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[EDUCATORS] I Do, We Do, You Do: The Gradual Release of Responsibility

Gradual Release of Responsibility | Readorium

Students in Afghanistan enjoying their lessons. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the educational strategies Readorium uses in our award-winning  language instruction software is the Gradual Release of Responsibility model, first introduced by P.D. Pearson and M.C. Gallagher in their 1983 paper, The Instruction of Reading Comprehension.

Pearson and Gallagher codified and expanded on a core concept that, like many great ideas, appears to be common sense on close inspection, prompting cries of “why didn’t we think of that before?” Fundamentally, the model stresses that scaffolding, or providing support to students that is gradually removed as students master topics, is essential to effective teaching.

Not to delve too deeply into theory, here’s a quick-and-dirty overview of how the Gradual Release of Responsibility model generally works:

1) Teacher teaches a concept. “Chemical equations need to be balanced. Law of Conservation of Mass. Here’s how you do it.”

2) Students work on the concept, prompted and guided by the teacher. “Let’s see if we can balance the chemical reaction on the blackboard together.”

3) Students work with each other to work on the concept. “In groups of four, see if you can balance the Haber Process equation. Feel free to discuss it with each other!”

4) Students work alone, without any support, demonstrating mastery of the topic. “Everyone, balance the photosynthesis equation for homework tonight!”

Gradual Release of Responsibility | Readorium

Collaborative work is a powerful tool. See how engrossed these physiology students from 1902 are? Source: US National Library of Medicine

A more familiar example might be about teaching a teenager how to drive a car. You don’t start on a highway, but rather you start with careful demonstrations that you make sure the student driver understands before he or she takes the wheel. Gradually, you begin guided practice in an empty parking lot and slowlyadvance from side streets, to main streets, and finally to highways. Before the student takes his or her driving test, you want to be sure he/she can drive independently, so you only give assistance when absolutely necessary and you don’t let the student take the test until you are sure this individual is capable of driving on their own.

The point of this method is to give students guidance and support when needed, but to gradually ween them of the extra help and make them independent.  Not only has it been shown to be an effective model of instruction, it also breaks the tedium of being constantly lectured to by a teacher, by breaking a lesson up into periods of listening, participating, collaborating and solitary work. If you’re interested in learning more about the technique, you might want to watch this video. Also, Wikipedia’s article on the subject is pretty decent.

Readorium takes to heart this idea of gradually removing scaffolding in our non-fiction, scientific texts designed to improve reading skills, both with the reading process itself (through guided reading), as well as with comprehension strategies, vocabulary-building, and assessment.  Check out Readorium for yourself in our 14-day free trial, to see how we implement this model!

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