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Telling is Not Teaching

In an earlier blog post (http://jponline.com/jp-blog-click here and look for Not All Students Getting the Same, But all Students Getting What They Need) we defined differentiation:

“The definition begins with this: Equal education is not all students getting the same, but all students getting what they need. Approaching all learners the same academically doesn't work. We have to start where each child is in his learning process in order to authentically meet his academic needs and help him grow. With a classroom full of children at different stages of learning, this certainly sounds overwhelming, I know-but it is doable if you prepare appropriately.”

Today, we are going to take a look at an effective and proven strategy: Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR Model).  Briefly, it is a method of teaching that shifts responsibility with the learning process from teacher to student—from the teacher being fully responsible for performing a task to the student assuming responsibility.  The GRR model “emphasizes instruction that mentors students into becoming capable thinkers and learners when handling the tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise.”(Buehl, D. (2005). Scaffolding. Reading Room.)

Strategy for Reading Blogs

Before we take a look at the GRR Model, let’s take a moment to look at the way we read blogs.  More times than not, just like professional development training, we are passive participants. We are reading, but not always with a focus.  Here are three questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I do this in my classroom?
  • Would all students have a better opportunity to learn if I did?
  • How can I apply this in my classroom?

Back to the GRR Model

As teachers, we are at our best when we guide learners to new or deeper understandings. Although there is a role for direct explanation and modeling; telling students over and over, or louder and slower does not result in understanding. In other words…telling does not result in learning. Students should be guided toward understanding.

The GRR Model allows teachers to provide instructional support to children while they are learning important reading, writing, math and other content area skills. Here is how:

  • Using the gradual release model teachers first model and describe the use of a strategy,
  • The students then practice applying the strategy while the teacher guides instruction , provides feedback and,
  • Finally students move into the stage where they are able to collaboratively and  independently apply the strategy in new situations (Morrow, Gambrell & Pressley, 2003)


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.

  • 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.

What it is NOT

The sudden release of responsibility is not telling students facts or information.  TELLING is not TEACHING.  For example, if a teacher is reviewing student work on a math problem, they WOULD NOT ask, “What steps did you leave out?” If they are using the GRR Model, they WOULD teach the steps, model the steps and then working with the student guide him or her through the steps. By the time students assume responsibility for using the steps, the teacher and students are confident of mastery.


No one would assert that differentiation is easy! Ensuring that the basic instruction is sound and effective is a huge factor that can make differentiation easier. Effective instruction can PREVENT errors from ever starting and can therefore limit the amount of differentiation needed.

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