Models and Modelling

#15MinForum – 1/12/16

Published earlier this month, this guide from What Works Clearinghouse (@WhatWorksED) on ‘Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively’ reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Mike Coll, Subject Leader for History and one of our newly appointed Lead Teachers on the Extended Leadership Team, around ideas to do with modelling.

One of the things that came up in that conversation was a feeling that some of the work we’ve done over the last 18 months in relation to assessment and success criteria may have emphasised the value of ‘using models’ (i.e. pieces of work shared to set a standard of expectation, to unpack success criteria or refine student approaches to self- and peer-assessment), but has perhaps overlooked the value of ‘live modelling’… And so Mike led our most recent 15 Minute Forum on this very theme.

Photo Credit: mion.danny Flickr via Compfight cc

Mike started by sharing the journey he has had in terms of his own thinking, particularly in relation to the fact that he used to spend a lot of time preparing and providing model answers. He suggested that they are useful in terms of giving an idea of what excellence will look like, but no matter how carefully you might go about using it as an opportunity to tease the detail out of a mark scheme or the success criteria, for many students giving them the model and then saying ‘now get on with it’ can be daunting and unrealistic. And that is where the live modelling comes in…


The purposes of modelling

“Using model answers can show students what they should be achieving – modelling should provide them with the techniques and processes to help them to actually achieve it.”


I particularly like this last one. In the context of wanting our lessons to challenge students and really make them think hard, modelling reality shows them that struggle is normal – it is ok to be stuck! Being stuck should be highlighted and endorsed, and through modelling we can demonstrate strategies for overcoming challenge and getting unstuck.


In much the same way, Mike highlighted that when modelling how to construct an answer in History, he’ll occasionally make mistakes or omissions and then redraft as necessary. Again, this message is an important one – keep tinkering until your work is excellent!

On occasion, this might even go as far as to involve a bit of drama in the classroom. It isn’t acting as such, but really externalising the thought process and making clear to students what you are thinking and doing.


Here are a few of the other strategies that Mike shared in relation to modelling:

  • Collaborative modelling. Ask a student to get it started, and then invite others to contribute the next part or suggest revisions.
  • Comparative modelling. Give a couple of models and get students to evaluate them. In the History setting, Mike identified that this has had an impact on getting students to think carefully about what the question being asked of them, rather than simply writing down all of the stuff they happen to know about a topic referenced in the question!
  • Deconstruction. Give an example paragraph (or get one from a student/group) and then deconstruct it by identifying specific skills. For example in History, underline/highlight in one colour where there is evaluation of extracts, in another colour where these evaluations have been supported with evidence, and in a third colour where the answer demonstrates an awareness of historical context.


The Clearinghouse guide unpacks this idea a bit further, including some example statements that a teacher might use…modelling-example-1-8


For more on modelling, this post over at Class Teaching is well worth a few minutes… it was a source of inspiration for this session!

INSET Day 7/10/15

INSET Day  07-10-15 focus The brief opening slot of today’s INSET provided an opportunity to set out some of the priority areas for the coming year: the inextricably linked ideas of shared success criteria, effective assessment and students knowing how to improve…

Prior to the INSET day, everyone was organised into groups of about 8 staff (to ensure staff were working in groups containing a range of subjects/ experiences/ characters) and an email went out with the subject ‘Important information for the INSET day (worth flagging)…

The body of the email repeated the hint: ‘You might like to flag this email ahead of tomorrow’s INSET… (and yes, it will help your team stake their claim on a prize)‘ and then provided a piece of information (each group had a different email, though they didn’t know this and nor did they know who was in what group… a sure way to create some intrigue in the staff room in the days leading up to the INSET! A nice way to get people talking about the INSET day in positive terms before it has even happened!)

Examples of the sort of information each group was given included:

Your population is 15.74 million, you produce most of the balsa wood in the world, and your capital city is Quito.

Your population is 8.098 million, public performances of your national anthem usually only involve the final verse and chorus, and your capital city is Tegucigalpa.

Your population is 22.92 million, you have 143,700 landlines in use, and your capital city is Antananarivo.

And so on for 13 different groups. The only bit that anyone needed to think about was the capital city, but the random facts added to the intrigue! Most staff googled the country, but not all had then taken the hint to look at the flag for their country!

running out of retort stands in the lab!

Watching staff run around the school hall (flight of the bumblebee blaring out) trying to work out which flag was theirs, shouting at each other for help in order to be able to start the first challenge (and win themselves a breakfast hamper of croissant, pain au chocolat and juice to consume during the rest of the morning!) was a great way to start the morning. The first challenge was a L&T Tarsia (if you haven’t discovered Tarsia, you’re missing out! Free, easy to use, kids love it)

And so to business…

INSET Day  07-10-15

First we took a look at some of the research headlines to provide some context for the decision to place some emphasis on the three specific areas of our Challoner 10 over the coming months.

INSET Day  07-10-15 research



This, combined with the fact that we have a new assessment and feedback policy in place this year which we are seeking to develop and embed, provides good justification for taking some time to think about these three areas!


Terminology and general rationale…

I started by suggesting that it doesn’t matter a great deal whether we call them objectives, outcomes, success criteria, aims, WALTs, WILFs,  etc. Rather, what matters is that we have a shared conception of the ideas, why they are arguably important, and how we might use them effectively. Given the seeming preference within the research literature (and my own personal preference for what I think is greater clarity than objectives/outcomes), I framed the session (and continue to frame my conversations with colleagues) using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria.

Learning Intentions & Success Criteria


Having explored, in groups and as a whole staff, what Learning Intentions and Success Criteria can be/ should be, we focussed our attention specifically on Success Criteria. The full slides from the session can be seen below, but the focus of much of the discussion was on the importance of students being able to operationalise and internalise the success criteria, through modelling and assessement (of various sorts). Unfortunately, there was little time left to really get into the value of modelling and some particular strategies for how to go about using modelling and collaborative assessment, but this is certainly something we’ll come back to… (in the meantime, check out this post over at ClassTeaching)


And here is a nice little video from John Hattie…


Full session slides below…

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