Modeling material

And I’m not referring to anything related to pageants.

When I’m teaching something new to my students, I first pre-test them to find out if they know how to do it. My pre-testing is accomplished by asking questions. Maybe a couple of them can answer my questions, but most of the time if it’s truly new material, they can’t. So I model or demostrate how to do it.

Some students grasp material right away, but most average students require a lot of repetition and additional models. Then there are students in special education programs that require additional support including multimodal input (learning through more than just visual and auditory – oftentimes it’s tactile: “let’s trace an ‘m’ on paper,”) or through cueing.

In my humble opinion, modeling is teaching and the basis of learning is through imitation. To imitate well a student needs to have adequate attention and memory.

I believe schools can learn how to “model” good food. Many students get either bad models or no models at home in regards to nutrition. So they come to school to learn not only reading and math, but also basic life skills that their parents aren’t teaching (or aren’t able to teach) them at home.

I hate to add something else to the full plate (pun intended) that schools already have, but school lunches are important. Executive functions like attention and memory are supported by good nutrition. Let’s teach kids what they should eat at lunch by modeling good food and giving them the best we can offer.

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21 thoughts on “Modeling material

  1. to ignore the premise of your blog, just for a second, I've been waiting for some evidence that you're an above-average teacher (I had a suspicion). thanks for delivering.

    I agree with the what you're saying, you Steinerian, you–but I would add that teaching and learning can happen in different guises besides modeling, such as working on the students' theory of mind as it pertains to the topic at hand (ie, "you already know about 'M'; we all use 'M' every day"). the learning process itself can be multimodal. I think everyone benefits from such an approach, not just kids in intervention.

    to tie this back into relevancy, I think it would be a good idea for schools to tell kids that it's okay to eat healthy food, even if it seems foreign. (and not that it's 'cool' to do so–kids know what's cool and what's not.)

    anyway, this blog is great. thanks for doing this. I look forward to the kind of impact you'll be making as you continue.

  2. Amen! I just spoke to my dad on the phone last night and was telling him about the braised lamb I whipped up randomly…had it cooking while I went to the gym. Came home and it was done. I thanked him for always cooking when I grew up and teaching me just by doing it day and and day out. I'm SO grateful to have had parents who cooked!

    Diane Sanfilippo
    Owner, Balanced Bites Holistic Nutrition & Wellness
    C.H.E.K. Holistic Lifestyle Coach
    Holistic Nutrition Educator student @ Bauman College, Berkeley, CA

    Find Balanced Bites around the web:

  3. That's what I try to do for my kids with what I pack in their lunches each day. Often, they eat healthier lunches than I do – because I want to teach them better habits than mine. Those that can't afford to (or for other reasons don't) pack lunch NEED to learn this somewhere. No place better than school – where the food can fuel their success! Enjoying your blog – and appreciate the attention you are giving this issue!

  4. This is a great blog, and you have a great writing voice and a smart point of view.

    I completely disagree, however, that schools can do what parents won't.

    Let me put it bluntly: we have no problem using force (let's not kid ourselves) to extract money from some people so that we can feed other people's children.

    So why are we so timid about confronting parents who neglect their children?

    Let's not sugar coat it, if you are not feeding your child you're neglecting your child.

  5. I thank God everyday that my parents taught me how to eat right – balanced breakfast, etc. I don't think I skipped breakfast even during HS or college….
    However, I have a "little" through Big Brother Big Sisters who's 8 and his eating habits make me CRINGE! I don't think he's ever had a vegetable. Everyday he gets a bagel, no milk, recycles back to us the string cheese, yogurt, carrots and raisins. He spends the 25 minutes of lunch twirling the bagel on his finger and taking a bite or two. If he gets ice cream, he eats only that.
    If I have him at my house I TRY to get him to eat healthy, but I don't want to force him because that's not my job. I can only guide him towards what's best for him. Sort of what a healthy school lunch will do for the kids who aren't getting healthy meals at home.

  6. I agree completely that schools should model better nutrition for students, but would emphasize the fact that many students have no model for nutrition being provided at home. If we truly want our youth to eat better, these habits need to be instilled at home. Most schools in the country serve one meal a day (with the exception of those schools offering a breakfast option), and while this meal may be far from healthful most of the times, if children are getting a Pop Tart for breakfast and McDonald's for dinner at home, this is of greater nutritional concern.

    There ought to be more programs for parents to teach them how to make nutritious meals that are inexpensive and quick, as cost and time are undoubtedly the two biggest factors that people fall back on when they eat unhealthfully. Any way you slice it and dice it though, many families have a long way to go before they can teach their children good eating habits.

    By the way, I love your blog and appreciate the insights you offer from inside the "broken" system of school lunch. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  7. A good deal of research has been done on environment influences on the eating habits of children. Numerous national organizations (i.e. CDC, FDA, USDA,and American Psych Assoc.) have all agreed that schools play a major role in shaping healthy eating habits. This is a great review article on the subject:

    Blom-Hoffman,J.(2003) Promoting healthy Food Consumption Amoung Young Children: Evaluation of a Multi-Component Nutrition Education Programs

    ~ Lisa Suriano

  8. The way I see it is if taxpayers are going to be paying for children to learn to read and write, why not also feed them decently, at least while they're under the school's care during the day? (Yes, it's sad that the kids don't get decent food at home, but let's start where the school might have SOME power, shall we?)

