Gradual Release of Responsibility

Gradual Release of Responsibility

How do you get kids to learn?

Learning happens gradually over time. We know that content that is revisited over time has a much larger impact over content that is delivered in a ‘one and done’ style.

So what does it mean to gradually release responsibility.

This means that we are moving students from needing us to not needing us. We are moving them to independent tasks.

So what does this look like in the classroom.

Well it looks at 4 different levels of support that you move students through to teach a concept.

It means that we don’t expect students to do anything independently before we get them to do it with us. Now that doesn’t mean they don’t try. But it does mean that we don’t assess them until we can get work them through the learning.

The four different levels are

  1. Modelled teaching
  2. Shared learning
  3. Guided learning
  4. Independent learning.

So what does this look like in the classroom?

Modelled Teaching

In this phase students are introduced to learning about something.

The teacher is teaching the students are watching. There is a lot of talking through what you are doing to make your thinking visible. This is like show and tell of teaching.

The teacher has 90% of the control over the learning.

In Writing – you are walking them through how you do something. You show them and talk them through your thought process.

In reading you are doing the reading. You are sharing the thinking. You are the only one with the book.

In math – you are showing students how you do something you are making your thinking visible. Say it, show it, do it live.

Shared Learning

In this type of learning you are learning along side your students the teacher is less in control.

You may lead the learning but the students have all of the materials in front of them.

They are starting to use this as a way to follow along as you do it with them. You ask them for more input as this is less of a passive experience.

Think of this as a 60/40 split. Where the teacher is still doing most of the heavy lifting. Teachers create anchor charts and learning objectives here for students to follow.

In Writing – you may write together. Whole group teacher asks for input but leads the discussion. More interactive with students.

In reading – everyone has a copy of the text and you work though it together. You ask questions and get answers but the teacher is still leading.

In math – you may work through a problem together. Students share what they learned and you help to walk them through the learning.

Guided Learning

This is small group learning

Targeted instruction

Easy assessment opportunities.

More work done here by student.

Teacher as a guide not a leader.

Independent Learning

Student on their own without support.

Students lean on examples and previous support

Use anchor charts from previous lessons.

Here is where you assess

Can they apply what they have learned to do as you ask.

Students also do not pass through this in a straight path. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back.

This is why time is your friends and revisiting concepts over and over helps

Give small goals and take baby steps.

What is driving you crazy focus on that. Do that. Fix that. Show them how, do it together, let them try.

Just don’t do too much for them.

Students will not do it all all at once. It will be one step at a time.

But It’s Boring: Using Inquiry to make dull topics interesting

But It’s Boring: Using Inquiry to make dull topics interesting

So sometimes we have to teach things to our students that are heavy topics that cover a lot and to get through it is a drag.

How do we get our students excited about a topic if we are not very excited about it either.

One of the subjects that I need to teach is government. A topic that is typically dry and many teachers complain that it is hard to get through and tedious to teach.

So how can Inquiry be used to invigorate this traditionally dry topic?

Use Controversy

One of the easiest things to do to make students interested in something is to add a dose of controversy.

Students are often by nature focused on fairness and being fair. If you can find an example of people not being fair and use it as a jumping off point you can hook them quickly.

In a government unit I like to focus on the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms. We talk about what is fair and just and what is something all people have a right to?

“Does everyone have the right to leave the country when they want?”

“Should your boss be able to fire you if they think you are too old to work”

Take some right out of the news

“Should a bakery be able to refuse to bake a cake for a gay/homosexual wedding?”

“Should a women be allowed to wear a niquib/hijab/turban/cross at work?”

“Should only a indigenous people be allowed to hunt on ancestral lands?”

These issues lead to hard discussions with strong opinions and as a teacher you have to be prepared for these difficult conversations with an open mind and open heart.

However there is not much that peaks interest like a little controversy.





Ask For Student Input

If the topic is boring then ask about what they want to know about it.

Perhaps initially they won’t know very much so introduce them to a few concepts and a broad survey to give them some background knowledge.

Then ask them what they need to know more about.

When you do this you can have student share what they wonder about or want to know more about.

Take their questions and sort them and group them into guiding questions.

This will help you to find key points that students can learn about.

From there students can design their own learning project that answers these questions. Think of it like a design your own test activity. You give students the test questions and they come up with the way that they are going to answer the question.

It is a backwards approach to assessment but one that increases engagement and learning for students.

Make A Game Of It

There are so many ways to turn a learning objective into a game. And a game that can include a traditional board game format but is not limited to this challenge.

