Modelling Answers in Geography

I remember writing my application letter for a PGCE course in my third year at university. I gave the first draft to a professor I had immense respect for, to have a read through. A couple of days later he called me to his office. “Have a read of this”, he said to me and passed over the application letter of another student. After reading it I realised how utterly crap my first draft was. I’d missed out lots of relevant information that would support my application to the course. The professor then talked me through the example he shared with me, explaining why it was a strong letter of application.

Going through this process, some 24 years ago, had a profound effect on me in the classroom. How could I expect my students to attempt exam questions when they hadn’t gone through the modelling processes? Not only does the modelling process build student confidence but it also saves hours of teacher time. How? Have you ever set an exam question for students to complete, then spent hours marking the fruits of their labour, making similar corrections to almost every answer? It’s tedious, painful and a complete waste of time!

Through modelling how to complete a similar question, hours of time marking can be saved by first demonstrating the process students can go through when completing a similar style of question. Additionally, this approach also helps build student confidence when facing exam questions.

So, how can modelling be approached? There is a range of different ways to model. Below is an example that has worked for me, in my classroom with my students.

Step 1 – Identify the question

Identify a question you want the students to complete e.g. Explain the formation of a wave-cut platform. Then, create a variation of it e.g. Explain the formation of a stack. Share this with the students. I found the best way of modelling to students was using a piece of paper and pen along with a visualiser/webcam attached to my computer which was then displayed on the wall using a projector.

Recommended digital visualisers include:

Step 2 – Share the question

Share the question with the students. Deconstruct the question with the students. Identify the command word e.g. explain – think out-loud what this term means. What is the question asking me to write about? Sometimes I would annotate the question underlining command words and making simple notes about what I might talk about.

Step 3 – Assessment Criteria

Share the mark scheme with the students. Show them how the question will be assessed. If they understand the assessment criteria they are more likely to meet its expectation.

Step 4 – Misconceptionsceptions

Share the misconceptions and errors students regularly make on questions like this e.g. describing instead of explaining. It might also be worth pointing out the processes involved in the formation of the landform e.g. remembering to include weathering processes, not just processes of erosion.

Step 5 – Model it

Model the answer. As you are writing the answer, talk to the students and explain to them your thinking behind each sentence you include. Less experienced teachers might want to write a model answer prior to the lesson and have it on their desk to fall back on. If you feel more confident doing this, go for it! The more you model, the more confident you will become. Eventually, you will be able to model off the top of your head!

Step 6 – Their turn

Now that the students have experienced the modelling process, it is their turn to have a go at a similar style of question.

This approach worked for me, in my classroom, with my students. There is a range of equally valid approaches to modelling out there. The trick is to experiment and see what works for you in your classroom.

In case you are wondering, the second version of my PGCE application got me onto the course I wanted. Thank goodness for modelling.

Anthony Bennett



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