Modeling is so much more than demonstrating

I was watching a video created at Educon 2.3 about how teachers model.  I heard a lot of people speak about how important modeling is and how they model for their students.  Unfortunately, what I consider the most important aspect of modeling was glaringly absent from the comments.*

Most of what the teachers in the video were talking about is what I would call demonstrating.  That is, they want the kids to do X, so they do X themselves with students watching.  This is a great strategy that takes into consideration developmental learning theory.  That is, watching someone do something is a very concrete representation of that task.  However, simply demonstrating something ignores the importance of constructivist learning theory and the role of active mental engagement in learning.  That is, we must actively draw students’ attention to our modeling or they are not likely to get as much out of the modeling as we hope.  Importantly, getting kids actively mentally engaged is more than asking them to pay attention!

For example, imagine I want students to treat each other with respect.  I decide to demonstrate this by being respectful to my students.  If I want to move from demonstrating to modeling, I must ask students question like, “How do you know I respect you?” or “What things have you seen me do that might indicate respect?”  Then I might ask, “How can you show respect for your peers?”  Demonstration is passive, modeling should be active.  However, if you simply show kids something, or tell them something they are not likely to be actively thinking. Instead, show the kids something, then ask them a question about it.

*I know that if I asked the teacher directly about how they draw students attention to their modeling many of them would speak of things I note above.  However, I find it fascinating how the most important part of teaching/learning (active mental engagement) is often implied rather than made explicit.

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14 Responses to Modeling is so much more than demonstrating

  1. Stephen Ransom says:

    Interesting question. Can you link to a source that defines modeling as distinctly different from demonstration? Don’t we expect learners to be mentally engaged even with demonstration? Does “demonstration” imply that learners don’t need to actively process what is going on, either metacognitively or explicitly with the help of the one demonstrating? And, can we really know that learners are not actively engaged with a model, when the demonstrator or physical model is not explicitly facilitating this? I think it is somewhat unfair to assume that “f you simply show kids something, or tell them something they are not likely to be actively thinking”. Can thinking be “inactive”, or, do you really mean something else here?

    Too often, questions may get asked to the whole class, and a few select students are chosen to respond. This doesn’t ensure “active engagement” by all either.

    Just trying to get the real distinction here. I think there is more to this than what is presented here and a really important issue to flesh out.


    • jerridkruse says:

      You make some solid points Stephen. First, I cannot link to a reference as the difference is in my own thinking, but has likely been influenced by unknown sources. However, the word modeling is likely going to be problematic as “modeling” could be passive or very implicit. So perhaps we need a qualifier. Maybe “active modeling” or, and I prefer this, “explicit modeling”, or maybe “explicit active modeling”. :)

      So my argument would be that modeling is not enough, we need to be explicit in our modeling (getting kids to pay attention to certain parts), but also active (more than kids paying attention, but actively reflecting on what they are seeing).

      You say, “Don’t we expect learners to be mentally engaged even with demonstration?” Of course we EXPECT it, but what are we doing to ENCOURAGE the active mental engagement? For me, that is where asking the reflective questions become so very important for “Explicit Active Modeling”.

      Also, we can never “ensure” active engagement (and that is what I mean, perhaps active reflecting is better), but we can encourage it. Showing (modeling) students something is important, but to further encourage students to become mentally active, we need the explicit and active parts of modeling.

      Of course asking a question isn’t the only way to get the explicit and active, but it might be the easiest. Imagine we tell students what to pay attention to – this is explicit, but it does not fully encourage them to be mentally active, they are simply watching.

      Thanks for the questions, I am a big believer that words matter so I’m glad you pushed me to refine my thinking and my wording.


  2. Stephen Ransom says:

    Nice. I like the idea of explicit modeling. I think all good teachers, athletic coaches and conductors included, do this really well. They point out what they see as essential in a model. They ask key questions to ensure that the observers are keying in to important elements of the model. Recently, Rodd Lucier @thecleversheep was looking for a video that I think even brings more richness to this notion… perhaps “reciprocal modeling”. I love watching Benjamin Zander as he works with this cello player.


  3. Stephen Ransom says:

    Just another thought. You mention constructivist learning theory, and modeling is an important part of direct instruction – instruction that can still encourage students to actively make meaning of models that they are observing as in this Madeline Hunter lesson . I wonder if more complex constructivist learning environments often actually have /less/ modeling, giving more room for students to make sense of the world on their own without the tendency of copying models as often happens in more directive learning. Even in the Hunter example, it is cautioned that for more creative lessons, modeling should be decreased on not used at all to avoid students copying the model.

    Lots to chew on.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Oh, the hunter lesson design is pretty much awful in my opinion. It over simplifies the act of teaching in so many ways. The modeling there is of finished products, I would argue the modeling in a hunter-like lesson is exactly what we don’t want.

      Also, hunter’s lesson plan is not very constructivist. The “anticipatory set” is not really using students prior knowledge. Teaching in a way that reflects CLT is much more nuanced than “activating” prior knowledge. The prior knowledge must be used meaningfully.

      I know you weren’t necessarily advocating for hunter’s design, but i did need to make clear how simplified i find the design. I have heard rumors that even Hunter herself was dismayed with how here ideas were being overly simplified & watered down.

      While I know I am not explaining very well my vision of “good teaching”, the nuance required would take more time than I have :)


  4. Stephen Ransom says:

    The Hunter Model, like most things in education, has been applied in a overly-legalistic manner, without much thought from the teacher in many instances. It wasn’t intended to be used in that fashion. I agree that it is not really situated within a constructivist philosophy of learning, but was simply pointing out that there are elements of modeling and flexibility that do allow for more creativity and learner sense-making. She never advocated (to my knowledge) for not questioning students and more active forms of modeling.