Try an escape activity with students where they have to uncover the information through a series of steps. While they try to break free they can also learn about their topic in a fun way.

When learning about biodiversity students are challenged to learn about all of the various ways to classify vertebrates and invertebrates.

This content is large and getting through it can be long and tedious.

Using a breakout with a foldable for student to create through a series of challenges creates a visual display of learning and classification that also covers a great deal of information in a small amount of time.

Hands on Learning

How to Track Student Assessment

How to Track Student Assessment

There are so many ways to track student learning.

But the goal here is that you have to do it.

That is true my the hardest part. To get it out of my head and on to paper (even digital paper) where I can manipulate the data and make it make sense to me.

If we are using an inquiry approach, we may have moved beyond the pencil and paper assessment as the final culminating task. But we still need a definitive way to track learning.

So here are a few tips that help me to keep on top of assessment.

Old School Paper

Yep it’s true I know that many of you know that I have a love-hate relationship with paper but it is often still my go to …. quick grab that to jot down some info at the moment… type assessment paper.

I have many different ways that I layout my assessment pages depending on what I need.

  • Checklist
  • Checklist with note space
  • Anecdotal Note box
  • Seating plan notes
  • Conferenceforms

Except for this year (since I returned mid-year)  I am always behind the eight ball. I usually have these copied and ready to go easily accessible whenever I need them.

I also have one of those compartment clipboards that has storage, and this is great for tossing assessment pages into so that I can eventually import them into digital when I’m ready.

Want to take a look at my tracking pages?   Here —> Inquiry Assessment Notes

Or see my class list examples here —>  BLANK Classroom assessment pages

Keeping It Digital

I lose everything…because I am forgetful and in 10 years cannot for the life of me find a system that keeps all my paper organized in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. So I keep it all digital.

  • I take photos
  • I do quick exit checks
  • I have students self-assess. I snap a class picture with their fingers up.
  • I jot notes
  • Writing reflections
  • I take photos of conference forms (because sometimes my students lose them)


Feedback is an integral form of assessment.

With all assessment, it must go together with feedback. Assessment without it is pointless.

It also has to be feedback that allows students to respond to it so that they can make improvements.

For this, I go back to paper.

Conference Forms – students fill out conference forms with me after they are done writing a draft. I have done this both digitally and in written form. Students self-reflect on what they need to work on before they begin to talk with me. Feedback is the one crucial thing that has the most significant impact on student growth. It is the feedback loop at the end of an assessment.

Digital Student Self Evaluation Writing Survey

Get a copy of my digital student writing self-evaluation form here ->

Labels: if you find and order the large Avery labels of 6-10 labels on a page you can use Microsoft word to make labels with rubrics on them. Just a single point checkbric that allows you to give a quick assessment.

I mark all the work right there on the label page fill them out, photocopy the label page with the marks recorded then peel them out and attach them in each book. (I also take a photo of this page for when I lose it)

Home School Communication

So this is a big one

Parents seem to like knowing how their child is doing.

Feedback conference forms and the labels are helpful to keep parents in the loop

So I use a classroom blog. Now I don’t blog every day,but I do try to keep it updated most of the time.

One of the key ways I do this is to use an email service provider like mail chimp or MailerLite to automatically send all of my blog posts directly to the email of my parents. It is set up to use it like remind. All of my posts are pushed out to parents at 4 pm on school days.

I know that this is t technically assessment but keeping parents informed of the assessment you are doing help to keep them better prepared and informed if they choose to be.

A Flipped Classroom: Strategies To Use With Elementary Students

A Flipped Classroom: Strategies To Use With Elementary Students

Have you ever tried to flip your classroom.

Normally you follow the pattern of teach-practice – assess but what if you flipped that?

I’ve been experimenting with this in math. I’ve been using some math centres recently. It all started with the daunting task of teaching students how to use a protractor. If you have ever done it before then you would know that this can be a truly painful experience.

I though this was a great time to start some math centres so that I could do this in a more guided format.

When I talk about flipped classroom I am talking about the strategy that has students watching a video or learning a skill prior to you meeting with them.

This means that when they meet with you they work through a problem with you and you help them to implement what they have learned.

Here’s how I have flipped my classroom.

In math, two of my centres are All On Tech and Time With Teacher.

My tech time incorporates a google form quiz and a tutorial video I found on line or created myself.

My meet with teacher often includes a key lesson, math talk, word problem, and/or reflection.

