Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teaching vs. Assigning

from John Holly's Compendium of of Strategies
What is the gradual release of responsibility? An instructional model developed by P. David Pearson, the gradual release of responsibility means that I show students how to do something before I ask them to do it on their own. Ultimately, "the reading goals are comprehension, understanding, enjoyment and insight for every child."

In my mind it's the difference between teaching and assigning. The model assumes teachers are the master craftsmen and students the apprentice. The master or expert in the room shows the apprentice how things are done. Gradual release in terms of reading means that the teacher takes on the responsibility first (for decoding or making meaning) then slowly releases the responsibility to the students. In my own high-school, English teacher mind, the gradual release of responsibility means what Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher call: I do, we do and you do.

Do you show students how to do something before asking them to do it by themselves. If I'm teaching my students how to analyze the rhetoric of fast food advertising (something we're doing in my A.P. language class this week), I can't just say, "choose a tray liner from a fast food restaurant and analyze the rhetoric in terms of purpose, audience and context." Well, I can say that, but chances are if I haven't demonstrated the process or taught the  "how to" lessons that the assignment assumes,  students will not understand the task or concepts involved.

When Kelly Gallagher plans reading lessons he asks himself several questions:
  1. Without my assistance, what will students take from this reading?
  2. With my assistance, what do  I want my students to take from this reading?
  3. What can I do to bridge the gap between what my students would learn on their own and what I want them to learn? What support should I offer ...?
  4. How will I know if my students "got it"? (Deeper Reading 215)
My mentor, Janet Allen, says "you've got to be the bridge." Whether I am teaching a strategy for reading or  writing, a genre, or a content concept such idioms or figurative language, there is a difference between teaching (modeling, demonstrating, showing how to) and assigning (telling students to read and answer questions, giving students a task without any help). Does that make sense? I like how one of the boy's in Jeff Wilhelm's study put it, "teachers give you hard things to do and then they don't help you." Modeling is the tool that helps students as  Wilhelm describes in this video clip which examines the gradual release model from a Vygotskian perspective.

This year my district asked to film me teaching and to use the video to teach administrators about the gradual release of responsibility.  Here's a copy compressed for the blog:

On Monday, 1/31 at 7 p.m., I'll be hosting a discussion of the gradual release of responsibility model on #engchat, a weekly English chat on Twitter. Selfishly, I'd love to talk about my questions.  How do you know when to "release" students--it's sort of scary, isn't it.  The Giver allusion aside, how do you decide? How much modeling do students need? How do we discover what students know so that we can maximize our time with them? These are few things I'm thinking about as Monday approaches.

If you'd like to join the conversation, sign in to twitter and follow the hashtag #engchat. Get more details and a "how to" join the conversation using Twitter tools here


  1. Teachers gain enormous credibility when they learn with their students.

    Sure, our role in the classroom is somewhat different from our students, but when we are obviously involved as learners, they learn more deeply and more quickly.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, and I hope to join you for #engchat on Monday!

  2. This is a brilliant post. I love how you've used so many different experts to back up what you believe in.
    When do I know how to release the work over to the kids? When I start hearing them jump over me and my think alouds- or when they show me in their responses that they are working on together that they've got it. I think one of the most important things I've learned is that when they don't get it- I need to figure out where I went wrong- not where they went wrong- I think Kyleen Beers taught me that!

  3. Sorry I didn't read this before the twitter chat. How did that go? I wonder if I can do that from work. (Of course, I don't think I've logged onto my twitter account in over a year, but I'm sure I can find the password somewhere.)

  4. Thank you, Kerry. Two things you said really stick with me: "when I start hearing them jump over me and my think alouds" and " I need to figure out where I went wrong."Where do kids jump over us during instruction and how we (or I) get better at seeing and hearing that. Like you, I always see students' failure (to learn or be able to do something) as something I didn't scaffold quite right or teach. Often it is more about me and the teaching falling short. Students want to learn.

  5. Fabulous video, Lee Ann! Video demonstration of how to teach using the gradual release of responsibility model just makes sense. Teachers need to see it in action and hear it. Thank you for a sharing a great lesson. I'm amazed at how much is being discussed and connected within a short period of time. Another testament of your excellence!
    I love how I am able to see the students, what they see on the screen, and then watch you at the Elmo. The sound and video are quite clear. Can you tell me what equipment (camera and mic) you used and what software you used to edit it?
    Teach on!

  6. Hi Wendy,
    The district filmed, so the video folks came in with their big TV-production cameras and microphones. I'm not sure what editing software they use--Final Cut Pro perhaps?