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Gradual Release of Responsibility,

  • Mrs. McGreevy and the Quest for Independent Learners

    Mrs. McGreevy had a great question for her coach during the regular monthly visit. Her students were progressing, however she felt that each time she introduced a new concept, she was, in a sense, starting from scratch. Concepts she felt she had taught her students were somehow not transferring over to the next skill or lesson. As a result, although students were learning, it was still taking too long to reach mastery each time. 

    She shared her concerns with Julie, her coach.  Mrs. McGreevy told Julie her goal was to create independent learners.  She wanted to identify how to provide effective instructional support while her students were learning important reading and writing strategies, while at the same time empower her students to gradually assume a greater degree of responsibility for learning.

    What Mrs. McGreevy was describing was the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, although she didn’t know it.  She was on the right track and needed some personalized professional development to provide strategies that would help her achieve her goal.

    Julie shared the charts below with Mrs. McGreevy and walked her through each step.

    Mrs McGreevy and the Gradual Release Model 1


    Four Steps of the GRR Model

    Step One: Teachers first model and then describe the use of a new,specific strategy

    Step Two: Students practice applying the strategy while the teachers provides assistance and feedback (guided practice)

    Step Three: Students are provided opportunities to practice the strategy independently. This step could also include collaborative peer small groups.

    Step Four: Students move into the stage where they are able to independently apply the strategy in new situations

    Mrs. McGreevy and Julie also explored what the GRR Model is not.  This added extra clarity for Mrs. McGreevy. For example, Julie shared that the GRR Model is not just telling.  Telling is not teaching.  It is not just a model and then expecting students to move on alone. For example, providing an abundance of teaching examples for a new math concept/strategy and then expecting the students at their desks to immediately complete a worksheet on that new learning. Julie and Mrs. McGreevy discussed how a model and a test leave out the critical step of guided practice where teachers must be 99% certain that students have mastered the new concept before moving on to independence. Julie reminded Mrs.  McGreevy that practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent and if we practice something the wrong way, we remember it the wrong way. She provided Mrs. McGreevy a guideline: Students don’t go on to independent learning until we are certain they will practice the new learning correctly.

    They also spoke about pitfalls to be avoided.  A common mistake when students make an error is to ask them what they did wrong or what step did they leave out. Julie explained that she has also often heard teachers asking a student to ‘try again.’  If students knew the correct response the first time, they would have given the teacher first time correct responses. Asking them to try a wrong answer again or explain it causes students to guess at the answer. It does not encourage students to use the new learning.  What Mrs. McGreevy liked was that the GRR provided numerous opportunities for practice and guidance that would help her students reach not only independence but develop strategies they could apply to other subjects and classes.

    Mrs. McGreevy still had some questions and that is something Coach Julie loved. Questions mean people are engaged.  So, next they took a look at the actual model and then the key principles of the model.

    The Model

     GRR 2

    Julie explained that the Gradual Release of Responsibility model of instruction suggests that cognitive work should shift slowly and intentionally from teacher as model, to joint responsibility between teacher and student, to independent practice and application by the learner. Using the graphic above Julie and Mrs. McGreevy examined each of the phases of the model:

    Focus Lesson - Teachers establish the lesson’s purpose and model their own thinking to illustrate for students how to approach the new learning.

    Guided Instruction – Teachers strategically use questions and assessment-informed prompts, cues, direct explanations, and modeling to guide students to increasingly complex thinking and facilitate students’ increased responsibility for task completion.

    Productive group work – collaboration – Teachers design and supervise tasks that enable students to consolidate their thinking and understanding – and that require students to generate individual products that can provide formative assessment and information.

    Independent tasks – Teachers design and supervised tasks that require students to apply information they have been taught to create new and authentic products. This phase of the instructional framework is ideal for the "spiral review" (distributed practice over time) that so many educators know their students need, and it is a way to build students' confidence by allowing them to demonstrate their expanding competence.

    Key Principles of the GRR Model

    Julie started this phase of the coaching session by identifying the key principles of the GRR Model and before explaining them, asked Mrs. McGreevy to first take 2 minutes and write what she thought each of the principles meant.

    After discussing Mrs. McGreevy’s ideas, Julie provided the following explanation of the key principles:

    Key Principle #1 -Cognitive Apprenticeship is when the teacher takes on the role of the expert who models and “thinks aloud” as he or she demonstrates “how to” do something. Students become more proficient as the expert provides guidance /coaching as needed and controls the transfer of cognitive responsibility to the student. The expert must continually assess to know where each student is in the process.

    Key Principle # 2 – Scaffolding is when the teacher provides a structure that supports an activity, mental or physical, while development of skill is ongoing. Scaffolding takes the form of hints, cues, questions, and discussion that are designed to assist the learner to develop task related skills. The process of scaffolding is almost entirely dependent on the expert’s understanding of the learner’s ability and knowledge at any given point.

    Key Principle # 3: Zone of Proximal Development suggest learning tasks should be situated  just beyond what a student can accomplish alone, but not to a level of impossibility  and employ peer and teacher scaffolding to reach appropriate levels of engagement.

    Key Principle # 4: Proleptic Teaching is defined as teaching in anticipation of competence. A proleptic teacher could be described as one who has high expectations and believes in his or her student’s ability to meet those expectations -- REGARDLESS of a student’s perceived ability or level of intelligence. The teacher ASSUMES the student is capable and the teacher has the tools to scaffold the tasks until the student has mastered the concept.


    Mrs. McGreevy and Julie both thought it had been a productive coaching.  The question had arisen from real needs in the classroom.  Clear and concise information was shared and coached in subsequent visits. 

    When asked for one take-away from their discussion Mrs. McGreevy said, “I learned we must design carefully sequenced scaffolded lessons in a step by step manner, monitor and reflect on our teaching as we go along and make sure that all of the students are on the same journey where we think we are going. 

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