To get started

First we talk about what our learning goal is then they are off to their centres.

I preplan and drop the quiz in their google classroom prior to the week beginning.

I use google forms to set up a quiz that has questions and videos embedded. It asks students questions about what they learned from the video.

In math it is all about leveraging the amazing content that is already available on you tube to go over the content prior to them meeting with you.

In Science:

There are so many opportunities to flip the learning g and move it away from the lecture. Teaching doesn’t need to happen first. You don’t always if ever have to front load the learning.

Let them go then backfill as needed. For instance we went on a field trip first to learn about how to conserve energy. They didn’t know how different sources of energy worked specifically but they could label the different sources from their trip experience. We made a list of them as well as some key questions that would guide our research then they began to utilize their research skills to learn about 1-2 sources and know it well enough to teach their content to others. Not a formal presentations but an opportunity for them to be the teachers. Call it what you want but flipping your instruction is the beginning step to using Inquiry.

Flip where you do the ‘teaching’ it’s time to move it to the back and after the learning. Use your time to build knowledge with your students in a collaborative way.


30+ Projects Your Students Will Love.

30+ Projects Your Students Will Love.


A good project is engaging, relevant, and fun for students to share their learning.

Projects are an excellent way for students to share their learning with others.

If you are using an inquiry approach embedding choice is essential into this final project is vital.

  • Let them choose individually
  • Let them decide as a group
  • Give them a choice of the content and scope of their project.

The more you involve them and make it their own idea the more engagement you will receive.

But sometimes we want an idea of different types of projects that our students can do to share their learning.

Here are the tips five different types of projects that students can try to share their learning at the end of their inquiry.

Make Something

So many things we teach lends itself to getting students to make something. Adding in opportunities for hands-on learning is a great way to add some much-needed differentiation to your classroom.

  • Dioramas: These are oldies but goodies. Each year I always have some students choose this one. Dioramas are especially useful for creating habitats or creating a historical scene like in our First Nations and explorers unit, or ancient civilizations.
  • Prototypes/models: Any engineering unit leads well into creating models or prototypes to show how something works. In my classroom we make bridges, and buildings out of popsicle sticks and LEGO machines to show pulleys and gears.
  • Board Games: These are great to review concepts. Student generates questions can give you a great insight into their thinking.
  • Flag or Coat of Arms: History is full of historical figures. So looking at who they are and generating symbols and works that represent their personality or contribution to the history being studied can be a valuable way for students to apply what they have learned.
  • Map/ Treasure Hunt: for anything that relies on a geographic understanding such as land regions or location of different civilizations a map or treasure hunt is an excellent tool for students to show what they know.
  • Vocabulary Quilt: this is a great activity when what students are learning about is full of new vocabulary words that are key to their understanding of the topic. For topics such as rocks and minerals, students have plenty of critical vocabulary they can draw from to make a quilt that shows their learning.
  • Invention: sometimes in science students need to solve problems. With activities such as in the light and sound unit, students can get their creative juices flowing to invent a solution to an everyday problem

Demonstrate It

Sometimes students need just to explain it.

  • Experiments: This is a great way to show you that they learned something.  Think of this as a science fair project.  Students can demonstrate what they learned by showing you how something works. 
  • Drama: Telling a story or explaining a concept using drama is a great way to teach a difficult concept creatively.
  • Role Play: Historical events can be represented by students taking on their persona and speaking using their voice.  Although this doesn’t work for some historical events and cultural sensitivity needs to be considered.  Using this with ancient civilizations or in science with concepts like animals, habitats, and rocks and minerals work well to speak about something from the perspective of the object.
  • Debate: teaching government this is a crucial strategy that can be used to look at two different sides of an issue.  I can use this to discuss decision making, the charter of rights and freedoms and various pros and cons of political parties.
  • Conference: Sometimes the most valuable way to gather data with students is to conference with them.  It is as simple as them telling you what they know.  You can structure it like an interview or even a conversation.

Teach Others

Presentations / Posters: there may be another go to the final project. One that others will quickly volunteer to complete. It also might be the big one that students get their parents to do with them.

I still love this but try to use more digital tools instead of paper and pencil.

