K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Modeling is an instructional strategy in which the teacher demonstrates a new concept or approach to learning and students learn by observing.

Theory of modeling as an instructional strategy

Research has shown that modeling is an effective instructional strategy in that it allows students to observe the teacher’s thought processes. Using this type of instruction, teachers engage students in imitation of particular behaviors that encourage learning.1 According to social learning theorist Albert Bandura, “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.”2

Research has shown that modeling can be used across disciplines and in all grade and ability level classrooms.

Types of modeling

Disposition modeling

In disposition modeling, teachers and students convey personal values or ways of thinking. Although teachers must be careful not to offend and to be inclusive when modeling dispositions, this type of modeling is important for facilitating the development of character and community. Teachers can model desired personal characteristics by acting with integrity and empathy and by setting high expectations. “Teachers who are creative, diligent, well-prepared, and organized model the kinds of strategies needed to succeed in the workforce.”3

Task and performance modeling

Task modeling occurs when the teacher demonstrates a task students will be expected to do on their own. This type of modeling generally precedes activities like science experiments, foreign language communication, physical education tasks, and solving mathematical equations. This strategy is used so that students can first observe what is expected of them, and so that they feel more comfortable in engaging in a new assignment.

Metacognitive modeling

Metacognitive modeling demonstrates how to think in lessons that focus on interpreting information and data, analyzing statements, and making conclusions about what has been learned. This type of modeling is particularly useful in a math class when teachers go through multiple steps to solve a problem. In this type of modeling teachers talk through their thought process while they do the problem on the board or overhead. “This thinking-out-loud approach, in which the teacher plans and then explicitly articulates the underlying thinking process… should be the focus of teacher talk.”4 This type of modeling can also be done in a reading class while the teacher asks rhetorical questions or makes comments about how to anticipate what is coming next in a story.

Modeling as a scaffolding technique

When using modeling as a scaffolding technique, teachers must consider students’ position in the learning process. Teachers first model the task for students, and then students begin the assigned task and work through the task at their own pace. In order to provide a supportive learning environment for students who have learning disabilities or English language learners, teachers will model the task multiple times.5

Student-centered modeling

Teachers can often call on students to model expected behaviors or thought processes. In student-centered modeling, teachers engage students who have mastered specific concepts or learning outcomes in the task of modeling for their peers. This type of modeling makes the class less “teacher-centered,” which, in some cases, provides a more supportive learning environment for students.6