Daisy Christodoulou (2013) suggests that if we wish students to be able to solve real-world problems, we cannot teach them as if they already able to solve such problems on their own; instead, they require knowledge and practice to be able to do this. They need to be guided, especially if they are to be equipped in solving problems that we cannot identify in today’s uncertain and complex world; and the effective use of modelling in the guidance process is a critical tool in equipping students to fulfil this objective.
The theology and philosophy department at The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School is preparing A-level theology and philosophy students for their examinations through sequencing concepts and modelling, one of Sherrington’s four strands based on Rosenshine’s ‘principles of instruction’. It is crucial for students to know precisely what ‘success’ looks like and, for Sherrington, this is down to the teachers’ effective deployment of models (2019). For students to confidently and critically grapple with knowledge and information, it is paramount to model in order to help them to transition from novice to expert learners (Sherrington, 2019).
Modelling not only provides a tool for students of all levels to excel, but also actively draws out skills through presentation of argument, coherency of logic and reason, and persuasive reflection of the success of individual reformulation of issues explored.
So how should teachers go about impacting the learning of students through modelling, with a view to altering their long-term memory? For Willingham (2009), it is crucial for lessons to be planned in terms of what students are likely to think about (e.g. the meaning of good, bad, right and wrong in moral philosophy). In order for that thinking to have a meaningful impact on progress, what better way than for a teacher to show their own thinking through narrating and modelling physical representations of tasks and conceptual models? We are exploring the effectiveness of different approaches to modelling for A-level theology and philosophy students, with a focus on the narrative underpinning students’ development of their own values, opinions and attitudes.
Teachers provide exemplars to be used as scaffolds. Students are able to proactively transition beyond the novice learner by seeing models of what a top-grade written answer looks like. Exploring a model paragraph and dissecting it is gold dust for students who want to close the gap between novice and expert and to be able to articulate their own arguments beyond the scholarly wisdom of others. In this process, they are equipped with the tools needed to take their own writing to the next level by visualising and replicating excellence in academic writing.
For our students this may, for example, be the difference between describing arguments for idealism and critically evaluating responses to the issues, drawing upon broader concerns such as the role played by God. Students are able to see the structure of a paragraph and how this could effectively be assembled.
Teachers can create conceptual models for students to visualise the formation of a complex structure, understand it and then recreate it themselves in different contexts. For example, a philosophy teacher may model the premise and conclusion structure of an ontological argument for the existence of God. Students explicitly see this as a methodical concept and are then able to apply the same technique for a different version of ontological argument. Students are shown how to focus on the nuances in the logical form of arguments, strengths of conclusions and the nature of God, defended, for example, by St Anselm’s ontological argument. Following this model, students then apply the same structure to Descartes’ or Malcolm’s ontological arguments without seeing a conceptual model of critical evaluation, but rather arguments in linear form. The conceptual model provides an explanation for students and equips them for creating a varied concept themselves, and then prompts students to evaluate the success to which the nature of God is assumed or defended in a given argument. Argument mapping would be another useful tool in such a process.
Fundamental in the teaching process of theology and philosophy is the teacher’s narrative behind thought processes. Through explicit narration of a teacher’s thought process in solving theological-philosophical dilemmas, through evidence-based reliable methods or creating objectively structured arguments in response to big ultimate worldview questions, students are able to see their teacher model how to go about creating a response or a structure themselves. Sherrington divides teachers into more and less effective categories through the ability to narrate decisions and choices (i.e. where to begin with a problem). Students are then able to form their own structures and, in turn, grow in confidence (Sherrington, 2019).
The risk in modelling for students to improve is that there becomes an over-reliance on scaffolds and a lack of independence. Models are a helpful tool in equipping students to see what excellence looks like, and to improve along this learning journey, the tools should be gradually removed (and ideally led through self-reflection by students), which in turn builds confidence.
Christodoulou D (2013) Seven Myths About Education. London and New York: Routledge.
Sherrington T (2019) Rosenshine’s Principles in Action. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.
Willingham DT (2009) Why Don’t Students Like School? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.