Students need to have a focus to be successful learners. It is the teacher who guides the student to have a focus. To focus a student to a particular task, skill, or strategy the teacher needs to fully explain the task, skill, or strategy. Students don’t retain much information when they are told; they need scaffolds and supports to process information. As teachers we need to…..” ask ourselves whether we are explaining or telling.” (Fisher and Frey, 2008)
Students need to be aware of the thinking process of the teacher. The mini-lesson/lecture in the middle and the high school classroom should contain new terms and concepts and allow students to draw conclusions from the ideas otherwise they could read the information in a book. Before the students are focused, they need to understand the purpose for the lesson. At this time the teacher connects the previously learned information to the reason for the new information; reminds students of correlated written and social skills and presents a synopsis of what the students will be doing. Two methods of focusing are modeling and demonstration. Modeling emphasizes how a task, skill, or strategy is accomplished. Demonstration uses a combination of verbal and visual elements to accomplish a task, skill, or strategy.
Name the particular task, skill, or strategy: “Today we will learn how to solve equations.”
State the purpose of the task, skill, or strategy: “When you work with a variable, you will need to solve equations.”
Explain when the skill or strategy is used: “When you want to complete a number sentence with an unknown variable, you will be solving an equation.”
Use analogies to link their prior knowledge to the new skill: ”When you work with word problems, you often have to find unknown numbers by using the information that is given.”
Demonstrate how the task, skill, or strategy is completed: “When you add/subtract the same number from both sides of the equation, you can find the variable.”
Alert the learners about errors to avoid: “Make sure to add/subtract the same number form BOTH sides of the equation.”
Access the use of the skill: “Now we will work on another equation together and review the steps.”
When the skill or strategy is modeled, not just told they gain a deeper understanding for when to apply it, what to watch for and how to assess their own success.
Name all of the materials and explain their purpose in completion the final project.
Show the steps in “real time.”
Give alternative steps to the process ( “there is more than one way to ……”).
Discuss the possible errors by using a shortcut.
The demonstration includes the sequence of steps and the decisions that accompany each steps so the next step makes sense. Errors to avoid are also noted to accomplish the task, skill or strategy.
After modeling and demonstrating the skill or strategy students can be led to know how and when to use their new skills. They can self-assess and evaluate the approaches they use to connect the learning to the next new skill that they learn. They can begin to travel on the road to self-directed learning.
Fisher, D., Frey, N., Better Learning Through Structured Learning: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, ASCD, 2008.
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