Building Stamina & Independence through Gradual Release

What does it look like to support student independence in a blended classroom space? How well are students able to self-monitor and manage independent work online within your classroom? These are questions we posed to high school teachers during a recent work session in the Baltimore area. Here are some of the answers:

"Students don't stay focused," "Students go on other sites," "Students don't use the time well and often don't complete work when they're online."

 As we discussed the issues they were facing, it became apparent that teachers were moving students from teacher-directed work with little independence to student-directed work with full independence without a clear process for building student stamina and independent work habits. It got me thinking about what it could look like to create a more gradual transition into independent learning. And how we can re-envision traditional blended models with gradual release in mind.

 To try this, we looked at Whole Group Rotation (WGR),  a common blended model used by teachers within the school. In a WGR, the teacher provides some front-loaded instruction to the whole class and then transitions all students to devices, where work has been assigned to students through their LMS or other online programs. Students are expected to access the online work, follow the directions provided to them in this space, and complete the assignment(s) within the time frame given to them.

For some students, this is an easy transition. For others, this structure requires students to self-monitor and manage learning in ways that are unfamiliar. So we decided to leave the "one size fits all" model and create a WGR that allows for flexibility and scaffolded support. Here's what we created:

In this model, teachers can release students to the WGR online when they are ready. Group 1 can get started immediately, while the teacher provides more direct instruction to Groups 2 & 3. When students in Group 2 feel ready to shift to self-monitored instruction, they can move to the WGR online as well, but for a shorter duration of time. Group 3 transitions last, allowing more limited time to self-monitor online, while still giving them an opportunity to strengthen their independent work habits and stamina. Transitioning all groups before the end of the period also allows the teacher to return to Group 1 to provide additional support, coaching, and instruction as needed.

Over time, all students will build stamina and strategies for self-monitoring independent work online, and the duration of teacher-directed learning can diminish, providing more time for 1:1 and small group instruction. In the meantime, teachers can adapt blended models to fit the needs of students, making for a more flexible and personalized learning experience that meets students where they are. If you have other strategies for making this transition, please get in touch on Twitter @21CEducator.


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