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What is Modelling and Why should teacher educators care about it?

Modelling in teacher professional development

Ambition Institute has published a new piece of research into the benefits of modelling in teacher professional development.

There is currently no consensus on whether teacher professional development should include observable examples of teaching practice. Two thirds of evaluated professional development programmes include models; one third do not.

The study provides the first causal evidence that adding modelling to professional development helps to bridge the theory-practice gap.

Models are observable examples of a specific teaching practice. Some models are ‘live’ in that they are delivered in person. For example, when a trainee teacher observes a more experienced colleague teaching a lesson. Other models are captured in videos. For example, the My Teaching Partner coaching programme includes a library of video models.

One distinctive feature of video models is that they can be directly annotated in a way that would be difficult to do with live classroom teaching. This allows teacher educators to draw teachers’ attention to different aspects of the teaching practice depicted in the model and explain the reasoning behind them.

Whether they are live, recorded, or annotated, models are thought to help teachers develop a mental ‘image’ of the focal teaching practice, which can then support them with putting theory into practice. As a result, influential theories suggest that models should be incorporated into both initial and continuing teacher professional development.

In practice, however, there is currently no consensus on whether teacher professional development should include models. Two thirds of evaluated professional development programmes include models; one third do not. In this research, we set out to provide the first evidence on whether and how models are beneficial.

How did we research modelling in this study?

Ambition Institute set out to compare how different types of models can support early career teachers in developing evidence-based teaching practices. We focused on a particularly well-researched area of teaching: prompting pupils to retrieve prior learning, with the aim of improving retention.

We began by recruiting 89 primary-phase initial teacher trainees and asking them to read a three-page evidence summary, which set out five principles of effective questioning for retrieval. The trainee teachers then took part in a mixed-reality classroom simulator exercise in which they were tasked with asking a set of questions to some simulated pupils. We asked them to do this in a way that would encourage students to retrieve what they already knew and to use the evidence summary to guide their practice.

We then measured how well the trainee teachers did in the simulator by comparing their practice with the recommendations in the evidence summary. We also measured the trainee teachers’ confidence in using questioning for retrieval.

We then randomly divided the 89 trainee teachers into three comparable groups:

  • Group 1 had a second chance to read the evidence summary.

  • Group 2 watched a video model of a teacher using questioning for retrieval in a way that aligned with the recommendations in the evidence summary document.

  • Group 3 watched the same video model but with annotations added in certain places to draw attention to, and explain the reasoning behind, different aspects of the teaching practice shown in the model. For example, the video shows a teacher posing a question and then pausing for three seconds before selecting a pupil to respond. The video then cuts away to show the following text: “By waiting three seconds after posing a question, the teacher gives all pupils sufficient time to attempt retrieval”.

We then asked all of the trainee teachers to have a second go at using questioning for retrieval in the classroom simulator and measured how much they had improved.

What did we learn about modelling from this study?

This study provides the first evidence of the benefits of adding modelling to teacher training. We found that trainee teachers exposed to the video models (groups 2 and 3) did twice as well in their second simulator attempt, relative to the trainee teachers who did not watch a video model (group 1). However, we found no difference in trainee teachers’ confidence in using retrieval practice depending on whether they watched a video model or not.

This study also provides the first evidence on the benefits of adding annotations to video models. We found no difference in performance between group 2 (who watched a video model with no annotations) to those in group 3 (who watched a video model with annotations). The two groups improved by the same amount between their first and second simulator attempts.

What should teacher educators do differently as a result of this study?

Teacher educators should seriously consider incorporating models into teacher training aimed at supporting teachers’ use of evidence-based practices. While the participants in our study were in their first year of teacher training, we believe that this finding may also apply to early career teachers more generally. Likewise, while we tested video models, we believe this finding may also apply to equivalent live models.

Teacher training programmes might consider incorporating libraries of video models exemplifying good practice. There may also be a case for developing libraries of video models of evidence-based teaching techniques that are publicly available to all trainees.

Our research suggests that it may not be necessary to annotate video models. However, we would advise teacher educators to interpret this finding with caution.

In our experiment, trainees had already read about the effective use of questioning for retrieval in the evidence summary prior to watching the video model. The trainee teachers therefore knew (to some extent) what to look for in the video models, and why the teacher in the video was doing things a certain way. In such scenarios, annotating models appears to be unnecessary.

By contrast, in less structured and more realistic scenarios, for example while observing a lesson, it may still be helpful for teacher educators to highlight and explain certain aspects of their practice after the lesson, to help trainee teachers make sense of what they have seen in the model.

You can read the full report produced by Sean Sims, Harry Fletcher-Wood, Thomas Godfrey-Faussett, Peps Mccrea and Stefanie Meliss here.

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