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Releasing Responsibility for What? Developing Learning Environments for Text-Based Inquiry in the Disciplines in Secondary Schools

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 study is to assist teachers in developing inquiry-based learning environments in secondary and post-secondary subject area classrooms that support their diverse students’ capacities for deep and intellectually engaged reading.

Design – Reading Apprenticeship professional learning has been developed to transform teachers’ understanding of their role in students’ literacy development and to build teachers’ capacity for re-enacting literacy instruction in the academic disciplines, engaging students in text-based inquiry, supporting their ongoing engagement, and gradually turning the work of learning over to students. The model reflects the understanding that for practice to become truly responsive to the needs and varied contexts of teachers’ work, teachers must become adaptive and generative in their use of specific practices. Reading Apprenticeship immerses teachers in experiential learning through patterns of practice that we expect them to recreate in their own classrooms. Teachers participate in inquiries designed to help them become reacquainted with their own disciplinary expertise in relation to literacy. Importantly, teachers collaboratively analyze students work through case studies of student literacy learning and videotaped classroom lessons designed to help teachers to reimagine what they and their own students can accomplish.

Findings – Reading Apprenticeship instructional tools and routines offer multiple opportunities for teachers to hear and respond to student thinking in relation to the text, thereby deepening the student reasoning processes and turning work over to students. The work of gradual release occurs in recursive cycles of reciprocal modeling that respond to students’ particular puzzlements and challenges with specific texts and engage students in shouldering more of the work of learning moment-to-moment, over time. Just as curricular ideas and topics build on one another over the course of a year of study, the challenges of text-based inquiry increase and build on previous accomplishments, constantly extending students’ reach. Engaging learners in taking up the work of text-based inquiry is a continuous cycle of support and graduated release and challenge calibrated to students’ needs and skill levels in the current learning moment.

Practical Implications – Current policies focused on accountability and efficiency in school reform conflict with evidence-based understandings of the learning process. The ongoing nature of learning and development through the gradual release of responsibility require that we not only tolerate, but unreservedly embrace and value learning progressions and their messiness for both students and their teachers. Embracing the ongoing learning journey calls for tolerance and generosity that we often withhold from teachers and students alike – to be in process, to be a learner, and to be en route to accomplishment. Learning entails risk and vulnerability. If we are truly invested in growth for both students and teachers, we must expect to invest continuously in and provide sustained support for their learning. The more opportunities to learn teachers are able to offer students, the more students can do. And the more students can do, the more teachers can give them.



Greenleaf, C. and Katz, M.-L. (2019), "Releasing Responsibility for What? Developing Learning Environments for Text-Based Inquiry in the Disciplines in Secondary Schools", 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, Bingley, pp. 37-52.



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