Revisiting…Gradual Release of Responsibility

 Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.  –George Orwell

As we prepare for the first meeting of our Professional Learning Focus Groups this week, I thought this topic would be timely.  Although our Focus Groups vary in name and possible content, at the heart is effective instructional practice.  One instructional model most of us are familiar with or have heard of is “Gradual Release of Responsibility.”  This instructional model warrants revisiting as it is at the core of effective instruction.  It is not only an effective practice for literacy instruction, it applies to all content areas as well.  No matter your level of experience, revisiting this practice may affirm what you are currently doing; remind you of ways to tweak and improve instruction; or spark some new ideas.  

First, what is the Gradual Release of Responsibility model?  The Gradual Release of Responsibility is a research-based instructional model developed by Pearson and Gallagher (1993). In this optimal learning model, the responsibility for task completion shifts gradually over time from the teacher to the student.   One way teachers can provide more targeted, individualized instruction is to use the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). This instructional model requires that the teacher, by design, transition 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, or a semester. Stated another way, the gradual release of responsibility “emphasizes instruction that mentors students into becoming capable thinkers and learners when handling the tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise” (Buehl, 2005). This gradual release of responsibility model of instruction has been documented as an effective approach for improving writing achievement (Fisher & Frey, 2003), reading comprehension (Lloyd, 2004), and literacy outcomes for English language learners (Kong & Pearson, 2003).

Second, why is the Gradual Release model important?   The gradual release of responsibility model is the intersection of
several theories, including the following:
  • Piaget’s (1952) work on cognitive structures and schema
  • 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, and when these interactions are intentional, specific learning occurs. Unfortunately, most current implementation efforts of the gradual release of responsibility model limit these interactions to adult and child exchanges. A common framework for implementing the model is I do it; we do it; you do it. In other words, many current models lack a vital component: learning through collaboration with peers.  The effectiveness of peer learning has been demonstrated with English language learners (Gersten & Baker, 2000), students with disabilities (Stevens & Slavin, 1995), and learners identified as gifted (Coleman & Gallagher, 1995). While the effectiveness of peer learning has been documented, 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 moves from modeled to guided instruction, followed by collaborative learning, and finally independent experiences.

Scaffolding Instruction with the Gradual Release Model

 Third, how do we implement the Gradual Release model?

What does the Gradual Release Model look like?

 The four interactive (or interrelated) components of the gradual release of responsibility model:

Focus Lessons. This component allows teachers to model their own metacognitive processes as active readers. Modeled strategies focus on increasing understanding of content-area texts. Usually brief in nature, focus lessons establish purposes for reading and clue students into important learning objectives.

Guided Instruction. During guided instruction, teachers prompt, question, facilitate, or lead students through tasks that increase understanding of a particular text.

Collaborative Learning. During the collaborative learning component in the gradual release of responsibility model, students consolidate their understanding of the content and explore opportunities to problem solve, discuss, negotiate, and think with their peers.

Independent Learning. This component addresses the most important goal of good instruction— to provide students with practice in applying skills and information in new ways. As students transfer their learning to subsequent tasks, they synthesize information, transform ideas, and solidify their understanding. They become active readers and capable learners. It is important to understand that the gradual release of responsibility model is not linear. Students move back and forth among each of the components as they master skills, strategies, and learning standards (Frey & Fisher, 2006).

Improved Classroom instruction is the prime factor to improve student achievement gains.  –Allan Odden and Marc Wallace 

Resources for Gradual Release:  













One thought on “Revisiting…Gradual Release of Responsibility

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