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Up To My Loins In Snow!

posted Feb 9, 2010, 7:46 AM by Dan Dunbar
As I sat here in my office contemplating what to write about today, of course the recent snowfall and today's impending sequel came to mind, and by some odd twist of mind, the passage from Ezekiel 47 popped into my head too. I thought of Ezekiel being led out, not into deeper and deeper waters, but into deeper and deeper snow - up to his ankles, then his knees, then to his loins (waist), and, finally, over his head! When I was a little guy growing up in Maine, I remember Mom bundling me in layers of winter clothing - wool socks, ski pants, snowmobile boots with felt liners, hand knit cap, mittens, and scarf, and snow parka - before sending me out to play in the snow. My friend Danny Pizzo from next door would accompany me on great adventures across snow covered fields and icy streams up into the woods, and we often found ourselves wading through white drifts up to our waists. Ahhh...those were the days. I also remember the day our mothers came out and found us up in the woods to bring us back in time to catch the afternoon kindergarten bus. We had lost track of time out in the wilds of Maine.

Lately, I have been thinking about something called Gradual Release of Responsibility. It is an educational model for teaching and learning that I think makes a good deal of sense and, now that I think of it, has a relationship to Ezekiel 47. The Gradual Release of Responsibility model can be summarized in four statements: I do - You observe; I do - You help; You do - I help; and You do - I observe. The "I" is the teacher and the "You" is the student. 

The first stage of responsibility for teaching and learning is the I do - You observe stage. The teacher, the expert on the subject matter, teaches and the student observes and listens to the teacher. At this point, the responsibility for learning lies heavily with the teacher who demonstrates mastery of the subject and does what is needed to make the knowledge and skills understandable for the student.

The second stage is the I do - You help stage. The teacher again goes through the lesson, but this time some of the responsibility has been shifted to the student who helps the teacher explain and practice the lesson. If this were a math class, the teacher would do a problem and the students would tell the teacher what ought to be done at each step of the problem, as best they can. The teacher would get an idea as to how much the students have understood and attempt to clarify any misunderstandings through re-teaching.

The third stage is the You do - I help stage. Here, the balance of responsibility has been shifted to the student who is now working with other students in the classroom under the teacher's supervision, practicing what they have learned, getting help from the teacher when needed. This is what teachers call "guided practice" and the teacher acts as a coach, helping students practice their skills correctly, re-teaching those students who still have flawed understanding. 

The final stage is the You do - I observe stage. The student now bears the brunt of responsibility for learning. Independent practice of the knowledge and skills that have been taught allow the student to demonstrate the degree of understanding that has been reached. The teacher observation part of this stage is evaluation of that understanding. Perhaps the student does a quiz, demonstrates a problem on the board, or writes out or creates something for homework. This gives the teacher some idea as to what the student understands and to what degree and helps the teacher determine whether more instruction is necessary.

As the student, the gradual release of responsibility is like getting your feet wet (the ankles), wading out to one's knees, getting in the water up to one's waist, and then having to swim since the water is now over one's head. I know that some of our dads may have thrown us off the dock into water over our heads to teach us to swim, but that is not the best way to learn how to solve quadratic equations or master reading or writing skills. The gradual release of responsibility model works because it is g-r-a-d-u-a-l. I wasn't ready for the responsibility of managing my time as a kindergartner, which is why my mom had to come and make sure I got on the bus. Gradually, though, she could trust me to keep track of time and even let me dress myself before heading out into the wintry weather (I think I was about 18 years-old). 

So there's the blog for today. Maybe it has applications in your life outside of school. I think the big thing to remember is that if you want to teach somebody something, you have to realize that although you may be the master of your subject, it takes time and practice and the willingness and security to allow others to try and fail for someone else to learn it.