3 Myths About The 5E Model

While the 5E Model seems pretty self-explanatory — engage students, explore stuff, explain it, elaborate or extend the learning, and evaluate — I’ve personally seen many seasoned teachers and competent administrators alike misunderstand some key concepts about the model.  Are YOU using it correctly?

Myth #1: Each class period should follow the 5E model.

No. Unless you and your students don’t need to do things like eat or sleep (and can therefore remain in class for SUPER extended periods of time), the entire model should NOT fit into a single class.  The 5E model is designed for use with instructional sequences — thus a UNIT may be planned using the 5E as a template — but there is no way to adequately meet the expectations of each stage between your daily classroom bells.

When implementing an instructional sequence based on the 5E model, you may spend an entire class participating in an ENGAGE activity.  Alternatively, you may spend just five minutes with an engagement activity and use the rest of your class time that day exploring the content.  To truly use the model as it was intended, students need time to delve into their current understandings and develop new understandings.  For that reason, it is important teachers are not rushing through EXPLORE and EXPLAIN activities in order to fit the model into a single class period.  That was NOT the authors’ intentions.

Myth #2: The 5E Model is linear.

Although it is often listed as five steps, the 5E model was not intended to be a linear sequence.  Sure, the majority of units will start with an engagement activity and move to a period of exploration.  After that, students should begin to make sense of their learning by developing their explanations.  But just remember, there are options.  Will the students evaluate their learning through a formative assessment? Will they extend what they have learned by applying it to new situations? Will they return to their earlier explorations to delve deeper into the concept? Perhaps, as the teacher, you will direct their attention back to the engagement activity to better understand the phenomena they had witnessed.

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In my own classroom, I frequently use a zig zag approach, bouncing back and forth between EXPLORE and EXPLAIN.  I throw in quick evaluations – both teacher and student assessed – to check for understanding.  After students have established a firm grasp of the content, we move into extension activities to elaborate on their learning.  Like all units, we will wrap up with a summative assessment. While this is what I often do in my classroom, the exact paths I take are determined in part by the content but also by the students and their needs. In the same way, the progression you follow through the 5E model should likewise remain flexible.

Myth #3: The EXPLAIN phase is where the teaching starts.

This is probably the biggest misunderstanding of the 5E model.  Most educators understand that students are grappling with the content in the exploration phase, and many educators quickly pick up that evaluation should be interspersed throughout the instructional sequence. We’ve all heard the words formative assessment, right?

But many great teachers struggle with what is truly intended in the EXPLAIN stage of the 5E model, because it’s in our nature to TEACH! Right? That’s what we signed up for. We want to share what we know with students! Unfortunately, that’s not how students learn.  Learning is not a process of transmission — it is a process of meaning-making, and it is the students that must do the making-of-the-meaning. If you know what I mean?

The EXPLAIN phase is where students reflect on their experiences, take their observations, examine their data, and FIND THE MEANING! As the teacher, your job is to ask the right questions, to direct or redirect when necessary, to help them find the patterns or the key points.  To truly learn, the students must be the ones that put those pieces together – to complete the picture.

Just like in all the other phases, the students are doing the work explaining, and your job is simply to help them do that.  Provide the terminology they may be searching for, point them to the data they have already collected, clarify the explanations they are providing, and simply help them work their way toward understanding.

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Whatever you do, just know: the EXPLAIN phase is NOT where you step on stage.  In the 5E Model, it is NOT your job to provide all of the answers.

That said, it can be difficult for students who have long been TAUGHT what to know and believe to make their own meanings.  Many students would prefer you simply “give them the answer” — it’s easier, after all. What can you do? If you’re struggling with this in your own classroom, try out my FREE resource that helps students make meaning from their own observations and data: Making Meaning From Data.

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