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