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.