Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Modelling Books - how I use these to plan, teach and assess in my class

Modelling Books were not around when I began my training to become a teacher.  I didn't know anything about them really until 2005 when my school began their journey with the Numeracy Project.  We had two facilitators come into our school to guide and support us in taking on the Numeracy Project, and part of that was demonstrating how to set up our modelling books and use them to aid us to teach a group of students.

I credit Reshma (currently at Hautapu School) as being the Numeracy Project advisor who really started my journey with modelling books and my love affair with them.  Anne, who was with the Literacy Project in 2006 and 2007 when I was at a school that was involved, and Tonia, the RTLit from Te Awamutu, have also influenced how I use modelling books for guided reading as well.  I've been lucky enough to be inspired by others.

Everyone makes these sorts of books their own to suit their teaching style and the children they work with.  I like to look at other people's modelling books because you never know when someone is going to inspire something new for me!  It's what we do as teachers aye. 

I prefer to use the Warwick Cuttings Book scrapbook.  I've used others, and also quite like the Kiwi Activity Book.  The key is quality paper to write and glue onto in my opinion, and the books have to be robust so that they take the beating of group work with and without me.  I like the Cuttings Book because it's big, so I can fit more on a page (like a whole worksheet) and I can write bigger so all the kids can see. 

I have one for each reading and maths group and one book for writing. Each group can take the book when they need it and it's great for catching up students who were absent on what they missed. Each group's book has a big picture with a title, and at the bottom I glue on who is in that group.  My reading groups are native NZ birds, and my maths groups are very endangered NZ native animals.  After reassessment I just print out a new piece with who's in that group and glue it over the old one.  I like each book to look distinct so I can grab it quickly and not have to look hard through the competing writing on the cover to see which group and who is in it.

I keep the modelling books in a storage cube beside where I take my groups.  When I plan I will either paperclip into the book any hand outs/worksheets/resources I have, or I have a cardboard folder/envelope in that box for each group with things I want to hand out.


I prefer to plan directly into my modelling book.  Sitting down with my modelling books focuses me and makes me think about what I want to achieve and where we'll be going to next.  When I plan my reading I have my Effective Literacy Practice (ELP) book beside me as well as the text and my laptop with my Sheena Cameron resources and the internet readily available because I tend to go off on tangents. I use set colours for the title and WALTs in my modelling books, but the use of other coloured felt pens is a bit random depending on what ideas I am working on for that group.

For reading I will plan heaps in my modelling book that may take us two weeks to get through all at once. Each day we go as far as the discussion/learning allows or just focus on the bit I want to get to.

I rarely do a book/story a day with my advanced readers.  They will usually spend about 4-6 sessions on a juicy story by the time we do some prediction or hypotheses, learn some new vocabulary, and delve into some serious comprehension work. 

But with children on the lower readers I will cover three stories/books a week generally.  Kids still working at Green and below I will spend 1-2 sessions on one book, because it's more than just reading a book, there is the thinking, the learning about words (phonics, chunks, suffixes, etc), visual concepts....  The children between Orange and Gold will spend a minimum of two sessions on a book and up to four depending on how meaty the strategies and learning in the story are.

I try to plan a variety of learning experiences using the following:
  • introducing and exploring new vocabulary
  • the reading strategies as outlined in ELP
  • graphic organisers such as the one's from Sheena Cameron's Reading Comprehension book or from other resources I have (Michael Pohl has some great ones I like using, plus I got a great book of graphic organisers from Scholastic)
  • Thinking tools such as De Bono's Hats, Tony Ryan's Thinkers Keys, Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences...
  • Maps, cartoons, pictures, articles and other texts relating to the one you are focused on
  • YouTube videos and other related websites
I try to include the above activities and strategies to spark and organise thinking and discussion in my reading programme, and to create authentic learning and context.  Sometimes as part of the reading process we will email authors or organisations who can help further our understanding and learning. It gives the students opportunities to create questions authentically. Last year we even Skyped an author.

One of my favourite reading units I have done is with The Donkey Man.  I did a more in depth reflection on this at Anzac Day Reading Unit - The Donkey Man last year.

