To senior Josh Foster, investigating and exploring by himself while learning come naturally. According to Foster, he is able to take full advantage of this trait in his Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) class.
“In my IED class, we’re working with the CAD (computer-aided design) software,” Foster said. “We were shown the process of how to use it. We did it once with (the teacher), and we set out on our own.”
Foster is one of the many students here who has experienced the changes in the school curriculum implemented at the beginning of the school year. This new policy, titled the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model, calls for exactly what its name implies: the gradual transfer of responsibilities from the teachers to the students.
However, the GRR model isn’t unique to this school. According to an article published online by KQED, a Northern California public media group, the trend in relationships between teachers and students across the nation mirror that which the GRR model attempts to foster. The article points to the shift in teachers’ roles from strongholds of knowledge to facilitators of learning, as students and teachers learn from one another.
According to Brooke Weekes, assistant principal of curriculum, GRR arose at this school as the result of a district-wide study over the book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, which led the administration to challenge itself to provide meaningful, professional development for teachers.
Weekes said since the GRR model is relatively new, the school is currently still attempting to fully integrate the ideologies behind the model into classrooms.
“I think with any new things, there are bumps in the road and challenges,” Weekes said. “Just like students in a classroom, every teacher is at a different level of comfort with the Gradual Release program.”
Rise of RISE
While not currently being evaluated based on their performance in accordance with the GRR model, according to Weekes, teachers will eventually be judged under another change in the school policy that will be implemented this fall: the RISE teacher evaluation.
“As a district, we’ve decided to adopt (RISE),” Weekes said. “In the past, basically, when we observed teachers, we have a blank form, and we just record what we see and make comments. Next (school) year, we’ll have a rubric with categories and specific indicators of teachers’ performance.”
This RISE judging criteria will include student achievement and engagement, two aspects that the GRR model has been claimed to bolster. Therefore, according to Weekes, the administration believes the school is in a good position for adopting the RISE rubric. Nevertheless, Weekes said that although the two policies complemented each other, their relationship was purely coincidental; the administration adopted them independently of each other.
In the classroom
Although the GRR model isn’t essentially a sequential process, Weekes said it follows a rough guideline of four steps, progressing from the teacher-led classroom to the student-led classroom.
“(At first), it’s the teacher maybe presenting information in what we call a focus lesson, but in a short, 15-minute period of time,” Weekes said. “And then we have a lot of collaborative learning while the teacher is guiding instruction. Then that last piece of it is the independent student application. So, the idea is that students are involved in a lot of class discussion, a lot of small group work and small group activity, leading them to be able to do work on their own.”
But that model takes different forms for each subject.
World History teacher Robert Fellows is one of the many teachers at this school who has been consistently trying to implement this model in his classes.
“It’s a little bit different in a social studies class as opposed to maybe a math class, because a lot of what we discuss in social studies is content-based as opposed to skills-based, so what we’ve done as a department is to look at the necessary skills that are needed in social studies classes: analytical skills, critical thinking skills and causes and effects,” Fellows said.
One may walk into Fellows’ room today to find that the desks in his classroom have been arranged into small clusters of four. Tomorrow, however, Fellows said he might have his room in rows, a circle or perhaps some other creative structure.
“I don’t always have (the desks in groups)–it depends on the lesson,” Fellows said. “For example, today we were looking at chronology. We were kind of doing a recap of some things we’ve learned content-wise in the past and trying to get a good 50,000 feet view of the Middle Ages. So I had them in groups working on putting together a timeline and identifying significant historical events. But if I’ve got something that’s more individual, such as a test, I’m going to have them in rows. So I think a lot of it is trying to identify the objectives that our lessons have and how we can thus meet the needs of our kids through this new model of instruction.”
Foster said he agrees that the GRR model is different in every class.
“There’s some classes that I’m taking where I would definitely put the classes in the category of ‘You do it together’ or ‘You do it alone’ level, but others, it’s just the way the material is taught. There are only so many ways to lecture biology: you can’t really take it from ‘I do it’ to ‘You do it alone.’ You can’t really lecture biology to yourself.”
As a math tutor, Foster said he has noticed the changes in the math department that started last fall through the increase in the number of students asking for help. Overall, Foster said he supports the inquiry and investigative approach that the math curriculum has adopted.
“I think kids are having some trouble adjusting to the new style of teaching and the new textbook, which is understandable,” Foster said. “But I think it’s certainly a good idea to teach math that way. You can learn quadratic equations all you want, but you really need to be able to understand math if you’re going to apply it in a real-world situation, like people will have to in their future careers.”
According to Weekes, while the GRR model supports the changes in the math curriculum, they occurred independently. While the administration looked at a new process for teaching, in the meantime the math department adopted its current curriculum.
Nevertheless, since the GRR model has only been implemented for one semester, Fellows said it would be difficult to accurately gauge the success of the GRR model from a teacher’s perspective.
“I think we’re going to need to give it a little more time to do more of a longitudinal look at how students have performed once this has been implemented,” Fellows said. “There are lots of variables that go into student performance and student achievement, and this might be affecting that student achievement, but it’s tough to tell right now.”
Check out page 31 to read staff members’ opinions about the Gradual Release model.