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04

Barista Modelling

Teach First participant James Gould got to grips with classroom modelling - by reflecting on his experiences working in a coffee shop:

The smell of coffee is in the air; you are surrounded by the hustle and bustle of commuters and the slow melody of acoustic music delicately soothing your ears. You are in your favourite coffee house, but you're not relaxing at a table. This time you are on the other side of the counter; the milk jug is in your hand and the steam wand is ready for you to get your froth on. The customers have high expectations of frothed milk, are you up to the job?

How would you feel in this situation? Maybe it would be easy; you have seen it done so you dive right in? Are you feeling you would rather have someone talk you through it? Trial and error, does that sound best for you? Or are you going to jump over the counter to the customers’ side, and avoid the task? In short, how would you learn best?

I worked in a popular American coffee house for a few years (you guess which) and part of my job was to provide an orientation for people who came for interview. I needed to see if they had what it took to froth milk and talk to people – most did. I always enjoyed it when people tried their hand at making their first latte. There was a whole array of attitudes, but it normally ended with people being supported in the same way; a very subtle balance of modelling, supporting and simply letting them have a  go.

I didn’t want to throw them in: trial and error = hot milk - on me!

I didn’t want them to just watch and listen.

I needed them to try it for themselves  

I had to hold the jug with them not for them.


The truth is they could watch all they wanted, but until they had the jug in their hand, felt the weight and, crucially, listened for a specific sound, they would have no hope of doing it right. No one would be able to do it alone though, I had to hold the jug with them. Not take the weight from them, but just guide them to the point where they hear the sound. The sound is important; it is the difference between bubble-bath froth and a you-may-as-well-have-microwaved-it coffee. 

Now I am a Year 2 teacher, and although it is very far removed from making espressos there are significant similarities. Modelling to 7 year olds has much of the same principles as modelling steaming milk to a trainee barista. I need to hold the learning with them not for them, until I can hear that they have got it, until we can both hear the sound. Then I can let them loose and trust that they won’t get hot milk all over us all! 

Do you hear that sound when you model in the classroom? What do you hear? 

How do you hold a child’s hand through the maths problem, just giving them the feel without overwhelming them?

Do you get them to taste success when they have made it just right? When they no longer need your support, your modelling, your hand holding the learning with them not for them?

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