CENTERVILLE, IOWA, August 7, 2022 — The Gradual Release of Responsibility model is a constant in education due to its support of a smooth transition from 100% instructor management of learning to students taking charge. Karen Swanson, an educator with three decades of experience in district-wide roles as well as school and classroom leadership, advises the model can operate smoothly much of the time, but there are instances where limitations pop up.
Individual educators inevitably experience students who encounter more difficulty taking charge and certain lessons may require operating in specific areas of the transition for a longer time period or skipping portions altogether. According to Swanson, this is natural, and the ability to implement changes and corrections is key.
The Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework is easy to master and is education 101. However, it can be instructional to review the framework and its shift from teacher responsibility to student responsibility periodically. The four fundamental shifts introduced from the start are:
- Focus Lesson
- Guided Instruction
When hitting a stumbling block, come back here and consider the framework itself independently of a given lesson. Think of unrelated examples of it in use and then reapproach the problem from the bottom up as a student.
Educators like Karen Swanson realize every student is unique, and some need guided instruction and collaboration to a more significant extent. Others can operate within the responsibility shifts more fluidly but require greater context.
For these students, the why and how of thought processes need to be explained more thoroughly for independence to be possible. Consider thinking out loud more, and avoid skipping over information that may seem basic or like a natural jump to ensure students witness the entire mental process unfold during a focus lesson.
During the guided instruction process, Karen Swanson advises many educators to easily fall back into presenting a slightly revised focus lesson and subverting the release of responsibility.
In this phase, it is essential to truly assume the role of a guide. When students have difficulty, avoid reverting immediately and become even more inquisitive. Instead of explaining, ask new questions.
For example, in a history discussion following a lesson on the Louisiana Purchase, a larger initial question may be, “Why was the Louisiana Purchase important?” If that yields little in the way of input, include more information in subsequent questions but still leave the students to work through a question, such as, “The U.S. acquired 827,000 square miles of land in the Louisiana Purchase. What could the U.S. do with that much new land?”
Often, group projects can end with some students guiding the way and others not participating as much. Karen Swanson advises that this is natural as some students will inevitably move into the independent phase early.
This can make collaboration tricky as the students who would most benefit from the phase may be overwhelmed by the independents. To avoid a loss of value for major lessons, it is critical to provide an individualized element in a collaborative lesson and have each independent portion contribute to the whole. For example, each group member has a specific reading assignment or task that becomes part of a larger task, such as a display or report.
For some students, independence is a time to shine, but in considering an entire class, Swanson recommends crafting solo assignments carefully to avoid work that is too ambitious in scope too early. For more complex lessons, start small and then build up to a larger project to ensure students are not left behind.