Math, Teaching and Instruction

Driving to Mathematical Success- Gradual Release of Responsibility

Ultimately our goal as teachers is to have students use mathematics independently in a way that demonstrates a deep understanding. On the journey to mathematical understanding teachers take the wheel for a while as they demonstrate and teach the lesson, then they often get out of the car and ask the students to keep going. However, this independent practice is often too quick of a jump for students, coming before they have a true understanding of the math concepts and skills. Students can manage to keep the car on the road for a while, especially in the early grades where they can “get by” with partial understandings and some support from teachers as they go. Where the lack of understanding with independent driving stops forward motion is in the later grades where a partial understanding of the mathematics will become a barrier for learning and student confidence. Their car can no long remain on the road, and often the students no longer want to take the wheel or even stay on the journey. By attending to a gradual progression toward independence teachers can support students where they are and help them confidently take the next step on their learning journey.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, first developed by Pearson & Gallagher (1993), is a research based instructional model that outlines the process necessary to promote independent application of skills and understanding. In this model the teacher gradually decreases his or her support as students’ demonstrate success and if necessary, increases the level of support when students are struggling. This model is used constantly in the classroom as a way of helping teachers identify where students are and as the basis for future, targeted instruction.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

Teachers are very skilled in I do it (I’ll drive) and You do it alone (You’re in the vehicle alone) phase, but it is the middle two phases We do it and You do it together that we need to focus more attention on. “We do it” is like sharing the wheel with the students -sometimes the teacher drives and sometimes the students do with the teacher remaining in the car. In the “You do it together” phase the teacher is also in the car but is only a passenger. The drivers are the students who share the wheel as they move their learning forward. The middle two phases consist of a lot of student discussion and collaboration…it can be messy, noisy and has the potential for students to get off task. However, it also has the greatest potential for helping students become truly independent with a richer, more complete understanding of the concepts and skills.

Here are some ideas of what these two phases can look like in mathematics:

This chart is far from complete but it can be a start to professional thinking and discussion. I believe that if we, as teachers take the time to focus our instruction on these two phases we can not only foster independence but understanding as well. If we can remain in the car longer we can help guide the journey, model the way and ultimately support students moving their own learning forward. We need to support them as they learn to drive, and then know when they are ready for us to get out of the car.


7 thoughts on “Driving to Mathematical Success- Gradual Release of Responsibility”

  1. Great post! The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model often benefits students and teachers in the classroom. Through cooperative groups, students are often able to identify their own strengths and concerns. Learning in the third phase enables students to address areas of mathematical need. Through teacher modeling, students are able to become responsible in setting goals for themselves. I wrote a post regarding that topic here:

    Thank you for communicating your insightful perspective.

  2. This is a good thought Jennifer. I wonder if the gradual release of responsibility is an entirely linear process? Should students potentially be given the steering wheel, and then if they struggle to drive, be given more direct support?

  3. Hi Ms. Brokofsky!
    My name is Robin Hendricks and I am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. I loved this post. In fact the first paragraph explained me when I was in grade school and high school. I was one of the kids that just “got by”. I was terrible at math! Not because I didn’t try, but because I never developed those strong skills when I was young that would carry me through Algebra, Geometry, Trig, etc. I finally had a teacher my junior year in high school that recognized my problem and got me on track. I went from making C’s to A’s in one quarter!
    I agree and am living proof that there can be a disconnect between those steps of the learning process. The great news is that I am also proof that it can be fixed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Again, I enjoyed the information. Feel free to visit my blog at
    Robin Hendricks

  4. Agree with David here. If it’s linear like that you’re stuck in replication mode. There’s definitely a place for all four of those modes but there’s a big danger in thinking it needs to proceed linearly.

    1. I don’t disagree with either David or Jason about the limitations of getting “locked” in to a linear model. In life and student learning nothing is ever cut and dry, black and white. I think the power of the model comes from the thinking it can open us up to as professionals. Are students ready for independence? How much support do they need to experience success? From me? From their peers? These questions can lead to actions that can turn a student learning challenge into a success.

  5. Hello Ms. Brokofsky!
    My name is Brittany Grogan and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I loved your post! I fell behind in Math early on I would say about the 5th grade is when I started “not getting it.” I guess I just didn’t say anything and as time went on I just struggled more and more. I really liked what you said about “I do it” and “You do it” with contrast of the middle phases with “We do it” and “You do it together.” That is a great tip thank you so much!

  6. I really enjoy the car analogy used in this post. I can relate to the students “who just get by” in the lower grades and then struggle in higher grades-I was definitely one of those students. I think if more or my my teachers would have used the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, I might have done better in math. Math can be a difficult subject for students and teachers need to do all they can to make sure their students are understanding the material. When I become a teacher I would like to use the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s