Instructional modeling, a powerful strategy in coaching

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ISTE Standard 4.4.d states: “Model the use of instructional design principles with educators to create effective digital learning environments.”

ISTE standard 4.4.d is not the only one that addresses the importance of instructional modeling. The article  ISTE Standards for Coaches 2: Model effective tech integration (2014) explains that modeling effective strategies allows teachers to see and understand how a new strategy looks like in a given learning environment. It further elaborates how, during staff development, coaches modeled how to used samples of animated clips in different instructional units. Then, the teachers applied the new strategy by using animated clips in their units. The success of the professional development was greatly attributed to modeling. The author concludes that without the modeling, teachers may not have integrated this technology into their classes.

“You often have to see firsthand how a new strategy looks within your own teaching environment before you can grasp its importance and how it should work.”

This article exemplifies the importance of modeling the skills coaches want teachers to effectively implement.

Modeling the implementation of instructional strategies provides teachers an example of how to best implement it, an opportunity to observe its effectiveness, and understand its importance. However, the model may include too many new variables that can overwhelm the observing coaching partner. There are many things happening simultaneously in a classroom. To make an observation more effective, the observer can focus on analyzing specific criteria. For example: What are the students doing? What are students learning, and how do you know they are learning it? How much autonomy do students have? What technology are they using and why?

This article includes three quotes from teachers that all coaches need to keep in mind.

“I don’t have time to integrate technology into my classroom.” “I already have so much to do, I can’t add one more thing into my day.” “I don’t know what technology integrated into my classroom looks like.”

My colleague, Nick Rose, asked, how would the input from the coaching partner influence the checklist? He also recommended that the coaching partners generate the list together.

Modeling with a check list in hand

In the book Peer Coaching, Dr. Foltos shares a Learning Design Matrix from Eeva Reeder that coaches can use to present characteristics and attributes of effective learning. Nevertheless, he advises to “go through several steps before they introduce the Learning Activity Checklist” (p. 112). While this checklist may not be introduced at the beginning, coaches can ask their coaching partners to choose from the four main characteristics 1) Standards-Base, 2) Engagement, 3) Problem-Based, and 4) Technology. If the lesson being improved already includes one or more characteristics, the coach can recognize them favorably, and narrow the selection. Once the coaching partner chooses a task, the coach can suggest three attributes from the list. The coaching partner would then select the most suitable attribute for the specific lesson.

Based on the Learning Activity Checklist presented by Foltos, the coaching partners can use an organizer to slowly introduce task attributes for each characteristic of effective learning. The table can be shared and serve as a growing collaborative document. It can be filled out as the attributes are introduced to the coaching partner.

The table can be furthered transformed by adding links of modeling videos, and resources that exemplify each attribute.

Modeling: Best Practices

The article from Edutopia, Modeling: Essential for learning, presents five elements that need to be considered when modeling:

  1. Use visuals or examples that are relevant.
  2. Model while thinking out loud so that [the learners] hear the process.
  3. Concisely communicate what we are doing and what is needed.
  4. Present or model logically
  5. Present or model only what is needed and leave the extra “stuff” out.

What stood out from these five recommendations is the emphasis on modeling in a way that is relevant, concise, logical, includes only what is needed, leaving out the unnecessary

Model the process

Another important element to model is how to perform the process. My colleague Jeff Birdsong highlighted the importance of keeping things meaningful yet manageable. It is important that a coach models and transfers the though process for setting goals. He recommended the article How to Set Intentional Coaching Goals in 2020 (5 Easy Ways to Get Started) which emphasizes on the importance of establishing clear, specific and quantifiable goals, through the standards. The author provides the following suggestions:

  1. Quantify your goal by choosing a set of standards
  2. Be realistic when setting your goals
  3. Make your goals measurable using a strategy like a SMART model
  4. Approach your goals from micro to macro
  5. Celebrate even the smallest of victories

The author advices that “Standards help make goals manageable and ensure there is a better chance of successful achievement.”

Model at first, then guide, then scaffold.

While the literature on the benefits of modeling are extensive, educational consultant Steve Barkley warns that modeling can limit thinking, hold back the more able, foster a dependency culture and can take the place of deep learning (Instructional Strategy: Modeling (Why, How, and Why Not) (2020). With this in mind, the coach should use modeling and examples to introduce attributes and characteristics of effective learning tasks, while scaffolding and empowering the coaching partner to undertake such tasks independently. Additionally, an alternative strategy to direct modeling, a coach can model thinking, scaffold learning, or support the teacher to create a model for their specific content (The Power of Modeling, The Instructional Coach Academy, 2019).

I personally understand teaching strategies better when I see them in action, and I learn them best when I practice them myself. As a teacher and coach, I appreciate the value and potential that instructional modeling provides to coaches, educators, and students alike.

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