It’s OK. You Can Let Go.

Last year, I used a book on assessment from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in a study group with teachers.  When I saw their name attached to this morning’s panel discussion on Literacy in the 21st Century, I was intrigued.  My thinking was that they would have some great foundational elements to add to the what I’ve been thinking lately.

What happened was much more than what I thought.  Amy Sandvold, a colleague of Angela Maiers, was also on the panel as well.  Here is what I pulled out.

Fisher, Frey and Sandvold advocated a Gradual Release of Responsibility in the relationship between teachers and students.

grrA few years back, when I really began this journey, I saw Alan November present about the need for teachers to outsource what they do to the students to prevent them from being the only voice in the classroom.  What they advocated and described here is exactly that.  Focused instruction, according to Fisher, is pointed modeling of expert thinking and behavior. It’s in this mode of instruction where we help students build the requisite background knowledge and vocabulary they need for success in higher level tasks.  This argument, which is raging throughout the educational world right now, about content v. skills, then becomes moot.  Is there direct instruction in this model?  Absolutely, but it is followed by gradually removing the emphasis on what you as a teacher do in front of your students.  Once you model and instruct, move into more collaborative and shared modes of teaching and learning, until the end result is full on student responsibility.

And this from Frey:

Students and teachers must know stuff in order to do stuff.
Teachers now stuff.
Students know stuff too
Teachers and students learn from one another by interacting and collaborating.

I truly believe that learning takes place in many forms and through many processes.  One that I will recommend to anyone is that of conversation and communal learning among students and teachers.  Even today, sitting there discussing our greatest learning experience we ever had (my partner had a great one where she remembers finally being able to move from snow-plow skiing to parallel skiing), I didn’t realize my own until we began talking to others in the room and listening to the stories of people learning.  Collaboration is a powerful tool for learning.

There is so much more to come out of this session, but I am finding that it’s hard to process, especially in light of what occurred directly after this session.  That’s coming too.


9 thoughts on “It’s OK. You Can Let Go.

  1. That’s a great graph. I often try to make myself obsolete (in relation to the students) by the end of the year. Glad to see that I may be pedagogically aligned, and not just a slacker.

    1. Thanks Jason,

      I pulled it from their slide deck, which is available at their website. This is truly a great way to manage your students’ learning, I feel. When I work with teachers, there is always the feeling that we keep adding to their plates. There has to be a way where we begin removing aspects of what we expect from teachers and shifting them to the students.

  2. The release of “control” in the classroom is a very difficult idea for educators who are taught that they must be in “control”. We must continue to move faculties to understand that collaboration, analyzation, and facilitation are the best way to support learning. Of course, it takes MORE planning up front, but as a result, less work in the classroom. UbD, anyone?

  3. Thanks for such kind words, Patrick. Doug and I love what we do, and it’s exciting to be able to share our work and gain the perspectives of others. You’ve got a great blog and it’s making a terrific contribution to the knowledge base.

  4. I wish I had that illustration when I was shifting responsibility from me scoring student multiple-choice tests and then telling them what they got right (Right Mark Scoring) to the students using the test to report what they knew and trusted (Knowledge and Judgment Scoring). It shows the transition that students pass through when switching from traditional guessing, to being equally comfortable with Knowledge and Judgment Scoring. Most students like being responsible for their learning when the assessment rewards them for both knowledge and judgment. A developing discussion on transforming passive negative pupils into active self-correcting achievers is indexed at

  5. Jen,

    I agree with you on so many levels. A few years back, I remember sitting in my classroom in June thinking how exhausted I was after a year had gone by. Teachers work so incredibly hard. Analyzing that year over the summer, I realized that I hadn’t leveraged my greatest asset in the classroom: the students. Finding ways to help teachers do that is crucial to the success of any program or method we bring in.


    Thanks for a wonderful session and some fantastic discussion afterward both here and with my colleagues. If you get this, I have a quick question: there was a slide in your slide deck in which you listed out all of your “action” words and underneath them you had examples of tools that aided in the completion of those “action” words. I took a picture of it with my camera, but I couldn’t get a clean image. Is that slide available at your website?

  6. Nancy and Doug’s work has huge implications for classroom of the future–where students learn to become independent as well as interdependent so they can meet the challenges of this new collaborative world. Brian Cambourne’s “Conditions of Learning” is also a wonderful model for gradual release, with the important component of engagement as the umbrella for his conditions: immersion, demonstration, expectation, responsibility, use, approximation (learners should be free to “approximate” learning, that is, make mistakes while learning), and response. In my book, Engaging Adolescent Learners, I apply those conditions to content-area study. Secondary teachers, especially, have a difficult time letting go, but it is the only way to shift the responsiblity from the teacher to the learner.

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