approach to provide their students with an opportunity to fully master a concept before moving onto the next part of a topic. By deconstructing the process of solving a complex task into more manageable chunks, you give students a clear understanding of what is expected of them when practising on their own.
Ask probing questions
Rosenshine has emphasised the importance of asking questions because of their impact on cementing student learning. When modelling a thought process or demonstrating how to complete a task, you must ask questions regularly to ensure that you’re modelling processes effectively and not causing confusion.
One type of question you can ask your students are ‘probing questions’ as these are a great way to see if students are following your thought process and are being guided effectively. Asking questions such as “how would you expand a quadratic equation?” and “why do we need to expand quadratic equations to solve the question?”, you’ll encourage students to think critically.
Modelling has the potential to yield long-lasting positive benefits it can have on student skill acquisition. By providing your students with the necessary support they need and creating clear expectations of how to approach tasks, your students will hopefully be able to maximise their learning.
Learn more about Rosenshine's 10 Principles of Instruction:
- In our complete guide, with tons of resources and links to further reading
- In our online teacher CPD module on the InnerDrive Online Academy
- Or book a Rosenshine's Principles teacher CPD workshop for your school