Sandra L. Christenson, Ph.D, College of Education and Human Development and Cathryn Peterson, Teacher, Armstrong High School, Robbinsdale, MN
Revised June 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for School Success.
Modeling refers to how adults demonstrate desired behaviors and commitment/value toward learning and working hard in their daily lives. Student success at school is enhanced when teachers establish an academically demanding classroom that has clearly defined objectives, explicit instructions and an orderly and efficient environment, and when the parent(s) or other adults read, ask questions, discuss the importance/value of education, set long term goals, and are able to intervene and be involved with youth's school.
What Do We Know?
Selected Research Findings
A positive family correlate of academic achievement is the degree to which parents model learning by reading or using math in the home (Hess & Holloway, 1984). Eagle (1989) also found that higher achieving students came from homes that emphasized family reading.
According to Maccoby and Martin (1984), children attend to, respond to, and follow the behavior of salient models more than they model verbal instruction or demands when the words and actions of parents are incongruent. Thus, parents who are observed reading, improving themselves, and taking an interest in their children's education have a greater impact on their learning than those who do not model such behaviors.
Parental modeling of the value of learning, self-discipline, and hard work by asking questions and engaging in conversations about achievement resulting from hard work has been associated positively to students' academic performance and persistence on tasks (Clark, 1993; Rumberger, 1995).
Based on a review of the parent involvement literature, Becher (1984) concluded that children with high achievement scores have parents who set expectations for their performance, respond and interact with them frequently, and view themselves as "teachers" of their children. Grolnick, Benjet, Kurowski, & Apostoleris (1997) recently showed that mothers of third and fifth graders who felt efficacious, who saw their roles as that of teacher, and who viewed their children as less difficult, were more involved in cognitive, school-related tasks at home.
An authoritative parenting style appears to mediate children's competence through discussion around schoolwork and everyday events, use of problem-solving and negotiation skills, and facilitates learning through support and expectations for success (Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991).
In a study of Indochinese refugee families, one of the strongest predictors of GPA was the love of learning present in the students' homes (Caplan, Choy, & Whitmore, 1992). In another study investigating the experiences and attitudes of Indochinese refugee families, researchers found the stronger the values related to education held by the parents, and the more supportive intervention behaviors performed by parents, the higher the children's academic achievement. The authors concluded that three factors influence the connection between parents' values and behavior: strong, consistent values about the importance of education, willingness to help children and intervene at school, and ability to become involved (Mitrosomwang & Hawley, 1993). Modeling appears to be influenced by both parents' attitudes and behaviors.
Effective teachers model a task-oriented attitude for their students. They establish an academically demanding climate, conduct an orderly, well-managed classroom ensuring student success, implement instructional practices that promote student achievement, and provide opportunities for student leadership and responsibility. Teachers who establish academic objectives elicit higher student achievement than teachers who fail to establish clear objectives, are unable to accomplish academic objectives due to poor management skills, or establish primarily affective objectives (Brophy, 1986).
The importance of explicit instruction is highlighted in research in reading comprehension. In a review of 60 separate studies comparing explicit approaches to the more conventional approach (i.e., demonstration-practice-assessment) for teaching comprehension skills, Pearson and Dole (1985) found student performance on practice and application activities to be superior when teachers took the time, through extended discussions, to make clear to students the what, how, why, and when of necessary skills. The studies reviewed included training both elementary and junior high students in the use of specific strategies for improving reading comprehension; in most cases, the effects proved to be durable over periods ranging up to six months. Additionally, Duffy et. al. (1986) found that teachers who used instructional talk that made "visible their invisible thinking" while teaching reading comprehension, had students who performed better on reading assignments and achievement tests.
The availability of positive role models within ethnically diverse communities is associated with the degree to which the community places value on educational and vocational achievement (National Commission on Children, 1991).
When adults, including teachers, model higher order moral reasoning and thinking skills during stressful or difficult situations, they demonstrate how to handle difficult situations for youth (Garbarino, 1995).