I probably spent about a month working with the kids on that reading unit. I would plan 2-4 pages from the book we were reading at a time. But I brought in other resources, books and articles along the way to create more context and expand their thinking options.

My modelling books always have a format.  In my modelling books for reading, the title of the book is always written in dark blue with it underlined in red.  The author and illustrator are always put to the right of the title in dark blue.  If I am using a journal I will include the journal number and year.  If I am using a reader from the colour wheel I will state the level.  These notes help me remember what book I'm using, but allow anyone who picks up a modelling book to know where this group has been.

This demonstrates us using the reading strategy of forming a hypothesis.  Each child writes on their own paper and glues it in - it saves waiting to use the book.

I had found their hypotheses had been well off the mark due to me using a black and white photocopy of the cover.  So I had to show them a colour copy.  Then I allowed them to amend their hypothesess before reading the blurb.

And I let them adjust their hypotheses again after reading the blurb.  This is all before opening the book.  It's about attaining and assessing information found in picture form first and how a front and back cover can give so much information.

Because I originally showed them a black and white copy of the cover, the students came up with some bizarre hypotheses about what they thought the book was about, so then I had to show them the actual colour copy of the cover.  Which is why I thought this question about judging a book by its cover was appropriate.

Again I gave them a chance to check if their hypotheses were standing up.  I also introduced these maps to give some context to the story - where is New Zealand in comparison to Turkey?  Where was Turkey in comparison to the rest of the battlefields?  Where is Gallipoli in Turkey and why was it important to the armies and navies attacking it?

On these pages you will see I've copied and glued in the pages of the book.  I don't want to write all over my picture book.  You will also see three ways the students ideas have been recorded.  One way was me doing the recording (bottom left) as they spoke.  Another way was using small bits of coloured paper for students to write individually or in pairs.  The third way was the students writing directly into the book.  This was an activity I sent them away to do after the guided reading session.  What could be more fun than researching vomit and diarrhoea?

In the middle of it all, to give further context, I found an article about the nutrition value of the rations issued to soldiers at Gallipoli.  It was not good.  So we unpacked the article and I sent them on a little picture finding mission to find pictures of what the rations included.  Doing this reinforces the knowledge they are gathering.

Here we looked at the physical landscape the Anzacs faced and life in the trenches.  I used photos from my trip to Gallipoli in 2002 for Anzac Day as well as a map and a wall display with information for the students to gather information as a follow up activity.
This was the wall display.  There are photos from my trip, photos and text from books to use as evidence to help them complete the above activity.

Again you can see here where the students have written in their responses to the questions.  I usually try to keep the same colour for each individual student for a book so it is easy to see at a glance who's response is whose.
I chose to use this book because the group needed challenging.  Most were competent at their reading level, but were coasting and not engaging in critical thinking.  I also felt they needed challenging to develop a wider knowledge of vocabulary.

This book was a good book to also teach a lot of non-fiction features such as maps, diagrams, flow charts, timelines, captions, information boxes, use of historical pictures and documents.

It is written at a level that good Year 6s up can understand with some guidance.

Again I initially went with using the hypothesis learning objective and activating prior knowledge.

Sometimes you need to give a fair bit of guidance to forming a hypothesis.  It may mean demonstrating it first with another text, then co-constructing an hypothesis with the next text before letting them loose on forming their very own hypothesis.

Their hypotheses had been formed using the front cover only, then we looked at the blurb and I gave them the opportunity to revise their hypotheses.  They all did.

Again this is about building a concept of where Gallipoli is and what the landscape was like.  I did use some of the picture for this book in the other unit The Donkey Man.

There was a lot of new vocabulary in this book to the students, so before really getting into the questions we looked at how we knew the book was a non-fiction book and then I sent them away to find out what some of the words meant.  They used dictionaries and an i-Pad.

Sometimes I get the students to pair-share their answers and write them down.

All the questions and resources in the modelling books are prepared prior to the group coming down for their session.

The photos I am adding are from when I was working with a Year 4 class with a focus on native NZ birds for our topic, which I try to also use in my guided reading so that it allows for authentic learning and more coverage.

