The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Gradual Release of Responsibility

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of gradual release of responsibility. It is a method of teaching that has been promoted within teaching circles for nearly my entire life, if not longer. The idea is simple yet profound: At the beginning of instruction, the main responsibility for learning in on the teacher: planning lessons, teaching strategies, modeling what to do and how to do it, redirecting. This is very teacher-centric and, to be quite honest, very exhausting for teachers. But as students grow in skills, knowledge, and understanding, and as they develop independent work habits, the teacher turns over the responsibility of learning to the students: allowing them to suggest areas of inquiry, finding connections and linking concepts across learning, self-regulating, and explaining their thinking processes. This is very student-centric and allows for more dynamic learning.

Using this method is not easy, though. Teachers must be constantly aware of what their students have done, what they are doing, and what they will be able to do in the future. The teacher must scaffold instruction around individual students, differentiating as needed, either for students who are struggling and need additional support or for students who are quickly advancing and need more challenging tasks. And while the model is presented as a linear process, the reality is that students may be able to do a task independently one day and then go back and provided more focused instruction on the same topic the next day.

I have had a student teacher doing her early field experience in my classroom this semester. She is with us all day every Tuesday and Wednesday through the second week of December. When she first came, I did a lot of modeling and explaining and modeling and explaining again. This is to be expected. As the semester has progressed, I have turned over more and more responsibility to her, but always supervising, guiding, observing, and helping as needed. The culminating activity for the early field experience is a two-day full takeover of classroom duties. We planned together last week but from the start of the day to the end, for two days, she is the one in charge in the classroom. It has been an interesting experience for me to have to sit in the background and allow her to use the skills and concepts of her university coursework and combine them with what she has seen and done in our classroom.

Yesterday was the first day of this takeover. We had an intruder drill in the building in the morning and I think it really threw a lot of students off for the whole day. It was just something so very different from what they are used to. Combining this with the fact that I was committed to not interceding except in extreme cases, and I saw a day in which many of my students pushed against the limits that we have set in the classroom. My student teacher did a wonderful job of maintaining her professionalism, redirecting students as needed, and praising those students who were on task and working throughout the day.

After discussing the day and offering suggestions for today, she tried some new strategies, led the class is a discussion about what they could do better today, and sought input from students to find ways to improvement behaviour. The day went much, much, much better! Particularly during the math lesson, which was looking at interpreting mixed-operation word problems, the class was alert, attentive, respectful, and participatory! I feel like today ties in very well with my post yesterday about stopping, resetting, and doing something again. Each day is a new day with new opportunities for learning. I am proud of my student teacher for learning, growing, and expanding her skills as an educator and I am proud of my class for realising that they really can do it right, even if they made mistakes in the past!


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