Youth, especially poor or disadvantaged children, benefit from living in diverse or economically mixed communities. Less affluent children have role models that can demonstrate other ways of living and provide them with additional resources and opportunities, such as baseball tickets, visits to a museum and trips to the zoo. In addition, more affluent children can gain by being able to identify negative stereotypes that are often associated with less affluent people (Garbarino, 1995).
The Search Institute studies have found that the most positive impact occurs when most youth do not actually see or witness people modeling a negative or risky behavior. Unfortunately it seems that presence of positive behavior is much less influential on community health. Seventy-three percent of youth in the healthiest communities reported that they do not see their friends skip school, drink frequently, use illicit drugs, or attend drinking parties. This is compared to 66% of youth in moderately healthy and 59% of youth in the least healthy communities, when asked about the same risk factors (Blyth, 1992).
Focus Group Comments
- "My mom is a single parent with five kids, she is doing really good, she is smart, she takes care of us really good. She doesn't give up, she keeps doing stuff until she gets it right." (Consistent Middle School Students)
- "I guess the thing that has really influenced me is my older sister, because she really pushed herself and now she's at the medical school at the University in the Twin Cities, and she'll call me at night and ask me how I'm doing in school." (Consistent High School Student)
- "Follow the same rules as the kids have to." (Consistent Elementary Student)
- "Teachers act like they have never forgot anything." (Consistent Middle School Student)
- "Watchin' people doing stuff you want to do. Seein' someone, you'll say 'that's what I want to do. It motivates you to try your hardest." (Consistent Middle School Student)
How Do We Do This?
Value of Education
- Parents model the importance and value of education by using reading and math in the home (e.g., balance a checkbook, read a book).
- Parents talk positively with their child about school activities and projects (e.g., support teacher assignments and school standards and expectations).
- Parents discuss with the child their values and the values they would like the child to have.
Goals and Problem-Solving
- Parents set long term goals for themselves and use their progress as an example of persistence and hard work for their child.
- Parents talk with their child about lessons they have learned in life and how education has helped them to be successful (e.g., let your child know you have made mistakes and explain what you learned from the mistakes).
- Parents demonstrate problem-solving and negotiation skills for the child (e.g., when solving a problem involve your child and "think aloud" so he/she knows how you came to the conclusion).
Role Models in the Home
- Parents admit when they are wrong and listen to suggestions from the child.
- Parents complete their high school/college degree.
- The child watches parents and older siblings when they are learning new tasks.
- The parents read for pleasure.
- Parents talk with their child about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and provide information and answers to questions.
- The teacher models classroom guidelines and rules (e.g., listens to students, doesn't chew gum, drink pop, etc.).
- The teacher performs the desired classroom behavior (talking softly vs. talking loudly).
- The teacher demonstrates specific skills to help the student better understand the task.
- The teacher models a step by step problem-solving process for the student to follow (e.g., teacher "thinks aloud" to demonstrate how they solved a geometry proof).
- The teacher models and demonstrates the skills and content of the lesson when appropriate (e.g., the teacher writes a poem and shares it with the students).
- The teacher demonstrates important steps that the student must follow to complete and assignment (e.g., teacher writes a short story and shares the drafts and revisions with the students).
- The community has an ethic of caring that provides youth with positive relationships with adults other than their parents.
- Adults in the community model appropriate behavior.
- Adults in the community demonstrate high-order moral reasoning.
- The community has economic diversity to provide greater modeling for low SES youth.
- The community has adult mentoring programs to teach appropriate behaviors and decision-making skills to youth involved in high risk behaviors.
- Adults in the community serve as coaches, chaperones, leaders, or mentors and are actively involved as volunteers to help youth.
- Youth can turn to adults in the community, other than parents, for advice and support.
- Experiences of the elders in the community are shared in the process of imparting beliefs, values, and attitudes to other members of the community.
- The youth's peers model responsible behavior.
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