Looking for model behavior from your students? Then why not model the behavior?
Modeling has become (thankfully) a fairly common practice in today’s classrooms. Teachers model via think alouds what to do when encountering a challenging text. They model the writing process by projecting sample paragraphs and essays for the class to look at together. They model which steps to take and in which order to take them in order to solve an algebra problem.
We do all these types of modeling as educators because we understand that, often, our students need to see what the process looks like, or need to see what an end product should be, or need to hear what an active reader’s thought process sounds like.
So why not also use modeling when it comes to behavioral expectations in the classroom? Perhaps, sometimes, students’ inappropriate behaviors are a result of students needing to know what it looks like and feels like to behave appropriately.
I’ve been doing some reading on muscle memory, thanks to the famous sister authors of The Daily 5 and CAFÉ books, written to promote classroom structures that enhance elementary students’ literacy independence. These are great reads, in my opinion, for both elementary and secondary educators alike, so don’t be surprised if they are the subjects for future blog posts.
But, for now, I want to zoom in on what the sisters have to say about muscle memory and its connection to behavior in the classroom. Some students, particularly those who are kinesthetic learners, learn best by experiencing the same physical task over and over until it becomes an ingrained way of being because it has become a part of their muscle memory. We’ve all experienced this, actually. Take driving a car, for example. As adult drivers, we no longer have to concentrate on each physical aspect of driving a car; we don’t consciously think, “Now I put the car key in the ignition, now I turn the key clockwise until the car starts, etc.” But we probably did need to think through these steps much more consciously when we were first learning to drive. The difference now is that, through much repeated practice and experience, these tasks have been ingrained in our muscle memory.
A student in our classroom who is learning a new behavioral expectation from us (how to behave during a mini-lesson, for example, or how to behave when the teacher is busy conferencing with a small group of students) may just well need two things: 1) he or she may need to experience a model of the behavior so he or she knows just what is expected, and 2) he or she may need to practice the appropriate behavior repeatedly until it is part of his or her muscle memories. Muscle memory does not happen overnight, or even after three practice runs (again, think of the driving analogy).
A great suggestion from the sister authors is to include the students in the behavior modeling. They suggest beginning by discussing with the whole class what student behavior should be during a particular activity, brainstorming a list of behavioral criteria. Then, the sisters ask for a student volunteer to model for the class what this behavior looks like. While the student models the correct behavior (which could include sitting correctly, listening, nodding along in agreement, taking notes, etc.), the teacher points out to the rest of the class how the model student is doing everything on the previously-created brainstormed list of expected behaviors.
But – wait for it! – here’s my favorite part. The sisters don’t stop there. They then call on a student whom they know will find it challenging to display these appropriate behaviors. They ask this student to model for the class the incorrect way to behave. As they insist – and I’m sure most of us can relate to – “Remember, give that student an audience now, or he or she will certainly take it later!” (from The Daily 5, 2006, p. 88). Modeling incorrect behavior typically results in some laughs from the crowd, and this student has now received the attention he or she typically craves.
But – wait for it! – here’s my actual favorite part!!! The sisters then have this same student model the correct way to behave. I tried this out just the other day in a classroom I’ve been working in as an instructional coach and I can testify to its effectiveness. After modeling the incorrect behavior and getting some laughs, the student was able to completely shift gears and model the correct behaviors, giving him a chance to further instill these behaviors in his muscle memory, and also proving to himself and to his teacher that he does, in fact, know how to behave correctly and is, in fact, capable of doing so. This modeling exercise provides the teacher with great evidence to bring up with this student should he slip away from the expected behavior later on.
I do feel I’ve oversimplified the concept slightly. The sisters do get into a lot of stamina-building practices that are very conducive towards building muscle memory that I haven’t talked about here. But I hope, readers, you’ll walk away from this post thinking about one more thing that could – and should – be modeled for students. Even if they are secondary students, they are still in your classroom for the first time and may need to learn your expectations for behavior during certain activities.
Modeling. If it works for writing assignments, algebra problems, and thought processes, then why not for behavior, too?
Bye, readers! I’m off to the gym. Gotta work on that muscle memory!