A full release of responsibility to students doesn’t happen overnight, but progresses in stages from a group-think to a collaborative model to independence, in which students begin operate independently or in small teams with check-ins.
The above image shows you exactly what full release of responsibility looks like in the classroom. You spend August (if you're in school in August) and September on the group-think and collaborative models, moving toward collaborative. The first month to month and a half of school is all about transitioning from the group think to the collaborative model. While the teacher is definitely guiding the process, they are not showing-and-telling or demonstrating. Rather, they are asking a question and crowd-sourcing the different elements of the process from students as they think and plan experiments together, after which students break into their groups to carry out that plan.
From October to November – roughly Thanksgiving – you should be working toward that full release of responsibility and achieving it by the time students go on break. This means they are acting independently in teams and exhibiting proficiency with the science and engineering practices. From November through January, it's about refining. Whereas students are still a hot mess in December, unsure about how to use that full release effectively, you’re using those checkpoint meetings to see where they’re falling short of expectations, helping them move past confusion to a point of understanding and then returning them to their work.
That whole process is something that gets shorter, easier, faster and clearer for teachers and students in that November-to-January stretch. From mid- to late January, you are then able to push students much, much deeper with how they're expressing their higher order thinking. It’s also helpful to pair low-level students with mid-level students because those students then learn that their ideas matter in that partnership. They learn that other people have ideas that they don't have, and conversely, that they have ideas that other people don't have. This works really well to encourage the growth of everyone involved.
Building on the scaffolded units for grades 1-5, the unit plans for grades 6-8 also define a specific scope and sequence in which units intertwine both within the year and between years.
Again, that’s one of the reasons why an intentional scope and sequence is so important. Within it, you can intentionally ratchet up the expectations as you go along. In order to increase those expectations while still giving students the ability to succeed, teachers must learn to give helpful feedback immediately. This doesn’t come at the end of a big project or test, when it can no longer be incorporated into the current learning, but at frequent checkpoints along the way, redirecting and U-turning students in their thinking and approaches. In order to offer immediate feedback successfully, moreover, teachers must act as coaches rather than experts. Let’s turn our attention to this habit next.