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Teachers Must Move Beyond Modeling

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
February 28, 2021

As teachers we are always modeling for students, it is up to us to decide what they learn. 

Parenting and Teaching

If you’re a parent you know this all too well. Literally everything we say, but more importantly do, seems to be absorbed by our children and put into action. Parenting is like looking in a mirror 24/7. I believe the same to be true in our interactions with our students. Our students pick up on some of what we say but a lot of what we do. That is why we must consciously leverage modeling as a teaching strategy. But modeling alone falls short. Students also need to practice what they’ve been shown. Instead of modeling alone, engage students in Parallel Process. Parallel Process is an interaction during which a teacher is modeling a skill or habit and her students are simultaneously engaged in that activity. Through parallel process students are more likely to gain the competency needed to successfully employ the executive functions that are the bedrock of learning. 

A Disappointed Teacher

A few years ago I was visiting a school in northern Michigan who was adopting Organized Binder. I had finished the first part of an all-day PD with the staff when I was greeted by a teacher who invited me back to his classroom. As we walked together he explained how binders did not work for his students. When we reached his room he walked over to a large cabinet and angrily swung open the door. Piled in the cabinet were 60+ binders which had been thrown in haphazardly by his students - some on their side, some upside down, others open, and all of them spilling papers into the cabinet. I will never forget what the teacher said when I asked him about it. He explained emphatically that he had, “...purchased all of these binders for my students because they needed to get organized. And this is what they did with them!”

Said best by a middle school teacher who uses Organized Binder...

“...what is commonly overlooked in the classroom is that students’ lives outside of school are unknown! Students who do not know how to be, act, and/or learn like a student don't know how because they have not learned it yet.”

Organized Binder Middle School Teacher

This is especially true for our most fragile students. Students for whom English is a second language, students with learning differences, students plagued by historic academic failure, and everyone in between. Just handing a student a binder, or any resource for that matter, and expecting them to magically become organized is a delusion. Instead, the key is to expose students to a skill by engaging with them in Parallel Process. For example, when I have my students set quarterly goals in my class we always begin with my goals. Then, together as a class community, we set goals. Similarly, when I model for students the skill of time and task management by maintaining a personal planner, they record in their planner as I record in mine. The list goes on and on, reflective learning, organizational skills, etc.

Any skill or habit that will help students be successful we must give them practice with through Parallel Process. In doing so, students experience that skill modeled while they get daily practice employing it in our classroom. 

Be well, 


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