In this article science teacher, Adam Boxer, and the Chartered College of Teaching’s Director of Education and Research, Cat Scutt, explore why providing models and worked examples is important, and how technology might play a role in supporting these.
One of Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of instruction’ (2012) is that ‘Providing students with models and worked examples can help them learn to solve problems faster’. When first learning a new concept, students’ knowledge of it is fragmented, transient and disconnected:
- It is fragmented in the sense that they may not have taken in all that you have said
- It is transient in the sense that without immediate practice it will not be encoded and moved into the long-term memory so it could rapidly fade.
- It is disconnected in the sense that it will not yet be connected to prior learning and lacks the flexibility which comes from having one area of knowledge deeply connected to many others (Willingham 2002).
As such, it is vital for teachers to support students through this cognitively turbulent time, as they start to grasp new material. Expert teachers employ extensive models and worked examples, to support students in this as they approach independent practice. Technology tools can be used to support a range of modelling approaches.
As teachers, our knowledge outstrips that of our students. Things which are obvious to us may not be to our students; experts can struggle to understand what it is like to learn something from the perspective of a novice (Heath & Heath 2006). Often termed ‘expert blindness’, this can prevent us from accurately anticipating student knowledge and understanding.
Thinking aloud is an excellent strategy to avoid this cognitive bias. As you are demonstrating something on the board, or modelling a process, making every step explicit means students do not need to desperately search through their long-term memory to gain a cognitive foothold in your explanation. Thinking aloud is also a way to encourage metacognition in your students (EEF 2018), as they see the learning and thinking process explicitly modelled.
Technology can be used effectively to support ‘thinking aloud’ in a number of ways, both for students and teachers. For example, Apps like Explain Everything can be used by teachers to create ‘thinkaloud’ videos using a digital whiteboard, which allow students to then watch the video whilst hearing their thought process. They can then also be used by students to demonstrate their own thinking process as they complete a task. You can read about this approach in action here.
Worked examples are highly effective strategies to support students when conquering new material, particularly where the problem is not straightforward. A visualiser, or document camera, can make it straightforward to share worked examples in a range of formats – whether these involve writing a paragraph in English, balancing an equation in Maths or constructing a circuit in Design Technology.
Some research suggests that worked examples are most effective when followed immediately by pupils independently doing a parallel example with minimal variation from the worked example (Ashman 2016). This has led to some advocating problem pairs, where the example and the problem are laid next to each other. Again, this can be achieved using technology, by splitting a page (shared on a visualiser), a slide or a screen in two and having a worked example down one side, and a problem on the other for students to solve. To pay heed to all the research, start with a full, explicitly described worked example, then move on to problem pairs and then on to independent practice.
This Chartered College of Teaching compact guide shares advice on the use of visualisers for whole class feedback but it also highlights their use for worked examples and addressing pupils’ misconceptions.
Ashman G (2016) Example-problem pairs. Filling the pail. Available at: https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/example-problem-pairs/ (accessed 3 Jan 2019)
EEF (2018) Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning Guidance Report. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning/ (accessed 22 January 2020)
Heath C and Heath D (2006) The Curse of Knowledge. Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2006/12/the-curse-of-knowledge (accessed 3 Jan 2019)
Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36
(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 12 May 2020)
Willingham D (2002) Ask the Cognitive Scientist. American Federation of Teachers. Available at: https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/winter-2002/ask-cognitive-scientist (accessed 3 Jan 2019)