The Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Framework
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The gradual release of responsibility instructional framework purposefully shifts the cognitive load from teacher-as-model, to joint responsibility of teacher and learner, to independent practice and application by the learner (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). It stipulates that the teacher moves from assuming “all the responsibility for performing a task … to a situation in which the students assume all of the responsibility” (Duke & Pearson, 2002, p. 211). This gradual release may occur over a day, a week, a month, or a year. Graves and Fitzgerald (2003) note that “effective instruction often follows a progression in which teachers gradually do less of the work and students gradually assume increased responsibility for their learning. It is through this process of gradually assuming more and more responsibility for their learning that students become competent, independent learners” (p. 98).
The gradual release of responsibility framework, originally developed for reading instruction, reflects the intersection of several theories, including
- Piaget’s (1952) work on cognitive structures and schemata
- Vygotsky’s (1962, 1978) work on zones of proximal development
- Bandura’s (1965) work on attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation
- Wood, Bruner, and Ross’s (1976) work on scaffolded instruction
Taken together, these theories suggest that learning occurs through interactions with others; when these interactions are intentional, specific learning occurs.
Unfortunately, most current efforts to implement the gradual release of responsibility framework limit these interactions to adult and child exchanges: I do it; we do it together; you do it. But this three-phase model omits a truly vital component: students learning through collaboration with their peers—the you do it together phase. Although the effectiveness of peer learning has been demonstrated with English language learners (Zhang & Dougherty Stahl, 2011), students with disabilities (Grenier, Dyson, & Yeaton, 2005), and learners identified as gifted (Patrick, Bangel, & Jeon, 2005), it has typically been examined as a singular practice, isolated from the overall instructional design of the lesson. A more complete implementation model for the gradual release of responsibility recognizes the recursive nature of learning and has teachers cycle purposefully through purpose setting and guided instruction, collaborative learning, and independent experiences. In Figure 1.1, we map out these phases of learning, indicating the share of responsibility that students and teachers have in each.
Figure 1.1. A Structure for Instruction That Works
We are not suggesting that every lesson must always start with focused instruction (goal setting and modeling) before progressing to guided instruction, then to collaborative learning, and finally to independent tasks (Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson, & Frey, 2012). Teachers often reorder the phases—for example, begin a lesson with an independent task, such as bellwork or a quick-write, or engage students in collaborative peer inquiry prior to providing teacher modeling.
Further references here