A significant amount of educators seem to be Mastery learners and teachers. They stick with the facts, organization, and routine, and learning is usually teacher-centered and involves teaching then practice. Mastery learners prefer short, right vs wrong answers, and clear instructions for improvement. And considering our educational culture of constant testing, this is natural for most of us. To me, it follows that many teachers have trouble letting go of control in the classroom, not because they are control freaks, but because they are creating an organized world for quick and effective learning for their students. But...is it truly effective?
With the pressures of testing and the rush to "cover" every standard in a set time period, this approach is definitely quick. Teacher-centered learning, however, often does not produce deep critical thinking (and certainly not creativity), which limits long-term memory. So how do we let go?
Pearson & Gallagher (1983) coined the phrase “gradual release of responsibility” in reference to literacy learning based on Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and scaffolding. Numerous others have developed, expanded, and adapted similar models. The Gradual Release model calls for teachers to shift the responsibility for tasks and learning from themselves to their students. Teachers begin with brief Focus Lessons that develop background knowledge and model thinking and skills. During Guided Instruction, teachers guide students to understanding through appropriate questioning and tasks. This may involve direct instruction to the whole group or small groups. As teachers begin shifting their responsibility to students in the Collaborative Learning stage, the students think, discuss, and problem solve with each other to solidify and expand their learning. During Independent Work students work to synthesize and apply their learning.
Letting go using Gradual Release is, of course, gradual and can take place over days, weeks, or months. You can go through the process within a lesson or a whole unit. You may start the school year mostly in Focus and work up to more Collaborative and Independent. You may have students going back and forth between stages depending on their abilities or the appropriateness for specific learning.
But still, how do we let go? Start with small things:
- Shorten lectures into small chunks of information. In between chunks, ask processing questions that address different learning styles.
- Increase the use of exploratory activities to interest students and arouse their curiosity. Show them a related phenomenon or share a scenario, and then have them try to explain it.
- Consider yourself a facilitator and have your students discuss often what they are learning with each other. Ask questions to get their thinking going.
- Make sure Collaborative and Independent tasks authentic and relevant with a focus on real world problem solving.
- Use Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge models to plan higher level thinking ahead of time. This will provide students rigorous ways to develop and utilize their new knowledge and free you up to support it.
- Try new things with your students! They will surprise you.
This is just a start. Letting go is not easy and takes time, but will reap benefits for both you and your students.
Depth of Knowledge / Bloom’s Taxonomy