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In the Beginning: The Historical and Conceptual Genesis of the Gradual Release of Responsibility1

The Gradual Release of Responsibility in Literacy Research and Practice

ISBN: 978-1-78769-448-4, eISBN: 978-1-78769-447-7

Publication date: 26 August 2019


Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the conceptual and historical genesis of the gradual release of responsibility (GRR) model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) which has become one of the most commonly used instructional frameworks for research and professional development in the field of reading and literacy.

Design/Methodology/Approach – This chapter uses a narrative, historical approach to describe the emergence of the model in the work taking place in the late 1970s and early 1980s in reading research and educational theory, particularly at the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana as carried out by David Pearson, Meg Gallagher, and their colleagues.

Findings – The GRR Model began, in part, in response to the startling findings of Dolores Durkin’s (1978/1979) study of reading comprehension instruction in classrooms which found that little instruction was occurring even while students were completing numerous assignments and question-response activities. Pearson and Gallagher were among those researchers who took seriously the task of developing an instructional model and approach for comprehension strategy instruction that included explicit instruction. They recognized a need for teachers to be responsible for leading and scaffolding instruction, even as they supported learners in moving toward independent application of strategies and independence in reading. Based in the current research in the reading field and the rediscovery of the work of Vygotsky (1978) and the descriptions of scaffolding as coined by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), Pearson and Gallagher developed the model of gradual release. Over time, the model has been adapted by many literacy scholars, applied to curriculum planning, used with teachers for professional development, reprinted numerous times, and with the advent of the Internet, proliferated even further as teachers and educators share their own versions of the model. This chapter introduces readers to the original model and multiple additional representations/iterations of the model that emerged over the past few decades. This chapter also attends to important nuances in the model and to some misconceptions of the instructional model.

Research Limitations/Implications – Despite the popularity of the original GRR model developed by Pearson and Gallagher and the many adaptations of the model by many collaborators and colleagues in literacy – and even beyond – there have been very few publications that have explored the historical and conceptual origins of the model and its staying power.

Practical Implications – This chapter will speak to researchers, teachers, and other educators who use the GRR model to help guide thinking about instruction in reading, writing, and other content areas with children, youth, pre-service teachers, and in-service teachers. This chapter provides a thoughtful discussion of multiple representations of the gradual release process and the nuances of the model in ways that will help to dispel misuse of the model while recognizing its long-standing and sound foundation on established socio-cognitive principles and instructional theories such as those espoused by Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky, Anne Brown, and others.

Originality/Value of Paper – This chapter makes an original contribution to the field in explaining the historical development and theoretical origins of the GRR model by Pearson and Gallagher (1983) and in presenting multiple iterations of the model developed by Pearson and his colleagues in the field.



Pearson, P.D., McVee, M.B. and Shanahan, L.E. (2019), "In the Beginning: The Historical and Conceptual Genesis of the Gradual Release of Responsibility1", McVee, M.B., Ortlieb, E., Reichenberg, J.S. and Pearson, P.D. (Ed.) The Gradual Release of Responsibility in Literacy Research and Practice (Literacy Research, Practice and Evaluation, Vol. 10), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 1-21.



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