    People may argue that it's not the school's responsibility to feed children who aren't getting fed by their parents, but then why is it the school's responsibility to teach kids to read? My mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten. All the other kids in my kindergarten class must have had slacker parents, right? I mean, homeschooling and private schools are cool if you can afford that, but most parents can't.

    I don't have children of my own, but I would prefer my tax money to go towards better education (than some of the other stupid things it goes to), because the whole point of having a public school to begin with is society is better when you don't have a bunch of dumb people around. And it's hard to teach kids the 3 R's when they're hungry (or perhaps, more often the case, high on sugar).

    I don't expect public schools to have gourmet catering or anything, but do we really have to be teaching kids to live off TV dinners? This food makes my dorm food from college look delicious, and I'm sure most of it came frozen or from cans, but at least it didn't look like a TV dinner (and a poor quality one at that).

  9. It isn't just the nutrition either. Our school seems a bit better than yours but still serves everything in plastic and on styrofoam. Then the kids go back to class to learn environmentalism?! We can provide better models there too.

  10. I've seen a more extensive program where classes actually take turns preparing and serving lunch to their classmates, but this is the closest article on a similar curriculum I was able to find. Personally I think it's a fantastic idea. You get a science lesson growing the produce, a health lesson designing a balanced meal, life skills and additional health lesson preparing the meal, and social skills are touched on when the students serve the meal.

    Do I expect our public schools to start such a program? Likely not with liability issues and what not. Still it's something to think on.

  11. While enjoying our NYC snow day…I came across this quote in Rolling Stone: "South Carolina lieutenant governor says giving free lunch to poor kids is like feeding stray animals: 'They will reproduce.'"

    Hmmmmm…..Is bad school lunch really just a symptom of convenience? Or…rather…a symptom of the value many place on these little humans this food is supposed to serve?

    As an environmental science teacher deep into our "Food Unit," I'm really enjoying the comments on this blog. However, it disturbs me how many people blame lack of "individual responsibility" (i.e. parents) as the cause for most of our nutritional problems. This is the same argument McD's makes for people who eat their food and get fat… In the last thirty years, we have turned our food business into big business. We are so removed from our food and uneducated on the responsible way to eat….so much beyond just nutrition! I grew up in Maine, and remember the big deal in our town when people went to the HS to pick up their winter delivery of FL oranges. Now we can buy oranges all year from Walmart. Oranges are nutritious, but is it responsible to eat them all year (or even at all in Maine?)?

    We can't fix our school lunches until the larger system is fixed. However, demanding to fix school lunch may be a catalyst for changing this larger system.

    Let's not pretend that people are going out of their way to feed their kids badly (or not at all). Amen, Matthew Sachs! For suggesting training for parents on how to prepare cost and time effective meals that are healthy.

  12. I have very much enjoyed the dialogue going on here and I believe everyone has presented very valid points. The conclusion to be made is that a multi-component strategy is necessary to fix our extremely flawed food system. Parent interventions, student education, food industry regulation and policy change are all vital if any real improvement is going to be made. The challenge is getting all members of this society to begin to respect and appreciate food. That is something that all but disappeared with my grandparents generation.

  13. This blog is fascinating! Thank you for updating and keeping it going. As a former high school teacher I have witnessed how students eat and how schools feed them. Readers might find the organization Agrarian Adventure, in Ann Arbor, MI interesting: http://agrarian/dreamhosters/com/agrarianadventure/

    They set up a garden at a middle school and the students take care of it. Until we model for students the necessity of sustaianability and knowing what goes into their food, they will continue to want to eat highly processed foods. Schools could set examples by creating their own locally grown food to support their school lunches (and as part of a class students could learn to take care of it!).

    My hope is that there is a local (and ultimately National) push towards establishing school gardens and teaching students not only about nutrition but also about sustainability.

    Anyone know of any other cool school projects that are working towards food reform?

  14. I just found your blog and I give you credit for eating the school lunch every day!

    I work in a middle school in a city with about 100,000 people and our lunches are not much better than yours. For a while pizza was on the menu everyday, along with one other menu option. (kids usually opted for pizza) This year the variety has improved and Pizza is usually only available 2-3 days/week.

    However, the kids have the option of going through the "snack bar" line where they can buy ice cream, huge honey buns, various Little Debbie cakes, chips, etc.
    These are not bad for a side to a lunch, but kids will buy ONLY these items and eat only these items for lunch.
    Supposedly we were going to get rid of all "bad" snacks, yet somehow these remain.
    Getting kids to eat healthy is not easy!

    I hope that you can raise awareness through your lunching and blogging! I will keep reading


  15. Food blogs have helped me understand 1) what a plate should look like (i.e. distribution of protein to carbs and fat) and 2) what a resaonable portion looks like.
    This helps me put together meals more easily, and is exactly what you're talking about.

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