  • Show and Share: allow students to share what they have learned in a show and tell format. Each student uses an artefact that tells them a story and allows them to talk about how the object represents their learning. Objects can be collected, citrates and displayed as a classroom museum. 
  • Advertisements: Need to add some media literacy to your projects then this one is a good one to use.
  • Assembly: I have only done this with one group, but it was pretty convincing. Students used other ideas from this list and combined them to create an assembly for our school to share with them how to conserve energy. This assembly was a tremendous student-generated experience that allowed them to share their ideas with a broad audience.
  • Tour Guide: Imagine that students had to walk someone through a concept or environment.  Students can tour others through a historical event or environment.  A tour guide would work well for topics such as ancient civilizations, a story or novel study, or science topics like light, sound, human body or habitats.
  • News Report: With a lot of topics asking for students to report on and provide their opinion with a news report is a great way to share their ideas.  For any issues that ask them to report on specific events, students can present this information in a news report format.
  • Podcast/ Radio: Similarly to a news report students can use an interview format to record a podcast or radio show to explain different concepts like issues in government, historical leaders, or science concepts.


Here’s were taking a risk as a teacher has a big one.  Some teachers are not digital natives.  Our students may be much handier and knowledgeable about how to use the digital tools at their fingerprint tips to share what they have learned.

For teachers who may not have the technical skill or familiarity of digital platforms, allowing students to explore this avenue for the final project is a good idea.  Although it is often extraordinarily intimidating and may or may lead to teachers avoiding this as an option for students to explore, I would highly recommend you throw caution to the wind and allow students to teach you something.

Digital tools can be a powerful way for students to share their learning.

  • Website: Many free platforms will enable students to create a website or blog. And there are also just as many tutorials that are designed to help students with how this can be done. Students can write and create a site on blogger or Weebly pretty easily that can act as a platform for them to show their knowledge
  • Video: This is always my go too digital project. It allows students to show what they know to explain their thinking quickly and easily. It is an easy way to grab a presentation but in a way that doesn’t eat a tremendous amount of class time.
  • Kahoot / Quiz: why not take your quiz digital. Use google forms or kahoot and get students to share what they know by making a digital quiz.
  • Social Media Profile: like a biography but modernized. Students can create a Facebook profile, an Instagram feed or twitter feed that represents a person or concept. If we think of a social media feed as capturing a moment in our lives in a curated way, then a social media feed will fit into many history, science, or language projects.
  • Walking Tour Plan: what to know what a place looks like but cannot go. This is a great time to use the tech at our fingers to explore more areas through the use of google classroom. When I worked as an ESL teacher google street view was my best friend as we explored our community and the vocabulary around them through our virtual walking tours around our neighbourhood.
  • Explainer Video: Ever have a concept that can be explained using a how-to video. These explainer videos are an excellent way for students to teach and explain different ideas to others. Math and science are great subjects to explore these concepts as students can film themselves completing their work and telling how it was done and why.
  • Interview: using tech to record an interview with each other of others about their crucial knowledge. They can share what they have learned by interviewing and videoing a partner to show what they know about any and every subject and topic area.

Application / Integration

For these types of projects why not try integrating multiple subjects into one project.

In this way, we can work smarter not harder.

I get multiple forms of assessment with one project.

  • Write a story: sometimes the things we learned in science and history follow the pattern of a story with events happening with a beginning middle and end. Students can take events from history and retell them in the form of a story with vital historical people as main characters of the event.  They can embed as many facts and details as they can into their work.  Additionally in science students can tell a story to explain how things work telling the story of how the blood travels through the human body is one exciting way that I’ve had students use this form of a project to demonstrate their knowledge.
  • Art: for many of our students their strengths lie in the artistic expression.  Open-ended products that allow students to demonstrate their learning through their creativity creates new avenues that are not traditionally explored. Final projects  in the art also mean that you can add more substance to your art time that moves up beyond free time for students
  • Biography: there many times in history or sure people play pickle rolls, and her understanding of historical events having students apply what they have learned about these individuals by writing a biography integrates many writing expectations and social studies lessons in an authentic way.
  • Play: sometimes we have very imagined of students in our class who are continually using their free Playtime engaged and imaginative play capture the strength and students by allowing them to explore scientific principles and historical events through dramatization.
  • Dance: although I put this as an option for many of my students I always wonder if anyone will try it but almost every time at least once a year a student will write a song a wrap and put it to dance to present the information they’ve learned in math science or social studies. The thing with surprises me the most each time it happens is it it’s not for the students I would expect to choose dance as a platform for the final project.

These are just some of the many projects your students can choose.

Instead of choosing what your students complete why not open it up to them to decide how they would like to show their learning.

Or if that is just a bit too much freedom choose one idea from each section above and present it as an option.

