Cultivating Thinking

Over the past couple of weeks as I have been working with teachers during training sessions, the mode in which instruction is delivered has been on my mind. A teacher’s instructional delivery is the art of teaching, where the magic occurs. It is when the teacher takes knowledge of content and meshes it with knowledge of individual students to create understanding. Despite the many variables which factor into learning, researchers have been able to come to an agreement about an instructional delivery format for learners to be successful.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility was first coined by Pearson and Gallagher (1983) as a format for teachers to use when instructing students. The basic premise is the teacher models a concept for students, then work is done together before students are released to take ownership of the concept during individual work. It is often referred to as the “I Do, We Do, You Do” instructional format. Regie Routman (2005) expanded upon this idea to create the Optimal Learning Model which is the “I Do, We Do, We Do, You Do” format. The two “We Do” sections found her in model provide students the opportunity to practice a skill with teacher support in both the whole group and small group settings. You can find many graphics depicting these models on the internet. These formats are successful for learning in both the school and the home setting.

In reflecting upon the different models, my focus has gone deeper, being on the individual student and learning goals. It is my belief the purpose of education is to create critical thinkers and problem solvers who will be able to face the challenges of the world once they leave the academic setting. With this in mind, as I reviewed the models evidence of these ideals were found, just not explicitly stated. The focus for the models is on the instructional delivery setting as well as how teachers and students interact during the setting. So how do we make critical thinking clear without reinventing the wheel?

A slight revision in the current models from the instructional setting to the instructional purpose gives that tweak. Instruction begins with thinking being modeled by the teacher. Then, thinking together both teacher and student work through the concept with the teacher as the leader at this point. The next step is for the student to take the lead in thinking while the teacher serves as a coach giving feedback to reinforce or refine learning. Finally, the student is thinking through the concept independently while applying it. I will use learning how to shoot a free throw in basketball to exemplify the instructional steps. First, the expert shoots free throw baskets while explaining to the novice proper footing, arm control, wrist movements, eye focus, etc. Then, standing next to the novice, the expert talks the novice through the motions and the novice shoots the ball and shares his/her thoughts. Next, the novice continues to shoot the ball and talking through her/his moves as the expert provides feedback on what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. Last, the novice practices shooting free throws without the assistance of the expert. Below is a graphic illustrating the model for learning.


As the example shows, this process goes beyond the walls of the classroom. Having two young children at home, there are many days when I use these thinking steps as they master life tasks. Additionally, it instills ownership of problem solving as they are part of the process and I am not doing everything for them.

By making the thinking process explicit and bringing it to the forefront when planning instruction, students will be better prepared for the world they will enter upon graduation.

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s