Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's GRR?

Yesterday afternoon, I engaged in a Twitter discussion about the Gradual Release of Responsibility. Because of the confines of the medium (maximum of 140 characters in its pure form), we quickly condensed the phrase to GRR. This resulted in the following tweet between John and Frank
I am a nosy Tweeter so I butted in and shared this video on GRR by Jeffrey Wilhelm:

My first introduction to this teaching and learning model was at a workshop on content literacy put on by The Learning Network. Margaret Mooney was the keynoter and she described the model using a figure similar to the one shown to the right. I was resistant because the leftmost stages reminded me too much of lecturing - a method I had decided was ineffective when it came to constructing understanding. I was what my wife calls a "constructivist gone wild."

Then I read about GRR in Debbie Miller's book, Reading with Meaning. She writes:
Chances are that if you think back to a time when you learned how to do something new, the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson and Gallagher 1983) comes into play. Maybe you learned how to snowboard, canoe, play golf, or drive a car. If you watched somebody do it first, practiced under that person's watchful eye, listened to his or her feedback, and then one fine day went off and did it by yourself, adding your own special twist to it in the process, you know what this model is all about. (p. 10)
I was not completely convinced, but I was beginning to see the appeal of this more natural approach to teaching and learning.

Finally, I watched a first-grade teacher use GRR during a series of reading comprehension lessons. She modeled for me how she used formative assessments to evaluate where learners were in the model and how that informed the level of support she needed to offer during instruction. This demonstration helped me to see GRR as a framework that supports teacher decision-making during lessons focusing on processes. It has been an essential framework in my teaching ever since.

A few years ago, one of our teacher assistants suggested that a rubric describing the roles of teachers and learners in this model might help him in identifying where learners were at in their understanding. Working with my colleague John Golden, this pdf draft was developed. You will see that the role of the teacher moves from being a model, to being a mentor, to monitoring the learner.

There are many other resources available on this model. Fisher and Frey discuss it in Better Learning through Structured Teaching. @mrsebiology recently tweeted these resources (a framework and a matrix).

I hope this helps to answer the question, "What's GRR?" If you're interested in learning more, I would suggest: (1) find an expert to watch; (2) collaborate with the expert in your own classroom; and (3) modify it to make it work for you. At least that is how I learned to apply this model.


  1. Thanks for this great introduction to a cool framework. I hadn't heard the phrase before and yesterday I thought people were growling on twitter.

    For me, this reminds me of how my department works our labs. In the first year sequence they're fairly cookbooky but our long-term goal is to get them to perform their own investigations of things before they graduate with a physics major. In the second year we give them hands-on experience with all kinds of equipment and software, essentially broadening their toolbox. In the junior year, they have to come up with and execute a year-long project (often in teams due to lack of space/equipment/funds). Sometimes it's interesting how long it takes them to realize that it's their project, not mine. I can be heard saying things like "this isn't my project, what do you think you should do?" I wish I did even more of that, frankly.

    Thanks again! Now no more growling! -Andy (@arundquist)

  2. FYI - #GRR hashtag on Twitter is often used for Grand Rapids Michigan - code for Gerald R. Ford International Airport! Just in case you see tweets unrelated to your conversation...

  3. Reading about GRR I started to compare and contrast it in my head to a model called "Direct Education":

    On the one hand, the model seems different because it uses the "Experiential Learning Cycle" (Experience, Reflect, Generalize, Apply) and if you watched any particular learning cycle you would see very little modeling by the facilitators. Instead they engage the learners in a game, task, visualization, dialogue, etc. that the learners then reflect on, generalize about, and apply their learnings from.

    The only modeling you'd see in a single "lesson" is if the facilitators model the rules of the game to help participants understand... and that's only done when *how* the game is played makes the experience richer. Other times it's important for learners to grapple with the confusion of figuring out how the game is played (like when the learning goal is figuring something out about how the group learns).

    BUT! The workshop in which you learn how to facilitate Direct Education is more than the sum of the single lessons. If you used time-lapse photography, you'd see the workshop move from being facilitated by the paid facilitators, to small groups being facilitated by the learners, to, eventually, pairs of learners designing and facilitating their own 30-minute chunks of the workshop.

    So... GRR can be a part of this, and any, complete learning experience. Like Frosted Flakes is to breakfast.

  4. Andy,
    You bring up a good point. The gradual release of responsibility is also a helpful framework for reintroducing students trained to be dependent on outside sources to develop interdependence and independence. It sometimes helps to be explicit about this intent.

    Being from West Michigan I was aware of this use of GRR. But I didn't think about it the first time I used the GRR hashtag on Twitter with my teachers in training. I quickly adjusted to #GRofR.

    I will definitely check out the site you referenced. Thanks.

    The idea that all lessons don't need to start with demonstration is an important one. I probably wouldn't teach a bunch of kids how to play a game they were already familiar with. Even if it was a new game, depending on their prior experience, I might expect they know how to learn new games through experimentation and I would be a guide. But kids who do not have prior experience will need more support. This is why formative assessment is such an integral part of the model.