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We Must Know What They Know (And So Must They) For Children to Sustain Learning and Independence

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 understand how children expand independence within instructional interactions with their teachers. To do so, the authors re-examine how scaffolding is understood and applied.

Approach – First, the authors consult websites and literature used by teachers and academics to examine how the notion of scaffolding is employed and explained. The authors analyze the roles, the intentions, the means, and the timing of scaffolding as used in popular literature to explain and support instruction. The authors then entertain a conceptual shift: What would the scaffolding process look like if learning were conceived as agentive? With this in mind, the authors interrogate descriptions of the tenets and functions of scaffolding to consider the process in relief.

Findings – The authors track the consequences of the inversion of scaffolding onto the understandings of the gradual release of responsibility (GRR) model. Scaffolding is understood as sitting within a GRR model, wherein the learner gradually releases responsibility to a teacher at the point of need. Intersubjectivity remains a basis for the model. A Window for Examining Teaching–Learning Interactions is offered as a frame with which to analyze the theories of both the child and the teacher apparent within scaffolding interactions. An accurate teacher’s theory of the child’s current and changing theories is required for teaching to be honed to invite children to efficiently access personal and contextual resources and to seek assistance when needed within engaging tasks with scope.

Practical Implications – When children are positioned as initiators of their learning, they are able to use their vast repertoire of knowledge of the world, language/s and literacies, and familial, cultural, and community ways of knowing to create, interpret, and engage in tasks. In this agentive view, children are positioned as holding full responsibility at the onset of any task and gradually releasing their responsibility to access support, when needed. Within tasks that are sufficiently wide for engagement at varied entry points, learners are the catalyst of the functions that were formerly initiated by teachers. Teachers invite children to access personal and contextual resources and to seek assistance, as needed, through additional external, contextual resources. This inverted model of scaffolding, that is child-directed rather than teacher-initiated, requires teachers to go beyond theories of teaching and learning and develop a theory of an individual child.



Gaffney, J.S. and Jesson, R. (2019), "We Must Know What They Know (And So Must They) For Children to Sustain Learning and Independence", 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. 23-36.



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