Sometimes I do the writing during the discussions. Sometimes the kids write on coloured paper and glue it in (I colour code for each child in the book because I am kind of OCD on that kind of stuff), and sometimes the kids take away the book to complete an activity and write directly in there.

With my more advanced readers I get them to identify words in the text they don't know how to read or the meaning of, and add words I think we need to talk about, and we find out what these words mean and put them into context.  Dictionaries are a vital tool in my reading programme, and it pays to have a variety of dictionaries in the class to cater for the different proficiencies of dictionary use your class may have.  We also use the i-Pads to find out about words that we could not find in the dictionary.  
This is also a good opportunity to look at things like macrons on words from te reo Mäori and how they change the sound and meaning of a word.

Don't forget to bring in critical thinking tools like Tony Ryan's Thinkers Keys.

Add more contest by emailing someone about what you are reading.  In this case we were reading about some birds from Willowbank in Christchurch in a School Journal.  The September 2010 earthquake happened in the middle of it all, so we emailed Willowbank to find out how the birds were and if the things they were hoping for in the story had actually happened or not.  The birds were shaken but fine after the earthquake, but that pair of birds in the story did not get it on together.

Don't be afraid to make your own graphic organisers directly into the book to get the thinking you want from the kids.

It's great to use newspaper articles or articles from the internet as part of your reading programme, particularly if it is relevant to your class topic or a current event.  You will not find everything you need in a School Journal or a PM reader.  This reading session was based on an article from Radio NZ.  It was about how to stop cats hunting and killing our native birds.

I will usually give the students each a copy of the article, plus I glue the article in the modelling book so we can write all over it.

Note that I also unpack the key words in the WALT with the children too.  Don't expect that they will know what hypothesis means even though a previous teacher did do that reading strategy with them.  And don't be afraid to use sophisticated language with them - just unpack it in a kid-friendly way when introducing it.

At the beginning of a page for a new book/story in my modelling book I write out the words that the children need to develop fluency with and the words particular to the text.  This is a technique I have adapted from Tonia, the RTLit from Te Awamutu.  The idea is you are consolidating sight words and words in context to the story.  I have integrated this into my programme for most children on the Colour Wheel readers.

Tonia writes little notes down as she goes in her modelling books to remind her of her next steps and revisions for each student. It's a form of assessment too.  I've found this has many benefits, such as making notes on speech issues, not knowing blends, or missing punctuation as they read or some such thing to note.  This way you have some notes to go back to for planning and to use as progress reports.


The next series of photos is from my writing modelling books.  My modelling does not always start off in my modelling book.  The great thing about having an ActivBoard or a SmartBoard is that you can model on a bigger area, even get the kids up to write things down.  I also print stuff off from the ActivBoard to glue into the modelling book or to copy to put in the students own books as well. The ActivBoard is good for shared brainstorming, but the modelling book has easier access which is why I print stuff off and put it in the modelling book for any time any day access.

This brainstorm was from after we went to the interschool cross country, and we focused on how we felt before, during and after the event.  Now anyone who has known me for a long time knows I detest cross country with a vengeance, so I was able to draw all the traumatic drama from my schools days into this brainstorm - and there were a few children who could empathise with my view on it.

The above brainstorm was a class one, then I got the students to rule up this simple organiser in their book to put in the words they felt best described them before during and after the event. 

I printed these out from the ActivBoard and glued them into my writing modelling book and modelled writing my story.  You will see on my plan I have ticked things off from my plan that I used in my story.  So as I wrote I modelled re-reading my story and re-crafting it to make improvements to the message and surface features and to ensure I had covered what was in my story plan.

In the end we published our stories using MS Publisher and displayed our stories on our class wall.  I had taken photos of all my students at the event, so they were able to put a photo on to illustrate their story.  Alas, there is no photographic evidence of my temper tantrums and dramatics from my youthful cross country days!!

The pictures below are from a poetry writing unit.  Walking Poetry was the model we used and the motivation was the Windows Walk and the Karangahake Rail Tunnel Walk in the Karangahake Gorge between Paeroa and Waihi we did for our class camp.

This is a photocopy of brainstrorm which we all did in our camp books at the end of the day during camp.

