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Provide Models, Examples and Nonexamples

Corwin Press, an imprint of Sage Publications

Similar to expert craftsmen teaching their trades to apprentices, teachers can model thinking and problem-solving skills to their students. Read more about various classroom modeling techniques.

If your students don’t understand or retain what you are teaching them, use the cognitive apprenticeship model as a powerful way to accelerate learning for all students. In a traditional apprenticeship (e.g., on in the trades such as plumbing or carpentry), the expert tradesperson shows the apprentice how to do a task and then gradually gives over more and more of the responsibility for the task to the apprentice. In a cognitive apprentice ship, it is the teacher’s thinking and problem solving that are made visible to students through modeling. Regrettably, teacher modeling is rarely seen in many classrooms.

In a study of the frequency of general education teachers’ classroom behaviors, modeling and role-playing were among the lowest. Modeling was observed less than 5% of the time and role-playing hardly ever. At the other end of the frequency continuum, lecturing was observed slightly more than half the time while giving directions occurred nearly a quarter of the time (Schumaker et al., 2002).

Modeling can take several forms in your classroom:

  • Thinking aloud regarding your cognitive processing of text (e.g., sharing with students how you make connections between what you know and something that you’ve read in the text or how you figured out what the author was inferring)
  • Demonstrating or showing your students explicitly h ow you would complete an assignment (e.g., writing a summary of an article, taking notes, constructing a graphic organizer, or giving a speech)
  • Showing first-rate complete examples of a work product (e.g., a summary paragraph or graphic organizer) as well as substandard nonexamples that help students differentiate between a good one and an unacceptable one
  • Acting out, role-playing or developing simulations. See the instructional aid below: A Simulation for Mitosis (or Meiosis)
  • Explaining, telling, and giving directions are essential teaching moves, but unless they are accompanied by various types of modeling, the likelihood of struggling readers achieving success is small. Never assume that because students have spent year in school, they have been explicitly taught or have somehow figured out on their own how to do what you want them to do.

Instructional Aid 15.1 — A Simulation for Mitosis (or Meiosis)

Stepping Into Cell Division:

  1. Each student gets two pieces of paper and a pencil or pen.
  2. Each student places his or her papers horizontally on the floor, one page in front of each foot (works best on tile floors).
  3. Students stand on the inside half of each sheet — one foot per paper — and then trace their feet (it’s no problem if feet extend beyond the paper; just have students trace the part of their foot that is on the paper). Each drawn foot represents an unduplicated chromosome. Each pair of feet represents a homologous pair of unduplicated chromosomes.
  4. Explain to students our classroom is a cell that is in the G1 stage of Interphase, a period of rapid cell growth. Count the number of chromosomes in your cell (it should be twice your number of students).
  5. Tell students that as cells continue to grow, they reach a point where they must divide again. To prepare for this, cells must copy their chromosomes. Show this replication (S phase of Interphase) by having the students move their feet to the outside half of each paper and trace again. Now each piece of paper represents a duplicated chromosome (with two sister chromatids), and the two pages represent a homologous pair of duplicated chromosomes. Count the number of chromosomes again. It is still equal to twice your number of students since the sister chromatids (e.g., the two left feet on one page) are still together. Students may write their initials inside each foot outline along with the letters L or R to indicate which foot was outlined.
  6. Discuss events of G2 of Interphase: There’s no change in chromosome number but cells may grow more and will get ready to divide.
  7. Now have students walk through mitosis by keeping their feet on their papers and shuffling feet and paper across the floor.
    • Prophase. Describe how duplicated chromosomes coil up and appear as x-shaped structures. Help students make the connection between their two pieces of paper and a picture of a homologous pair of duplicated chromosomes.
    • Metaphase. Everyone shuffles or slides their paper pieces to line them up at the equator (middle of the room).
    • Anaphase. Each student must pick up and tear each page in half so, for instance, the two traced left feet are separated (same for the two traced right feet). Students place one of their separated left feet at one end of the cell while the other left foot goes to the other end. Repeat the process with the separated right feet.
    • Telophase. Have students count the number of chromosomes in each new cell to see if we have the same number as in Step 4 (each new cell should have a left and right foot of each student).
  8. For meiosis, students must “do the splits” at Anaphase I to show how homologous chromosome pairs separate, then tear pages in half during Anaphase II to show sister chromatids separating. Be sure to count chromosomes as you go.

Recommended Resources

  • Collins et al., 1991. “Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible.” American Educator.
  • Rose, 1995. “Apprentice and Exploration: A New Approach to Literacy Instruction.” Scholastic Literacy Research.

McEwan, E.K., 40 Ways to Support Struggling Readers in Content Classrooms. Grades 6-12, pp. 67-69, copyright 2007 by Corwin Press. Reprinted by Permission of Corwin Press, Inc.