Modelling is a well-known and powerful way of teaching students that comes from Social Cognitive theory (a theory that explains how people learn through the interactive processes of an individual’s personal characteristics, behaviours & environmental factors).  What is not as well known is that not all modelling is created equal.  Bandura in Snowman et al. (2009), suggests that in order for modelling to be effective, four things must happen:

First the learner must pay attention to the model.  This seems obvious, but, just because learners are looking at the model, it doesn’t mean they are actively paying attention to what is being modelled.  For example, take a person learning how to drive a car, the learner must have considered the steps involved: first turn on ignition, then push in clutch, put in gear, foot off brake and so on.  They are not only looking, they are actively considering the steps involved and the order they go in.  Cuing can increase attention as can explicitly demonstrating the task you want to be modelled.  You can read more about attention here  

Students also must remember what they saw.  In keeping with the car example, learners must remember and recall the steps involved in driving the car.  Think aloud strategies are great for helping students remember.  Say some students are grappling with a Maths problem; saying out loud how you would work through the problem allows students ‘see’ your thinking and how you work through the problem to remember it.

The learner must be able to cognitively and physically reproduce what they saw.  In our car example, the learner needs to be tall enough to reach the pedals as well as coordinated enough.  Knowing what students are capable of helps to make sure the task being modelled is not too far above or below the student’s capabilities.

The learner must be motivated to perform the learnt action.  Perhaps our learner in the car example really wanted to drive so they can be part of their peer group who all drive.  Giving students a reason to perform the actions makes a big difference to whether or not they will be motivated to perform the task being modelled.

The age of the learner can also influence the effectiveness of modelling.  Between the ages of 6-12 is when the teacher has the most influence.  This is the best time to model effective learning strategies with explicit demonstration and think alouds.  Between 12 and 15 is when the media that has the strongest power to influence.  In a constant search for identity kids will imitate groups of people they identify with. Using the media (social or otherwise) means modelling can still be used effectively to help students learn.

References:

Snowman, J., Biehhler, R., Dobozy, E., Scevak, J., Bryer, F. Bartlett, B. J. (2009). Psychology Applied to Teaching (1st Australian ed.). John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

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