Below was my modelling writing it in the modelling book.  You can see my edits and rewrites and mini-brainstorms of rhyming words throughout.

These are some of our published copies.  We used MS Publisher and I also included some skills such as putting in a picture in the background and washing the pictures out.

You can read about this unit in more depth at Walking Poetry - follow up from Camp.

This is another unit that I did on exposition writing (aka persuasive writing).  We started off with looking at what the features of this text was before we wrote several pieces using this format.

We then read The Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss - or rather, we watched it on YouTube because finding a copy of the book is darn near impossible.  We did a brainstorm in our books (you can see mine below).

Then we wrote our arguments.  I specifically modelled things like introductions, lead words, rhetorical questions, emotive language, repetition, and summarising as these are all features of persuasive writing.  You can see how I have circled and labelled aspects I was deliberately teaching to emphasise their inclusion.  Paragraphing was also a major focus in this unit.

Here are a couple of published examples from this unit.

I then followed that piece of writing up with one about the food eaten by the Anzacs at Gallipoli.  Firstly we needed to experience what the food was like, so we spent a day making Anzac rations and eating like an Anzac.

We made hard tack, cooked rice, had bully beef (aka canned beef) and some jam, and made tea using powdered milk (because their would have been no fresh milk at Gallipoli). 

I gave the students a rubric showing them what I expected from this second piece of writing.

We had already completed a lot of research and learning about why our soldiers were at Gallipoli and the conditions they had faced.  We had made posters of the typical rations they received.  So after eating our own version of the meal, we were able to brainstorm and begin our writing.  Despite me wanting to give the students more autonomy in writing this second persuasive piece, I still had a number of students to scaffold, so that meant I still modelled writing this piece as well.  Besides, each time my students write or do art, I also complete my own pieces, not only as an example to the students, but because they like to see what I can do too.

Again, here are a couple of examples of the student's published work for the wall of our class.

This is an example of poetry modelling again, this time using Cinquain as the structure.  To unpack the requirements of writing using this structure, we looked specifically at nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and metaphors and imagery.

I wrote a very specific HWIK (How Will I Know) to supplement the WALT.  I accompanied this with a blackline master I made to try and make it easier for the children to write using this structure.  But we always have a few of "those" kids in our classes!

Our theme for our poetry was Matariki (we did a big unit on it, see Matariki - an overview of a unit of work for what we were learning), but because I did not want them writing the same as what I did, my model I used was rain.  Below are some examples of our published work.  Note we used MS Publisher to publish our work and chose pictures to use in the background of our poems to illustrate.  This was also a good opportunity to learn about using justifications such as left, centre and right, and deciding which was the best one to use to publish our poem.

Mathematics and Numeracy:

I will usually plan my maths session by session.  I will sit down and plan directly into the group modelling books, with the relevant Numeracy Project book to plan from and other associated resources (books or on my laptop) close by.  As I plan I know which worksheets I want to use for practice over several sessions, so I glue in a "master worksheet" that I mark on when we mark together (good for absentees) and paper clip in copies of worksheets to hand out.  If I can not find a suitable worksheet or text book in my collection, I will either make what I want or I will search the internet for an appropriate task.

Again, I have a set format for setting out my numeracy modelling books.  My WALT is always written in turquoise blue at the top.  Above that, in smaller writing, is the Numeracy Project Book ánd page I am working from, the numeracy stage, the equipment I need (e.g. if I need counters and tens frames), possibly the name of the follow up activity, and the date when I worked with the group on this objective.

The questions are usually pre-written in using one colour of my fancy that day.  Any writing I or the students do into the book with felt pen will be other colours.  Space is always left for student response.

These photos do not demonstrate it, but I usually have coloured paper cut up, and the kids write their own responses and we glue it into the book.  Each child has their own colour for that day so it's easy to keep track of who's response is who's.  Sometimes I'll use the board, usually for whole class work, and if it is relevant to a particular group, we'll photograph it and print it out and it goes in the modelling book.

I don't think everything in maths lends itself to modelling books. I never use my maths modelling books for teaching statistics or geometry or measurement. I prefer to use the ActivBoard or SmartBoard for that. 

