"I Can Do It Myself!" Literacy Lessons for Independence

October 31, 2016

My three-year-old is quick to tell me that she can do things by herself without any help from me. Whether it is dressing herself or pouring herself something to drink, she usually responds confidently with the phrase, “I can do it myself.”  If you have had the pleasure of spending time with three-year-olds, you might agree that this phrase is commonly used by children in this age group. It represents a growing desire for independence and a bold attempt to convince the adults around them that they’re capable and ready to show what they can do. As it seems, three-year-olds may indeed know more about the learning process than we realize. They remind us that the goal of learning is independence, and that learning is a process fueled by your own belief that you can and will be able to take charge--even if the adults are not ready to let go just yet.  


Many years ago at a conference, I was introduced to this powerful poem below by Erma Bombeck which reminds me of the ups and downs we all face when learning something new and the role of the teacher in supporting the process.   


Children Are Like Kites  

by Erma Bombeck

You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground.
You run with them until you are both breathless.
They crash. They hit the rooftop.
You patch and comfort, adjust and teach.
You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that
someday, they will fly.
Finally, they are airborne;
They need more string and you keep letting it out;
But with each twist of the ball of twine,
There is a sadness that goes with joy.
The kite becomes more distant and you know it won’t be long before that
beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you two together and
will soar, free and alone.
Only then do you know that you did your job.


This poem leads me to reflect on the process of teaching the skills and strategies children need to become successful readers. In doing so, this question comes to mind: How do we design literacy lessons that guide children to the independence they are capable of, want and need? The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1993) answers this question and represents a process we can rely on to build independence no matter what skill or strategy we are teaching. This framework shifts the responsibility for learning from teacher to student gradually over time through the following basic components: 


 Teacher Modeling/Focused Instruction -- I do it, you watch

Shared Responsibility -- I do, you help or We do

Guided Practice -- You do, I help

Independent practice/Application -- You do it, I watch 


These components nurture children’s growing sense of independence while providing them with supports necessary for success. As a result, children will become more motivated to learn the reading skills and strategies we are teaching, and like a three-year-old, will be able to boldly declare, “I can do it myself!"   


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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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