Helping students to become independent learners in literacy

This page provides guidance on how and when to release responsibility for learning to students to help them work towards independence.

The goal of any intervention is to help students to close gaps in their knowledge or skills and become as independent as possible. This is particularly important for students with specific learning disabilities (for example, dyslexia) as they will build a greater sense of agency over their skills and abilities.

As a teacher, it's your responsibility to equip students with the strategies they need to achieve independence. Intervention typically involves working with students more intensively and providing increased scaffolding and opportunities for practise for the student to learn or master the skill. This is particularly important before starting to think about gradually releasing responsibility back to the student.

To build a student's literacy knowledge and skills:

  • Work to automatise their literacy knowledge through multiple exposures and practise, especially when it comes to reading and writing.
  • Increase their self-efficacy as users of literacy by asking reflective questions (for example, 'You've just mastered when and how to use the possessive apostrophe. I wonder if you could think about when you might use this when you're not at school?') and by helping them to see why literacy is important and how it connects to their everyday lives.
  • Develop their metacognitive skills, including planning how to approach learning tasks, identifying appropriate strategies to complete a task, evaluating progress and monitoring comprehension.
  • Engage students using their interests (for example, the types of texts or topics they enjoy learning about) and create opportunities for them to demonstrate choice and agency while they learn.

Gradual release of responsibility

The gradual release of responsibility instructional framework involves teachers gradually taking less responsibility for learning and students gradually assuming increased responsibility. It is through this process that students become competent and independent learners. This is often referred to as the 'I do – We do – You do' model.

Students with learning difficulties often need many more opportunities to learn and practise the task before a gradual release of responsibility is possible. For many, a negative self-view about their potential to succeed can prevent them from willingly or meaningfully engaging with the supports their teacher offers.

Alternatively, they can become overly dependent on these supports and be reluctant to attempt any activity without a teacher's help.

When to begin releasing responsibility

Determining when students are ready to demonstrate more independence and to what extent can be difficult but careful progress monitoring will assist you. It is appropriate to give greater independence to students when they are performing the task with at least 80 per cent accuracy with your support. Your support can be gradually released in small steps. As well as your formative assessment through ongoing progress monitoring, watch for encouraging features such as when the student:

  • can explain how (and perhaps why) they are about to approach the task, for example: 'I will plan a topic sentence and then a concluding sentence first. I will then brainstorm the ideas for my sentences inside the paragraph. Once I am happy that this working well, I will write the paragraph.'
  • can explain how they will self-monitor their performance, for example:
    • 'I will review all the sentences for spelling and punctuation first'
    • 'I will then review the whole paragraph to make sure it makes sense.'
  • demonstrates motivation or enthusiasm to compete the task
  • attempts (or expresses a desire to attempt) tasks by themselves and without assistance.

Think carefully about the stages in which you will release responsibility for learning to a student and how you will monitor and record their progress.

For more information refer to Learning Difficulties Information Guide: Literacy (PDF).