No Series: Improving Practice with Sarah Brown Wessling

Improving Practice with Sarah Brown Wessling

Lesson Objective: Explore the "gradual release" instructional model with Sarah as she tries it in her class
All Grades / All Subjects / Lesson Planning


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How would using the, "I do it, We do it, You do it together, You do it alone," model change the way you plan your lessons?
  2. How do the post-its hold students accountable and push them to think about their own cognition?
  3. Beyond shifting the cognitive load, what are the benefits of structuring lessons in this way?


  • Private message to Michael Murray

Iowa? A video from a 95% white state, in a classroom full of Jennas, Amys, Kaitlins, and Zachs.   This is not only a homogenously caucasian student group, but look at their clothes, hair, accesories.  It's upper middle class trending to the top 5% of the US population. Of course this method works when the great personal stresses are "OMG! What am I going to wear to homecoming, Tiffany?"   
Try filming this in Atlanta, see how well South Fulton County responds to this.

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  • Private message to Mary Kirby

Hey Michael. The Gradual Release Model is a great model for teachers. Here's another video with a different student population . 

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  • Private message to Sonia Duran-Bugallo
Thank you Sarah! I enjoyed your video!
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  • Private message to Mark Pfahnl
Great video. The chart and associated clips really shows this is a philosophy that can be incorporated into pretty much any lesson plan. I wonder if there's a way to use something similar to the post-it note idea but for an elementary setting where younger students might not have as much insight into their own cognitive processes.
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  • Private message to Erin Robinson
Great structure for lesson planning. Looking back on my own education, some of the best teachers that I had taught using a very similar model. I love the idea of teaching students how to think, not just spitting information back.
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  • Private message to karlene morgan
I like the post-it idea. I believe if my students understand that there are sections of the lesson that I am required to do and then parts where we do together and the other parts will be that they are required to do on their own then I believe they will take some ownership of their education. I say that because some students don't know what's expected of them and for that, some of us have to take the blame. What I do know is that students are more interactive if clear goals and responsibility are presented to them.
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  • Teacher: We’re go try to keep this pretty simple.

    I’m very passionate about the notion of meeting students right where they

    Teacher: We’re go try to keep this pretty simple.

    I’m very passionate about the notion of meeting students right where they are because who they are is wonderful and who they are is full of potential.

    Teacher: A lot of the patterns that we’ve looked at so far have been illustrations

    I think that we can meet them where they are just in the way that we design our instruction.

    Teacher: What goes right here? How do you as a reader react to the real story

    The gradual release of responsibility is an instructional model that has been written about by Doug Fisher and Nancy Fry. The basic premise of the model is that the cognitive load of what we do in any teaching situation has to shift to the learner.

    Teacher: All right, so this is what you’re doing for tomorrow.

    If I’m spending all of my time holding all the answers in my head, if I’m the one whose doing all of the work then students on the other end of that are just being passive, and what we need to do is gradually over time give that responsibility of constructing the knowledge, of owning the knowledge to them.

    So the four components of the instructional model, the focus lesson, or the I-do part.

    Teacher: So I want you to choose a pattern, you can choose one of these

    The guided instruction, which is where we do together ….

    Teacher: So what do you think this is?

    Student: So it goes back to the whole reader response thing

    Teacher: Yes

    The productive group work, which is where you do together …

    Student : He experiences an enormous amount of physical pain due to these injuries that he has sustained

    And then the independent work, which kind of cumulates all of these different components when the student works alone

    Teacher: Try to write down what you think this means in your own words

    What we really are teaching is we’re really teaching students how to think. The first component of that requires a lot of explicit teaching. So I modeled my own thinking with this exercise.

    Teacher: What do you think, do you think his limbs are a pattern?

    Student: I don’t think it’s a pattern I just think it could be a symbol

    So today was the opportunity for students to choose their own patterns, to work collaboratively with each other in order to draw some analysis about those.

    Teacher: In five or fewer words I want you to put the big idea

    And then probably also really important in that was at the very end I gave each of them a sticky note.

    Teacher: And on that I’m going to ask you to tell me how your brain came up with that idea

    So I think that’s really crucial on two fronts. One, because in group work it’s so easy for one person to do all of the work. So at some level they have to own their own learning in that productive group work model

    Student: When anybody body went to a window it was just to get away from something or to feel better

    They also have to own their own metacognition in all of this. So they have to be able to talk about and describe how they think.

    Student: After he becomes a bug everyone starts rejecting him for who he is. Ultimately the abuse kills him. He just says I’m just going to lay down and die.

    Student: So we decided that every time that he feels some physical pain it doesn’t really bother him that much, but every time he feels anything emotional connected to his job or his family it just devastates him.

    These are new thinking skills for them and they need to really become acclimated to thinking in this way before they can start to apply it to more difficult texts.

    Student: We put duty numbs, betrayal burns and hunger festers.

    Teacher: It’s almost like a poem

    I think depending on where the teacher is at in his or her understanding of the model it may not be more work, it’s probably just different work. At its crux to me this model is about a learning process. It is not about ways of delivering content as much as it is about ways of getting students to become thinkers, getting students to become autonomous.

    Student: Books don’t influence what you don’t know, it’s what you do know

    Teacher: Now explain that to us because that’s really interesting

    Student: It’s better to influence the reader about what he does know than what he doesn’t know. Because what he does know you can build more fact off of that

    I wonder if productive group work is more comfortable to teachers.

    It really has been one of the first district initiatives. So K-12 initiative, where everyone is working towards something common.

    How do you get that motivation when it’s not a choice.

    It is difficult to do this by yourself? Absolutely. Can you do it when you have others? Absolutely.

    Teacher: OK, keep going

    Do we have to be willing to look for the little celebrations, the little moments that may really offer us insight into how we changed our practice. Yeah, we have to do all of those things but it’s all a part of the process of learning.

    ? end of transcript

School Details

Johnston Senior High School
6501 Northwest 62nd Avenue
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1548

Data Provided By:



Sarah Brown Wessling
English Language Arts / 10 11 12 / Teacher


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