I’m a great lover of ‘The Great British Bake Off’. I’m an even bigger fan of the ‘Extra Slice’. Those cakes and bakes (none ashamedly presented as blobs, splats and morphing alien matter on chopping boards) is brilliant television. If only the home bakers had an expert with them to model how it’s done – all crumbling catastrophes and sinking slop would disappear. Wouldn’t it?
As teachers, we present models of writing to our students. A model can provide examples of what is expected of the students in terms of work and/or behaviour. In fact, most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling – and there is much that is and has to be internalised by the learner during the process. If a desired outcome is to be achieved, then one-hundred percent modelling by the teacher, in the first instance, is a must for students to observe what is expected of them. This ‘thinking out loud’ approach models the teacher’s mental process and serves to be the trigger for students to begin to understand how they think and learn too. Research shows that metacognitive learners who take conscious steps to understand what they are doing when they learn tend to be the most successful learners. Activating student repertoire of metacognitive knowledge and strategies is crucial – it is a potential ball of greatness leading to self-regulation and independence, but it is not an easy ball to set rolling.
In my English classes I talk of and model ‘thinking threads’, weaving them together to create a strong plait of applied knowledge in relation to an extended writing piece question. The essential steps within this skill require explicit teaching with deliberate practice to begin to shape and grow the desired outcomes. For a student to demonstrate analytical thinking within the context of a text, I present a model example of what a crafted paragraph would look like. That’s the easier bit. It is the drilling down to the sub-skills that is the challenge – those jigsaw pieces that make the writing what it is, how each piece is carefully crafted so they fit tightly, corner to corner within the straight edges of the paragraph, giving a clear picture of thinking inside and outside of the box. My thinking looks something like this:
Each thread represents one of the three English literature assessment objectives, surrounded by a fourth – spelling, punctuation and grammar to glue the conceptual thinking together. If I am to begin to weave student thinking in the same way, I have to present my thinking in the most visible ways I can.
- Safety breeds survivors
It’s ok to make mistakes – it’s how we learn best. My classroom climate is one of challenge and have a go confidence. We are a team, working together towards the same goals. I model my thinking mistakes and together, we work out the right direction.
- Live it live
Make thinking visible through crafting answers, weave in the subject specific terminology, and the modelling of your thought processes will be at the fore as you craft.
- Probe for progress
There is an art to asking questions. They are the driving force in a process of thinking. Feeding students endless content to remember is like trying to start a fire without a spark. If students are to become critical thinkers, they have to take their thinking apart and understand the links that help to form the answer. Take for example the character Macbeth. Teacher: Who can describe Macbeth? Why could he be seen as a warrior? How could we connect his loyalty to Duncan and his violence on the battlefield as part of his ‘heat oppressed brain’? Questioning is a powerful tool in the mastery of modelling thought processes.
- The good, the bad and the ugly
Reasons for success need to be clear. Generating ideas from examples of good, bad and ugly models of responses generates a thinking platform. The more models the better. Students need to learn what good crafting looks like – and the pitfalls to avoid.
- Instilling independence
A much as students need models to support understanding, they need them removing too. Students need to be confident without them; we need to be confident in their thinking to remove them.