The Power of Autonomy

The Power of Autonomy

Autonomy: the power to be independent and free; freedom from external control or influence.


Increasing student autonomy in my classroom has led to

  1. Classroom management is easier
  2. The time I take to plan a lesson, or unit etc has decreased
  3. I develop stronger relationship with my students
  4. Teaching is easier
  5. Students learn and retain more

I know bold right…but it is true!!

People ask me all the time how I do it.  I teach full time, have three little kiddos at home, a husband I like spending time with, a TPT store, FB live…. etc.

Do I sleep? Yes when the baby lets me…lol

But as a teacher, I have time in my life for these things because I use inquiry and give my students more autonomy.  It’s not working harder it is working smarter.

Voice and Choice

Students don’t want to come to school and be told what to do every minute of every day.  They want to have a purpose and a choice in what they do.

Increasing voice and choice is the single most effective thing that reduces the time it takes to plan a lesson.

If they are doing it I don’t have too

I have my curriculum expectations, I know what needs to be covered.  I share this with them.  Then together in class, we brainstorm ways to do this to accomplish these goals.  I give some suggestions, I listen to their ideas, we refine our list then they do it.

What am I not doing? Planning 6 different differentiated assignments at home that I think they will enjoy.

I simply just ask them what they will enjoy.  We design it together, in class, then they do it.

Coach and GuideLearn why building in student autonomy can transform your classroom by cutting the amount of planning time, making classroom management easier, and increase student engagement and motivation ensuring they they will learn.

Imagine your classroom as a basketball court.  As the teacher where are you?

What is the role of the coach?

The coach gives the students time to practice, shows them different drills, teaches them the rules, all so that when it is game-time the students know how to play.

As a teacher, this is my role too

  • I guide students but I don’t do it with them or for them.  I try to avoid being a helicopter teacher.  Learning isn’t always easy and there are pitfalls and consequences.  Learning from mistakes is key to self-directed and self-motivated learners.
  • I don’t do all of the ‘heavy lifting’ in learning.  They get to help too.  Sometimes it is a matter of me just getting out of their way since I can over complicate things or make assumptions.
  • I leverage student questions and interest to guide what we do.
  • I give them meaningful choices and provide feedback.
  • I link what we do and why we do it.  Giving a purpose to what we are learning.

Classroom Management

Choice, freedom and control are not finite.  By the teacher giving up some control over the direction of learning does not mean that you cease to be the leader in your classroom.

Even a democracy needs a leader.

In fact, I think of my classroom as a sort of constitutional monarchy.  I am the head of the classroom but I simply just provide the framework and oversight to make sure things run smoothly.  I provide the rules but they decide how they will work within this system.  They have choices and ownership in what happens.  They have rights and responsibility.

When corrections happen or we lose our way I step in but they see why.  I hold them accountable for their choices.

As a teacher that gives autonomy in their classroom, I am still involved.  I am not giving anything away by asking them to share their ideas and opinions on how the classroom should be run.  My classroom belongs to my students just as much as it belongs to me (even though I will never let them decorate it)

  • Together we make goals about what we want to work on
  • We talk about ourselves as a team that needs to work together and support each other in order to be successful.
  • We understand that everyone brings different skills and value to the group so we don’t expect that same thing from the same people but we all play our part.
  • Everyone has a role and a purpose to help us be successful.

You can read more about my classroom management here

Social and Emotional

Our students deal with a lot

So when we increase the autonomy we also have to increase the support to prepare them for this.

This is why a classroom still needs to be predictable, structured and organized.  (they just get a say in what this looks like)

But the center of the classroom is not the teacher but it is the student learning.  We are all there to learn.  Together we work together to ensure learning, real learning, deep learning happens.

But this also means that we need to deal with the social and emotional issues that get in the way of learning.

  • bullying
  • self esteem
  • mental health
  • nutritional
  • physical

All of these have an impact on how our students learn.

As a teacher in an autonomous classroom, I am there to support, lead, build confidence, focus on goals and strengths, see the student as an individual, make a plan to compensate for deficits and needs.

I am even there to teach.  I still do a fair amount of teaching.

I teach by modelling different strategies, facilitation discussions, help them make connections between old and new information.

Overall giving my students more autonomy works!

  • They have choice
  • They have a say
  • They feel heard
  • They take ownership and responsibility
  • They develop as individuals with a unique set of strengths and goals


To read more about this topic including the research sources used in this blog post

Barbara McCombs: Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students

6 Strategies for Promoting Student Autonomy

Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves