Teacher Victoria Morris explores the benefits of the ‘I do, we do, you do’ model and how to effectively introduce new learning to your students
While it’s impossible to simply describe what a good lesson should consist of due to the many variables that impact learning and understanding, including the individuality of every group of students, there are certain strategies that are widely considered to be helpful and are grounded in research.
One of these is the gradual release of responsibility model, otherwise known as guided practice, or ‘I do we do you do’. This structured teaching method is particularly useful when introducing students to completely new material, method, technique, word or idea. It helps to scaffold the learning process, avoiding overloading student's working memory. The framework involves moving through the stages of teacher modelling, guided practice, and independent practice. It allows teachers to guide students through the academic spectrum, supporting novice learners to develop a deeper level of understanding and engage with their own learning.
It’s important to note here that for this teaching strategy to be effective, information and new concepts must be presented in small steps, following the three stages for each new step.
Exactly what ‘I do, we do, you do’ teaching strategy looks like in the classroom and how long it takes will vary depending on the subject, age of the students and size of the step. So I will explain each of the three stages with some concrete examples of what it could look like in practice and strategies for implementation.
First, the teacher models the new learning through guided instruction. This will often involve worked examples, where the teacher gives a step-by-step demonstration with thorough and explicit instruction at each stage. Gradual release model is commonly linked to modelling a new method in maths lessons, but is often used across a range of subjects, for example introducing different skills in PE, modelling a particular technique in art or DT, showing students how to use a new type of punctuation or sentence structure in English, or learning how to play a musical instrument.
It’s worth thinking very carefully about how you present these examples to the students at this initial level, keeping in mind the aim to avoid cognitive overload. For example, Craig Barton describes the ‘Silent Teacher’ approach, which involves modelling without talking so that students can focus on thinking about what they are watching. You may wish to prepare the example in advance to have students complete and discuss it, or you may wish to demonstrate step by step. This stage should involve lots of questioning and opportunities for students to discuss what they notice and ask their own questions.
Once the teacher has demonstrated, students can have a go with scaffolding and guidance. The structure of this part of the lesson will vary depending on the complexity of the tasks. It may involve the teacher walking the students through the tasks step by step, with students following in their books or on individual whiteboards, students finishing partially-completed examples, or simply having a go at one or two examples themselves. An element of peer support is useful at this stage.
You may separate learners into pairs or small groups, asking them to take turns to complete the steps and checking their teammate's work after having a go. This group work should not be confused with collaborative learning or cooperative learning, which has a student to student focus. The 'we do' model asks teachers to continue to provide plenty of feedback, checking each child’s understanding and re-modelling particular aspects of the task as needed.
For example, if the class have had a go at writing sentences with relative clauses, the teacher may choose a selection of these (some right and some wrong) to discuss with the whole class before trying another sentence. Another useful strategy for addressing common errors is the teacher modelling an example with deliberate mistakes for the student to spot and correct.
Finally, once the students are confident with the steps required, they are ready for independent work. As some students will take longer than others to master new content, it’s important to continue to have scaffolds available for students to use if necessary to help students retrieve information they have been taught. This could involve leaving a worked example or written instructions on the board for students to complete or having a prompt sheet that can be checked. Another useful strategy is to provide students with an answer sheet so that they can self-mark while they are working.
I usually tell the students to check their answers after every 3-5 questions, and to put up their hand if they have got the answer wrong and don’t know why, so that I can provide feedback. Breaking independent practice into chunks and marking as a whole class or giving feedback at regular intervals can also be useful, so that students receive the correct answer and do not practice mistakes for too long that can then become embedded. Some students may need to return to the 'we do' stage with an adult if they are not able to independently recall each step of the process.
The obvious use of gradual release of responsibility is to teach any method or process that involves students following a number of steps in order to reach a solution or end product. However, the same principles can be applied when teaching students new knowledge or tasks by breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, and following the three stages for each chunk. Rather than having longer teacher input at the start of lessons, followed by a period of independent practice, this type of lesson could consist of time spent in several parts following the ‘I do, we do, you do’ structure.
For example, when teaching Year 5 & 6 students materials in science, a topic with lots of unfamiliar vocabulary, I taught students key words linked to dissolving, reading a section of text and answering questions, then having the students practise using the words in a short paragraph. There were three sections of the lesson plan, each approximately 20 minutes, with two or three linked words introduced in each section.
The ‘I do’ stage included introducing the definition of the word, then explaining whilst demonstrating with a beaker of water and some salt. I found a non-fiction book on changes of state which was displayed on the board; we read the relevant page and answered questions, then I encouraged students to fill in the gaps in a short paragraph on the same concept.
The structured approach and repetition of key knowledge required students to retrieve information and prior knowledge. It also supported their reading comprehension skills and produced high levels of engagement from the students, who all readily understood what could otherwise have been quite a confusing lesson with many unfamiliar words involved.
It's worth keeping gradual release strategy in mind whenever you are beginning to introduce new content to learners, selecting the most appropriate application for each of the three stages depending on the subject, content and class you are teaching. When used correctly, a gradual release teaching strategy can support students to become confident learners and capable thinkers with strong problem-solving skills.
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 Pearson & Gallagher, 1983 Gradual release of responsibility - Wikipedia
 Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, 2010 Principles of Instruction (aft.org)
 Craig Barton, 2018, How I Wish I’d Taught Maths, John Catt
 Explained in the context of a primary maths lesson here Ramble #7 How I structure my maths lessons: Putting research into practise – Mr Almond: Nuts About Teaching (wordpress.com)
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