Gradual Release Applied to Mathematics: What Researchers are Saying

Gradual Release Applied to Mathematics: What Researchers are Saying

Jo Boaler states: 

“There are 2 ways to engage students in learning mathematics:

1)  Show students methods and they repeat them. This approach is used in most schools, but the methods often lack meaning, and students reasonably ask: when are we going to use this? Additionally, students only get to use what they were shown, they never get to select a method themselves, one of the most important mathematical acts.

2)  Engage students in rich, open, visual and creative tasks. They use their intuition and thinking, and choose methods that can be useful in the task. When they need to learn new methods, teachers teach them inside the task. Students immediately see how important they are and learn them more deeply. They engage in the important acts of choosing and making connections between ideas.”

In the first example, the traditional approach might be referred to as one interpretation of the gradual release. “I do” might refer to “I’ll show you” and “You do” might be restated as “you practice what I showed you how to do” and “You do” or independence might mean “you apply what I showed you how to do on your own.” 

Where such a model may be appropriate is for learners struggling with a specific process and need the support of building a repertoire by observing the process applied with the intention of imitating first before being able to and so has been included in the intervention section of this document. See Intervention and Differentiation for how this may be applied.

This may not be the intention of the gradual release model, but the interpretation in the literature leans more toward a modified concept of this. Rather, the application of gradual release has been discussed differently with respect to engaging students in mathematics. Rather, researchers advocate an “upside-down” approach to instruction (see also McCaffrey, 2020.) In this approach, the instruction differs in the following way:

Traditional (Gradual Release) versus Upside Down Teaching (Seeley, 2020):

Traditional TeachingUpside-Down Teaching
(I do) I explain the procedure or concept.

(We do) We work examples together.

(You do) You apply what you just learned to solve a word problem.
(You do) You tackle a problem you may not know how to solve yet.
(We do) We talk together about your thinking and your work.
(I do) I help connect the class discussion to the goal of the lesson.
Other Conversations Around the Gradual Release Model in Math
LinkSynopsis Teaching Upside Down – Educational Leadership: (From ASCD) “I Do, We Do, You Do” Is NOT Always Best Practice for Teaching Math #68: Gradual Release Of Responsibility SUCKS! An Interview With Kristopher Childs – insightful conversation about shifting mathematics instruction from the “I do, We do, You do” approach to a problem based teaching model broken down into 6 stages. Framework: Spark Curiosity, Fuel Sense-Making, Ignite Teacher Moves“While there is research showing that students can perform well on assessments by following the gradual release of responsibility model, more research is being done to analyze whether students are truly learning or simply mimicking what the teacher is doing through memorization.” Liljedahl – From the perspective of the students, they were not trying to test their understanding. They were copying and following the rules. Mathematics Teaching is NOT Telling, it is Facilitating – using the gradual release model limits engagement of students in the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which describes characteristics of students who are developing mastery of the subject matter. Do, We Do, I Do: A Strategy for Productive Struggle – ASCD Design Principles for Engaging Math Tasks.  ”Our goal is to induce in the student a perplexed, curious state, a question in her head that math can help answer.” (Dan Meyer)
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