    Here is a link to an article by Madeline Hunter called, “What’s Wrong With Madeline Hunter” where she admits changes in thinking and debunks common myths of her model.


    • jerridkruse says:

      I figured that you were not advocating the simplistic model. Thanks for the link. Now I can actually point to it rather than tell people I think hunter was disappointed by how her model was bastardized :)


  5. Chris Campbell says:

    Thanks for this post. As a first year teacher I am finding over and over again how important it is to do reflective questioning to help students find new avenues of thought about a model or idea and finally really consider what it means. (I keep finding this out by forgetting to do this). My students don’t automatically think about things the way I do (no matter how hard I imply that they should). It seems like a duh, but gaining this insight (over and over again) leaves me thinking hard about how to ask the questions that offer students the encouragement to think about something in a new way for them and create connections. A conclusion I have come to then is that part of the role of a teacher is not just to ask for attention, but to actively encourage students to focus their attention in directions they otherwise might not on their own. Then let them construct their knowledge from what they see. And then check and see what they missed.

    I have no formal training in the modeling approach to teaching…yet. I am intrigued though. Thanks.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks for the comment Chris. To often we assume kids are thinking deeply. Yet by asking reflective questions we can assess levels of student thinking, student learning, & encourage deeper levels of thought.

      As far as “formal” training in modeling I am unsure it exists (unless you’re talking about the ASU modeling curriculum). As far as what I’m talking about, I would say you’re well on your way! Keep it up.


  6. I was tweeting away on twitter trying to find something to cure my boredom – and BANG – somebody I follow tweeted this post. Now, I am not quite as bored. Thanks for posting great material


  7. Amanda Lloyd says:

    Hello, Jerrid. As a student in EDM-310 at the University of South Alabama, I have been assigned to comment on your blog post, “Modeling Is So Much More Than Demonstrating.” I appreciate the fact that Dr. Strange carefully considers which blogs best suit his students “prior knowledge” of the topics discussed. However, I must admit that this assignment has done exactly what you advocate for in that it has caused me to ask questions and engage in research to develop a deeper understanding (constructivism.) So, I will attempt “go beyond the information given (Bruner)” in your post. You see, EDM-310 is the first class I have taken beyond my core requirements. I am just getting my feet wet in “ed-speak.” In fact, reading your blog post is the first time that I have encountered the term “modeling.” So I began by watching the Educon 2.3 video you linked and comparing it to your argument. I agree that most of the participants exhibited “demonstrative” techniques which are valuable to instruction and collaboration. I can also see how these techniques can “actively” engage learners. I believe one teachers comment was, “I model all day long. I model by raising questions and encouraging them to ask.” I can draw on my past experiences as a mother of three. For instance, when my son and daughters were preschoolers, art supplies were always readily available in our home for their creativity so that when they were willing and ready to learn (principle of constructivism), the avenue was there. They would spend hours creating clay sculptures, drawing and painting. Then I would ask them to, “Tell me about this (encouraging active mental engagement)…instead of oh, that’s a nice tree and sky and rainbow.” However, when they reached the appropriate age to help out with household chores like laundry, it was time to “demonstrate” or else their “whitey-tighties” came out pink from being washed with a red blouse! So, the same can be said of the classroom. Isn’t the ideal classroom one with constructivism and, as you put it  “active explicit modeling”? Based on your comments, “Showing (modeling) students something is important, but to further encourage students to become mentally active, we need the explicit and active parts of modeling,” I think you agree. My 15 year old daughter summed this up nicely (I think.) She said, “Isn’t modeling just setting the example?” So, then “wouldn’t we need both a good example and encouragement to go beyond the information given?” One thing’s for sure, this discussion/reflection has definitely caused me to realize that I have much to learn in my future classes concerning educational theories and I can’t wait to do just that! Thanks for your insight and I look forward to more posts, Jerrid. My blog address is and my twitter name is alloyd5.


  8. Paul Bogush says:

    Ahhh…I think this post is the comment I wanted to leave about your tweet in the first post. Too often we demonstrate the process, instead of modeling it. Those are the words I was looking for.


  9. Hugh Clench says:

    Interested to see this discussion which appeared as a result of Googling modelling and demonstration. I’m writing an online learning course for the UK, and as a rather long in the tooth psychologist have started from Bandura’s conception of modelling. Whilst the constructivist elements are certainly present in his thinking he used the term largely in the context of social behaviour. Modelling as you describe it here is a version of demonstration – the difference being that as teachers you are doing it quite deliberately to promote learning. At the same time you may be modelling other behaviours (mostly social) that you are unaware of – the hidden curriculum presented by both you and your institution.

    Of course, language moves on and there is a great deal of confusion over these two concepts, but as I research modern theory around teaching and learning it becomes apparent to me that some powerful ideas have been lost in the mire of ambitious academics all striving to distinguish themselves by over elaborating. Not that I’m being critical – I have found the discussion very helpful.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Hi Hugh,

      I’m glad you found the discussion helpful. I agree with your distinction between modeling and demonstrating, and see demonstration as a form of modeling. Also, your point about the hidden curriculum is so very important. I work very hard to help the preservice teachers with whom I work to make the hidden curriculum explicit through explicit modeling. I hope you enjoy future posts as well!


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