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Should "I do, We do, You do" in math?

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

This might just be one of my most polarizing blog posts. And if I’m being honest, I feel very vulnerable sharing my opinion here.

The purpose of this post is to share my experience with the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (I do, we do, you do) and - insert vulnerable moment - why I love it and think it’s a powerful approach to teaching math to students who struggle.

This feels vulnerable to me because I feel like the majority of my colleagues on instagram and twitter would be shocked to learn I feel this way. I do, we do, you do has a very negative association in most teaching spheres I’m a part of, but if I’m being true to myself, to my personal teaching experience, teaching students who struggle with math and have been told they’re “dumb” and “not a math person” for years and years and years, I feel the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model works*.

*With some twists of course! (Just keep reading to find them out)

GRR gets a bad rap because many teachers take it to mean 20 minutes of “I do” aka direct instruction, then 20 minutes of “we do” aka worksheet practice, then 20 minutes of “you do” aka getting started on homework. Let me be clear. THAT DOESN’T WORK!

Instead, I spice GRR up with collaboration, competition, and formative checks for understanding. I turned my classroom into a gameshow each and every day. My students thrived and there was a sense of urgency to do mathematics that I know so many of my colleagues desire to have in their own classrooms.

If you don’t think GRR has a place in the math classroom, I hear you. I respect your opinion. I’d love to dialogue with you. If you’ve never taught high schoolers who have failed math year after year after year I would encourage you to have an open mind about this blog post.

Five "I Do, We Do, You Do" Tips

1. Break it up.

It’s not 20 minutes of “I do” (direct instruction) then 20 minutes of “we do” (worksheet work) then 20 minutes of “you do” (homework or independent work). Instead think about breaking down each type of problem into 3 practice problems. Model one problem (I do), ask for help from a different student every step of the way for one problem that is extremely similar to the previous problem (we do), then let students grapple with one problem independently or with their team (you do). Repeat that cycle a few times in the period for each new type of problem you have. More on this in tip number five.

2. It doesn’t have to be black and white.

Don’t forget to do tasks too. Students are being tested with tasks so if all you do is prepare them for multiple choice questions, you’re not preparing them adequately. Do a mix. Do some GRR lessons, but also make sure students can grapple with tasks and that means they need class time to practice. If you’re looking for a strategy to make tasks and word problems more accessible to students, you’ve got to check out the Notice and Wonder strategy in this blog post.

3. Create grapple time.

Always try to intro the unit with a grapple task. Systems of equations is a great example. There’s a LOT to teach with systems of equations… substitution method, elimination method, graphing… a lot. And using gradual release of responsibility will surely help your students to master the strategies. But those strategies won’t interest the students if they don’t have the bigger picture in mind. Instead of launching your systems of equations unit going straight to the solve by graphing algorithm, intro it with some grapple time. Give the students a real world systems of equations problem and let them think and grapple and struggle and persevere. Let them make trial and error tables. Let them draw diagrams. Let them make their own meaning for at least 20 minutes. Once they’ve started to come to their own conclusions, use GRR to help them learn how to solve these problems more quickly with the three common algorithms.

4. Honor multiple paths… ALWAYS.

Always allow students to show work in their own way, with their own algorithm or process. Never take off points or ridicule students who don’t do it your way. Gradual release of responsibility can be very step by step, but if your students make their own meaning and solve it differently than you show in the “I do” section, let it be! Celebrate it even! Always (and I mean 100% always) allow students to solve a problem differently than you showed and never (100% never) take points away when they do it.

5. Make it cooperative.

In a study published in the International Journal of Scientific & Technology research in 2018 titled, “Gradual Release Of Responsibility Instructional Model: Its Effects On Students’ Mathematics Performance And Self-Efficacy” one of their recommendations after conducting the study was,

“As part of the Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Model, teachers should provide an avenue for their students to discuss their answers with their peers through cooperative learning since it would help improve their performance.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Take this to the next level

If you want to learn a simple 4-step method to making gradual release of responsibility super collaborative and watch it motivate the most challenging students, check out my free 30 minute mini-workshop where you'll learn exactly how to boost student engagement, collaboration, and achievement with a time saving 4-step method to create each and every lesson.

Mini-workshop registrants will also walk away with a resource pack that includes recommended reading and research, a prerequisite checklist, and an outline of the 4-step math wars method.

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