This fall, I had the opportunity to talk with over 100 writing teachers about the instructional practices that made the most difference for their students. All of these teachers identified and articulated clear learning targets for their students, based upon their previous assessment of student needs. All of them documented what they did as teachers to support their students as they worked together to meet these objectives as well, and during our conversations together, they used this documentation as well evidence captured during the formative assessment process to reflect on the practices that seemed to help students best.

One of the striking trends was around the use of multiple models. Teachers who allowed students to read and explore a rich variety of writing models before asking students to produce their own work noticed similar things:

  • Students created pieces that were of higher quality
  • Students were better able to create unique pieces of writing and less inclined to merely mimic the models
  • Students were engaged in their work
  • Students were able to provide feedback to their peers that was criteria-specific, varied, and anchored in their experiences as readers
  • Students returned to the models without prompting during the process, as a means of studying writer’s craft
  • Teachers found that teaching in this way required more time, resulting in fewer but higher quality products

The majority of teachers who did not use multiple models questioned the effect of modeling on student performance as writers. In their experience, when students were provided their single models, the work produced was closely reflective of the model. These teachers wondered if modeling inhibited risk-taking and the creation of unique products and simply inspired copying. All food for thought. What are your experiences with this? What have you learned about modeling, relevant to writing instruction?


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