Example of a moderate verbal bias profile

  • Students with this profile are more likely to prefer engaging with written material and should show high average or above average attainment in language-based subjects such as English and history.
  • These students may find subjects that draw on their spatial ability, such as science, technology, graphic design and geography, more challenging.
  • The opportunity to link language-based skills with a structured understanding of writing, including text-type guidance, is likely to support these students’ work in more STEM-based subjects.
  • Teacher modelling, classroom demonstrations and guided instruction are likely to support Shauna’s achievement across the curriculum.

Shauna’s profile demonstrates a moderate preference for verbal over spatial learning. Shauna should perform well when engaged in tasks that require learning through written texts, in writing activities and in discussion. Her weaker spatial skills suggest that she will perform at an average to below average level when working with pictures, diagrams, 3D objects, mind maps and other tangible methods.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Shauna’s profile indicates that she will be hindered by her weaker spatial skills and so will need support when working with pictures, diagrams, mind maps and so on. These students’ areas of weakness can be developed through active teacher modelling (see page 62).

  • Step-by-step modelling is likely to be particularly important in mathematics and similar subjects where processes can be broken.

Students like Shauna are likely to be confident with written texts and can also explore the process described in teacher modelling themselves.

  • This can either be done actively through their own writing or more passively through exemplar material being provided as the basis for discussion and/or redrafting.
  • The student could be guided by a teacher’s choice of texts or using their own material. In this respect, teachers should explore the valuable use of both published material in draft form and the work of students from the previous year group – this can be excellent for reassuring learners about the processes of writing and how real redrafting works.

Additionally, with a verbal score of 104 (significantly higher than her other scores), Shauna is going to benefit in the classroom from a focus on asking questions.

  • Questioning is a key means of knowledge transfer.
  • It accounts for up to one-third of all teaching time, second only to the time devoted to explanation and, as Claxton (2003) is quoted to have said, “Good learning starts with questions, not answers”.

Examples of strategies for moderate verbal bias profile

This section will revisit the technique of modelling, since it is such an important skill for teachers to develop.

1. Effective teacher modelling

Modelling is one of the most effective ways of helping all students become more confident and skilled because it allows students to learn from the teacher demonstrating expertise in a process. The reason this is so important is that many students may have the necessary subject knowledge but lack both the experience of using process skills and the confidence to experiment and take risks when they are learning. For example, in writing, once students have the knowledge and understanding of the writing requirements – text type, purpose and audience, content and structure – the writing skills can be modelled, which enhances confidence and develops key skills through a shared activity, where it feels safe to take risks and make mistakes. Modelling shows how the subject works in the real world.

The focus on structure rather than content allows teachers to use the approach in a number of cross-curricular contexts. In a study of mathematics instruction, for instance, the most effective maths teachers spent about 23 minutes of a 40-minute period in lecture, demonstration, questioning, and working examples. In contrast, the least effective teachers spent only 11 minutes presenting new material. The more effective teachers used this extra time to provide additional explanations, give many examples, check for student understanding, and provide sufficient instruction so that the students could learn to work independently without difficulty.

But what do we mean by modelling, and in what ways is it different from demonstrating?

Modelling starts with an explanation and a demonstration of the end-to-end process, which:

  • are presented in a clear series of sequenced steps
  • include some thinking aloud about key decisions
  • invite further questions about the process
  • show the finished product from the process.

After such a presentation, the learners are given an opportunity to work some examples of the process, feed questions back, and work towards becoming independent users of the skill. All students will benefit from seeing writing processes and procedures modelled and then having an opportunity to continue this staged writing process with scaffolded support before producing their own independent text.

The most useful analogy might be with the popular genre of television cookery programmes. These are popular because they encourage viewers to try something new and different. The process is more than a passive demonstration, as the viewer is watching a description, an explanation and a demonstration of the process – and this is often conducted in ‘real time’. The celebrity chef makes their expertise seem accessible to the ordinary viewer.

The advantage of a live real-time presentation is that the teacher is able to slow down the process if required and ensure that student support and challenge is balanced to meet specific needs. Finally, the teacher is able to demonstrate clearly what the finished product should be like, ensuring that students have a far greater chance of success. As noted earlier (see Bisset Billy on page 31), this is simply what Hattie calls “showing students what success looks like”.