I demonstrated how to draw 3 dimensional objects on the ActivBoard and the students did their own versions in their books.

And work shouldn't always be from a board or a modelling book.  Children need to make and manipulate.  My class made their own versions in 3-D using straws and paper nets:

The research behind modelling books:

In the course of writing this blog (which has seemed a life time!), I came across this great article from www.nzmaths.co.nz called Modelling Books and Student Discussion in Mathematics.  It was written by Joanna Higgins of Victoria University along with Maia Wakefield from Massey University and Robyn Isaacson from Flaxmere School and published in 2005.  Their opening paragraph says this:

Manipulation of materials, commonly referred to as “hands-on”, as a strategy for learning mathematics is widely applied in New Zealand primary classrooms. A modelling book can enhance a hands-on approach through linking modelling and discussion of mathematical ideas as promoted through the Numeracy Development Projects (NDP). This approach has been interpreted as “kinaesthetic”. One of the potentially most damaging applications of kinaesthetic learning has been to Màori students, among others. Modelling books link modelling and discussion of mathematical ideas, as promoted through the NDP. Modelling books may help teachers to reconceptualise hands-on learning to include discussion of mathematical ideas and provide a means of developing conceptual understanding through the introduction of mathematical abstractions.
 This paragraph made me stop in my tracks.  It made me think, 'Are we approaching how we teach our Mäori students all wrong?'  But then is read on and understood that by only using a modelling book or by only using a kinaesthetic learning approach we are only doing half the job - both is needed so that discussion and doing can be implanted into the student's head.

These were some other important quotes that stood out for me:

The simple physical existence of a modelling book may afford students and teachers a reference point in teacher-led groups. It may act as a memory jog in tracking previous aspects of the discussion.
Teachers commented on the usefulness of a modelling book for reminding them not only where a particular group is at but also where they need to go next to develop students’ understanding of mathematics.

Students commented that they found the modelling book helpful as a reminder of material covered, as well as a way of charting the teacher’s examples.

Modelling books can fulfil a social function through supporting group interactions. The extent to which a book co-ordinates discussion is evident through reference to it in conversations. As a common focal point, it appears to be useful to both the teacher and to students in providing an anchor for the conversation that can contribute to the development of students’ understanding.

A book may become a shared recorded history of previous learning that affords both the teacher and students a means of informing discussion through linking back to previous mathematics sessions.
 The paper concluded with the following:

The modelling book reinforces the complexities of hands-on learning in ways that the notion of kinaesthetic learning tends to gloss over. The aspects of learning made visible through the use of modelling books in mathematics learning may provide important support for diverse learners.
The modelling book gives the students additional information beyond the manipulation of materials and participation in discussion that they can use in building their mathematical understanding. It also supports the development of collective enterprise in solving mathematical problems. In the settings in which the use of modelling books was investigated, Màori students responded well and there is no reason why this approach should not suit all students.
Personally, I have found that the students go back through all the modelling books.  If they are writing, they grab the book and check the model and use it to support their writing.  I also find that the children go back through the reading and maths modelling books when they want to check something.

Additional things to consider:

Modelling books are a record of the teaching you do with a specific group of children.  There is nothing within the Registered Teacher's Criteria that says they are essential for running a classroom or proving your teaching pedigree.  Some principals use them to keep track of teachers, and that is inappropriate, unless it is specifically a policy in your school to use modelling books with guidelines explaining what is expected.  I have heard of principals attempting to use modelling books in claims against a teacher's competence, but that was shot down by explaining that the RTCs do not specify anything about modelling books and therefore are not specifically relevant.

My advice is to ask if your school has a policy on modelling books and if they have any guidelines.  If they don't, then it really is up to you how you work in your modelling books with your groups and class.  If they do have a policy, ask to see examples of your colleagues' modelling books that are a good example of the guidelines your school has set.

Modelling books are not just a teaching/learning tool.  To me my modelling books are my planning document, a way to monitor the children's learning and thinking, a record of my teaching, and a creative outlet.  Really, the sky is the limit as to what for and how you use your modelling books.