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Children Benefit from Modeling, Demonstration, and Explanation (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Demonstration is teacher talk about the mental activities that occur during the reading and writing processes. Demonstration usually involves modeling and explaining along with demonstrating the thinking that occurs while reading and writing. For instance, a teacher might compose a summary of an informational passage on an overhead projector in front of the class (Cunningham & Allington, 2007). The teacher provides a model of the writing process and, ultimately, a model of a written summary. The teacher might work from a map or a web following an explanation of the essential summary elements. A demonstration would occur as the teacher thinks aloud during the composing, making visible the thinking that assembles the information for the summary, puts it into words, and finally creates a readable summary of the information presented. Similarly, the teacher demonstrates the complex mental processes that readers engage in while reading when she talks children through a strategy for puzzling out an unfamiliar word while reading a story. For example, "I can try a couple of things: Read to the end of the sentence; look at the word and see if I know any other words that might help me figure it out; ask myself, `What makes sense here?'; double-check what word makes sense against word structure; read the sentence using the word that makes sense and has the right letters." Demonstrating such thinking and how thinking shifts from incident to incident ("Here I can look at the picture to get a clue"; "I think the word will rhyme with name because it is spelled the same way"; and so on) gives children the chance to see that skillful strategy use is flexible and always requires thinking, not rote memory of rules.

Children only infrequently encounter such demonstrations in most classrooms. Children who find learning to read difficult often see the teacher and other children reading and writing, serving as models, but they wonder, "How do they do it?" All children benefit from instruction, but some children need incredible amounts of careful, personal instruction, with clear and repeated demonstrations of how readers and writers go about reading and writing (Duffy, 2003; Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). Left without adequate demonstrations, struggling readers are likely to continue trying to make sense out of lessons, but rarely will they accomplish this feat. Some of these children learn to score better on tests but never really learn to read and write.

If we are to teach all children to read and write, then models, explanations, and demonstrations of how we go about reading and writing will be essential elements of instructional programs. While some children may discover the effective strategies that proficient readers and writers use so easily and flexibly, other children require substantially more careful and personalized teaching to acquire the same strategies.

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