Amazingly, the strategies that are effective for teaching children, are also effective for teaching adults. Recently, I had a conversation with Kieran Mackle for the Knowledge for Teachers podcast and he mentioned how he uses the Gradual Release of Responsibility when working with teachers. So, I thought I would put my own spin on it because there are a couple of key points that I think can make all the difference between whether teachers change or not.
* In this instance, when I use the term “expert” I will be referring to the teacher who is considered more fluent and knowledgeable in the particular technique. Usually, it would be an instructional coach or middle leader.
1. Set a goal
The novice teacher needs to acknowledge that there is a problem or an area that could be improved. If they aren’t aware of the need for change, then they are less likely to change and will feel like they are being forced to do something. You might need to use data, video footage or student feedback.
Write down precisely what the technique is that will be worked on. Plan for what it will look like in the classroom. Rehearse it together.
Prerequisite: They need to feel psychologically safe to take a chance and try to change. They need to feel like the expert is working side-by-side with them in a space that feels more developmental than judgemental.
2. I do, you watch
The expert teacher models the technique in full and the novice teacher just observes. The focus is decided in the goal-setting session. It will be worth having the expert explicitly point out specific things to look out for.
In the past, I have come in and modelled whole lessons, but I feel that often too many things go wrong. Here are some examples:
- the expert teacher doesn’t know the students, so may have to do a lot of frontloading, re-teaching or checking for understanding which kills the flow of the lesson
- the novice teacher doesn’t have the same mental models of what “good teaching” looks like and so may not be looking for the “right” things
- the extraneous load may be too high for the novice teacher to take in all the aspects that they are observing. The expert teacher might finish the lesson feeling great about themselves, but the novice just feels overwhelmed
What does this look like?
For example, the expert demonstrates a whole worked example with checking for understanding and breaking the concept down into small steps. However, the classroom teacher teaches the intro part of the lesson and guided practice. It can be even more effective if the novice teacher observes this happen in another classroom and then straight after the technique has been completed by the expert, they debrief and reflect on how it went. In the podcast, Kieran spoke about how he will actually stop during the lesson to explain his decision-making to the novice teacher.
3. I do, you help
Here, the expert teacher models the majority of a technique and the novice performs one aspect of a technique. This then allows the novice teacher to deliberately practice one small aspect. It’s like when we are helping our students develop their ability to read, we don’t/shouldn’t ask them to read a whole word, but start with one small aspect – phonological awareness and then phonics.
What does this look like?
Cold calling example, the expert teacher could perform the modelling aspect of the lesson and then the novice just checks for understanding using cold calling (no hands up, the teacher picks non-volunteers).
4. You do, I help
Next, the expert teacher performs one aspect &/or provides prompts. The novice performs the majority of the technique. Depending on the complexity, the novice may be ready to perform the whole technique. However, the expert may provide prompts like hand signals or reminders. This needs to be agreed upon prior to the lesson. Sometimes the expert’s presence can be enough of a prompt.
5. You do, I watch
The final step is when the novice performs all of the technique and the expert observes and provides feedback. Having gone through this learning sequence together, there is a shared understanding of what is being worked on and this enables the feedback to be more specific.
- Improvement and behaviour change will only happen if the teacher wants it to happen. The gradual release of responsibility ensures that the novice is able to develop a concrete understanding of what the new technique looks like by observing it in action.
- This works best for high-leverage teaching techniques that are performed often. This allows multiple practice opportunities throughout the week and allows feedback to be put into action faster.
- Frontload the expectations in the goal-setting meeting. Ensure that the novice understands how they will be supported in implementing their new technique and what the expert will be doing at each step.
- The feedback needs to stay focused on the agreed learning intentions. e.g. if they are working on using mini-whiteboards better, then the feedback shouldn’t be about positive framing