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Watch and Learn: Observational Learning at Work!

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Observational learning, or simply learning by watching, is a game-changer in the classroom. It’s all about students picking up new behaviors by observing others. Think of it as learning through imitation, and it’s a big deal for us teachers. And, it’s not just my opinion. There’s a whole field of psychology dedicated to it!  Let’s break it down and see how we can use it to our advantage.

Understanding the Basics

First off, we owe a lot to Albert Bandura, a big name in psychology, for digging into observational learning. He says learning isn’t just about textbooks; it’s a surprisingly social thing. Bandura’s theory says there are four steps: paying attention, remembering what you see, copying the action, and finally, feeling motivated to do it.

1. Catch Their Eye: Getting Attention

Ever had a kid stare out the window during a lesson? That’s why explicitly getting their attention matters. We need to make sure our lessons are engaging and clear so that students are focused on the right things. Keep it simple, highlight the important bits, and you’ll have their eyes on you. With that purpose in mind, check out these FREE classroom call backs!

Real-World Application: The Power of Peer Inspiration

Take, for example, a struggling reader who watched another student confidently read aloud. Seeing their peer enjoy reading sparked something in them. They started picking up books more often, wanting to be like their classmate. It is incredible to see their confidence grow just by watching someone else.

2. Help Them Remember: Memory Tricks

Once they’re paying attention, we want them to remember what they see. Encourage different learning strategies like repeating steps aloud or drawing pictures. Basically, the more ways they can remember, the better.

Mnemonic devices work particularly well. Think about the mnemonic devices you know:


My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos

Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty

I mean, could you really even get by without some of those memory aids?

3. Practice, Practice, Practice: Repetition Pays Off

Watching someone do something is one thing, but doing it yourself is another. That’s where practice comes in. Whether it’s writing neatly or solving a math problem, kids need to practice—a lot. So, don’t shy away from repetition, feedback, and giving them a helping hand when needed. Do you need more math practice activities? Check out this 4th grade spiral review for the entire year!

Story 2: The Importance of Practice

Consider a student who couldn’t get the hang of writing neatly until they saw another student forming letters with ease. They started practicing every day, and with some encouragement, they got markedly better and better. It was all about that repetition and a little bit of motivation from seeing someone else do it well. I mean Growth mindset in action, right?!?

students writing observational learning

Continued Practice and Spiral Review

In my experience, I’ve found that incorporating regular review sessions into the week helps reinforce what students have previously learned. For example, every Friday, we dedicate some time to review the key concepts covered during the week. This not only helps solidify their understanding but also gives them a chance to apply what they’ve learned.

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4. Keep Them Going: Motivate and Reward

Motivation is the secret sauce here. That is to say, kids need to want to know more. Sometimes a high-five or a “great job” does the trick. Other times, they see a friend getting praised and want in on the action. I’d say that is observational learning at its best! And let’s not forget that inner drive—they surely need to see value in what they’re learning.

To keep students motivated, I like to set achievable goals and celebrate their progress along the way, like with my students’ sight word and reading fluency goals. Whether it’s completing a challenging assignment or mastering a new skill, acknowledging their efforts boosts their confidence and encourages them to keep pushing themselves.

In Summary: What Teachers Can Do

Observational learning isn’t just a fancy theory; it’s a tool we can use every day. So, as teachers, let’s make sure we’re modeling the behaviors we want to see in our students. Keep the lessons engaging, encourage different learning strategies, and don’t forget to celebrate their progress along the way.

By embracing observational learning, we can unlock our students’ potential and create a classroom where everyone thrives. So, let’s keep watching, learning, and growing—together. What do you think of observational learning? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below or catch up with me on social media!

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