The modelling process is characterised by deliberate and structured teacher instruction using a ‘small-step’ approach – an idea very close to Vygotsky’s original ZPD concept (see page 35). Teaching in small steps and making sure that students have understood and can apply the learning takes time, but it does ensure that all learners are able to follow the steps, rather than leaving some students behind and causing frustration.

An approach that prioritises the learning of new materials, followed by some guided student practice before students are allowed to work independently, has been shown to be the most effective approach to successfully learning new knowledge – see Rosenshine (2012) as cited earlier on pages 36-37. The movement is one from dependence to independence; from teacher modelling through guided support to individual independent demonstration of new learning. Additionally, as Figure 4 indicates, teachers can confidently conclude this process with an evaluation that explicitly uses the criteria and involves the students if desired.

Figure 4 A simple modelling process.

Note that this kind of learner self-evaluation only works effectively when the criteria have been clearly demonstrated and exemplified by the teacher.

2. Modelling to support verbal skills

Modelling text types (whether non-fiction or fiction genres) can be done most easily in the classroom by teachers thinking about three different levels of language knowledge: word level, sentence level and whole-text level. The generic non-subject specific ideas provided below will support this development in the classroom:

  • Word level. Teachers can try paired vocabulary work, for example, a cloze exercise, matching words as synonyms or redrafting in pairs with a specific focus on an aspect of vocabulary. This could lead to a whole-class focus on the whiteboard while the teacher redrafts using a section of text containing the words students have already focused on in pairs.
  • Sentence level. Teachers can use card-sort exercises, for example, matching technique to example, then writing a sentence to demonstrate a technique, such as rhetorical questions. Teachers could use a word-bingo activity where a list of persuasive techniques can be matched to examples of writing before students write appropriate sentences on a given topic. These sentences can then be incorporated into a wholeclass modelling activity.
  • Whole-text level. Teachers plan that students work in pairs to draft a short paragraph before passing it on to another pair of students to complete a following paragraph. Students could plan a narrative text together with the teacher and then write the narrative using different starting points and flashback techniques. Different versions could be compared to the modelled structure.

It should be emphasised again that this approach requires the teacher to actively model the learning, perhaps thinking aloud in front of the class while demonstrating the new learning. Rosenshine makes clear in his summary of the research into these direct teaching approaches that “compared with the successful teachers, the less effective teachers gave much shorter presentations and explanations, and then passed out worksheets and told students to solve the problems”.

3. Asking questions

Questions help students to reflect on information, encourage discussion and generate new ideas but they are even more useful for the teacher. Questions enable a teacher to determine how well any new learning has been understood. More successful teachers ask more questions and make sure they are process questions – simply, the What, Why, How, When and Where questions – and, in a more complex construct, these more probing alternatives:

  • Can you describe how...?
  • What happened after...?
  • What differences are there between…?
  • Can you give another example of…?
  • What do you think was the motive behind…?
  • How many ways can you…?
  • What impressed you about…?
  • How would you have handled…?

Teachers can support the development of such verbal skills by increasing the amount of imaginative ways they can involve all students in a group in answering questions. For example, giving the answer to a teacher question to a partner, summarising an answer on a mini whiteboard and showing the teacher, and moving from a pair discussion about learning which focuses on a series of What? questions to a group of four that tackles more demanding Why? questions.

Questions can be effectively grouped into:

  • Exemplifying and Specialising questions: for example, Give me one or more examples of…; Describe, demonstrate, tell, show, choose, draw; Find an example of…
  • Completing, Deleting and Correcting questions: for example, What must be added/removed/altered to ensure/allow/ contradict?; Tell me what’s wrong with…?; What needs to be changed so that…?
  • Changing, Varying, Reversing and Altering questions: for example, What if…?; If this is the answer to a similar question, what was the question?; Can you do this another way?

It is important that teachers develop a repertoire of all these kinds of questions. As well as allowing teachers to determine how much a class understands and helping to draw students into the lesson, keeping them interested and alert, they have an additional symbolic value. They send a clear message that students are expected to be active participants in the learning process.