Gradual Release of Responsibility Cycle: Writing Summaries

writing summaries
Are you a fan of the "Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR)" model?  Our district works this "I do it, we do it, you do it" method into all our unit plans.  Not quite sure what this is?  There are a TON of videos out there to showcase it...just search for "Gradual Release Lesson Modeling" or something similar.

The one thing that I have heard many teachers discuss is the LINEAR nature of the always reminds me a little of my high school trigonometry class.  First, the teacher would show us a problem on the board.  Then he would call students up to the board to do it with coaching while the rest of us watched.  Finally, he assigned us all the "odds" to do for the next day and we worked on them for the rest of class and he sat at his desk in case we wanted to go up there to ask questions.

This is not what the gradual release was ever intended to be!

I am a firm believer in setting clear learning targets for students--and making them aware of them.  Richard Stiggins likes to say, "Students can hit any target they can see that is holding still for them."  Pretty powerful, right?  We need to make sure students know WHAT it is we want them to do--and that's where the gradual release comes into play.

This became very evident to me earlier this year when I asked my students to write a summary of a chapter I had read.  Summarizing is one of our big standards in fourth grade so I wanted to get a handle on what they remembered from third grade.  I certainly got my answer!

When reading through their "summaries", I found retellings.  I found opinion pieces.  I found stories.  I did NOT find summaries!  If you teach upper elementary students--you know that writing summaries is HARD!

It became very clear to me that I was going to need to spend a great deal of time modeling, coaching, remodeling, recoaching, watching, sharing, and more--and that "cyclical" use of the gradual release of responsibility model is what can be so effective.  Certainly, you can have the GRR model within any lesson (and should!), but having the GRR extend over weeks or even months on a complex concept can really help students see what the expectations are.

After I looked at the "summaries" early this year, I began to devise a plan to take us from "not so much" to "we got it"! Here are some of the things we did over the year:

*We clarified the difference between retelling and summarizing.
*We studied examples of summaries and retelling.
*I wrote summaries in front of the class with their suggestions.
*We wrote summaries in partners and then shared them with other partners.
*I took summary examples and we sorted them into categories (4, 3, 2, and "not yet")
*I wrote marginal summaries and asked students to help me improve them.
*I had students write their own summaries based on common texts (like read aloud books) and provided feedback based on what we had done in previous lessons.
written responses to reading
And so on!  As you can see, the gradual release process is woven through these activities--and the process took many many repetitions, experiences, practices, and tons of feedback!  I have used this GRR model to improve my students' work on many writing toipcs this year...comparing and contrasting, writing about characters, writing opinion pieces, and so on. 

The one thing that made this process so nice for me was involving technology--I could project summaries on the Smartboard, students could do their work quickly, I minimized paper, yet still had a trail of progress.  It was so much fun for students to look back at their earlier work and realize how far they had come--but it really took coaching, practice, and modeling.
teaching summaries
If you are interested in seeing more about how I use technology with my reading responses, just click HERE or any of the images above to see more.  Have a great day and keep modeling!

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gradual release
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