Gradually Releas [ing]

Gradually Releas [ing]

I got beat up pretty good yesterday, teaching intercession.
At least that is how it felt. We were closely reading an article about Nic Wallenda, an extraordinary tightrope walker. I had handpicked the topic for it’s high interest. I had co-planned the with a colleague to increase the chances of success. And I arrived early to school to go ensure I was ready for the lesson.

“Can someone predict what this article might be about after reading the title?

“Who can tell us what the word ‘steep’ means?”

“Okay turn to your partner and talk about it.”

By the end of the class period, I felt spent. I felt ineffective. It all felt new again. It felt a little bit like tight rope walking.

Why was it so hard to initiate their participation?
Wasn’t this topic interesting enough?
Had I lost my skills?
Were the learners just being reluctant?

After a night of being hard on myself, the morning came. It not only provided relief for a discouraged educator, but it provided inspiration in the form of professional development on the topic of collaborative conversations in the classroom.

Gradual Release of Responsibility
Dr. Doug Fisher and Dr. Nancy Frey introduced a framework of lesson components, they call The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (2008). Great teachers know that the responsibility of learning needs to shift to their students. But traditionally, the hand-off is abrupt. Typically, the teacher models and disseminates information. Then, they quickly hand it off. “Your turn now!”

The Gradual Release of Responsibility model emphasizes support of students in the guided instruction and collaborative portions of a lesson. Taken together, these two portions of the lesson should outnumber, in minutes, the lesson focus and independent portions, according to Fisher and Frey. This maximizes student interaction with content and application of skills, while receiving guidance from the classroom instructor.

I should have been proud. Yesterday’s lesson included these lesson components. Students were put in positions to collaborate and produce language.

Planning for Collaboration
Here’s what I re-learned today at the Professional Development Session: It takes a great deal of skill and preparation to incite true collaborative learning in the classroom! And some strategies are more effective than others. Planning for the collaborative portion of lessons requires great expertise. According to Fisher and Frey, to make a task both engaging and interactive, there needs to be:

1. Enough background knowledge to have something to say.
2. Language to support to know how to say it.
3. A topic that is interesting enough
4. An authentic reasons to interact
5. Expectations of accountability for the interaction
6. An established community of learners who encourage and support each other.

With a sound pedagogical framework and renewed focus, I am ready to plan for increased student collaboration next week!

In fact, I’m even looking forward to tomorrow’s lesson.


Image by Harold Lloyd via Flickr

They’re All ‘Ours’

They’re All ‘Ours’

All students want to learn.
Just observe any kindergarten student on their way to school. Backpack bouncing up and down, jostling the contents to and fro. Most kindergarteners dart to school, skipping and singing along the way.
Curiosity seeps from their pores.
They can’t wait to see their peers. They can’t wait to share their stories. They can’t wait to learn.

All students can learn.
Each student can rise to high expectations, where they are both challenged and supported. Every student can demonstrate critical thinking, demanded by common core standards. They can realize the benefits of hard work in the classroom. With brains more powerful than the sum total of all computers on earth, students are ‘wired up’ for learning .

Too many students aren’t reaching their potential.
Just observe a ninth grade English classroom at one of our nations urban public schools. Even in a classroom with an expert teacher, the optics of frustration will become conspicuously apparent. Too many students arrive to this classroom with below grade-level skills. Others come with strains of learned helplessness. A few of them are barely surviving outside the classroom, unable to ascend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to make learning a priority.

The causes of under-performance and disinterest are numerous. Like a hot potato, the blame is routinely passed around.  Each category of stakeholder takes the blame in turn. But the unacceptable reality remains: Too many students aren’t reaching their potential.

The achievement of every student should matter more to us.
In his I Have a Dream speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “If our nation is to be great, we must work tirelessly for the freedom of all God’s children.” I believe Dr. King would holistically include educational opportunity, as means to experiencing freedom. When all God’s children are free, they skip to school, express curiosity, and experience consistent intellectual growth.

For the good of our nation, of our communities, and of our families, we must work tirelessly towards to the achievement of all students. Our well being is certainly bound up in the well being of the children we serve, teach and love.

What if we took personal stake in every child’s success?
Something profound might happen if we truly believed and behaved like this. Meaningful change might occur if we take a deeply personal stake in matters. Excuses might begin to dry up. Advocacy, for the ones who need it most, would be heard in the halls. If we truly begin to live into these convictions about student potential, lives would change. In the end, we would deliver on the promise of public education.

What if each of us made deeper, more personal investments in the learning of every student?
For the school administrator it might mean spending more time in classrooms to ensure the delivery of instruction is the best possible. We know that teacher quality is the greatest predictor of success for students in your school. So for you it might mean encouraging your most dedicated teachers and ‘shaking the bushes’ to find (and fund) more of them.
For the teacher, it might mean volunteering after-school tutoring in your classroom. It might also mean visiting the home of a disinterested or disconnected student to meet parents and get a deeper sense for that student’s challenges.
For the parent with children who already soar, it might mean opening up the family circle each afternoon to include another student from your child’s class or neighborhood. That student may benefit greatly from a ride home in the mini-van, a healthy snack, discourse about the day’s learning, and a quiet place to do some homework.
For a booked up businessman, it may mean scheduling time to mentor a middle or high school student. And with the knowledge that this relationship has potential to buoy a struggling student, it should remain a priority. Consistency and longevity will be key ingredients for student success.

And so this blog…
This blog chronicles the learning, the successes and failures, of one educational leader’s passionate longing to see all students achieve in urban public schools.

Before the strategies and pedagogy, there must be ownership. The only way that we are going to realize our dreams for students is if we truly believe, and truly behave, as if those kids are our kids.

Image by Brian Moore via Flickr.