The modeling dilemma…what’s the observer doing?


“If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it………” might seem to be a silly comparison to, “if a model demonstrates a skill and no one is observing….. ” —- but in reality a model requires a trained observer, or little is being communicated by the model.

Self-regulation drawn from social cognitive theory has very distinct requirements for the role of the model in teaching and learning, and equally important requirements for the role of the observer.  The OBSERVER must be paying close attention to the actions of the model (teacher, parent, more experienced peer) or we cannot call what is commonly referred to as “modeling”  the real thing….

The term “modeling” is clearly overused and under representative of what we are actually doing when we say “I modeled …..” in order to introduce a new skill or strategy.  Last week I decided to actually model a strategy doing a think aloud without interruptions from my class.  How did I know they were attending to my demonstration if I did not call on them to make sure they had not wandered away from observing my actions?  Actually, that is the job of the model, to produce actions (and not too many of them) that engage the attention of the observer without checking for understanding until the entire sequence of behaviors have been observed. Many educators think that stopping and asking questions to check for understanding during a modeling sequence increases the observer’s understanding of the behavior, when in reality, it interrupts the flow of learning from observing.

Observational learning requires specific skills that are not emphasized but are a significant factor when addressing how educators are going to shape core ready learners. Researchers agree that if students are to learn from observing the behaviors of a teacher, the demonstration must go beyond actions.  Teaching a new strategy must include thinking aloud and revealing the mental processes while performing the skill.  However, if we think aloud to untrained observers we are not modeling, we are just talking.

We need to teach our students how to learn from observing before we begin to “model” – and we need to learn more about modeling as a teaching strategy. The child who has learned to push the chair over to the counter to reach the cookie jar observed an adult use the chair to obtain out of reach objects multiple times before he/she attempted to reproduce the behavior. As instructors we need to invest more time in training observers to pay attention, and in order to do that we need to become more effective models. Directing attention is a prerequisite to observational learning, and future blogs will include strategies to help our student prepare to observe.


4 thoughts on “The modeling dilemma…what’s the observer doing?

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    • I created it through wordpress, uploaded the pictures from different places – My only suggestion is just do it, this began as book notes and what I post will be in a new book we have coming out with Routledge – Best regards, Marie

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