Part 2: Practice – About That…


The idea of practice is one of those things that we lose sight of in the classroom. We tend to attribute it to skill and drill, or overlook its effectiveness as an instructional tool. How about taking another look at practice, but in a different way, using Direct Instruction, the Model of Gradual Release, and the Stages of Skill Development. Let’s change the lens from how we used each model separately to now having them coordinate to make explicit the design and implementation of small group instruction and independent practice.

Direct Instruction (with a lowercase “di”) in its simplest form involves practice. Literally 3 out of the 5 stages include a level of practice. Looking at practice through this lens not only calls it out explicitly, but demonstrates how the practice is to be implemented. The how is determined by where the learner is in their understanding of a concepts/skill, and what level of support is needed. So students who need more support are engaged in practice that is designed to have more teacher support, and those who need less are engaged in practice that has less teacher support. Let’s look closer.

In the 5 stages of Direct Instruction each stage identifies where the teacher’s responsibility in instruction lays. At the beginning of this model, when the teacher is introducing and teaching the skill, we see very heavy teacher responsibility; as the concept/skill is being taught and modeled. As the lesson progresses the teacher gradually hands the task over to the students, sharing the responsibility. This is characterized by a gradual reduction of the frequency and level of support in corrective feedback. At the end of this model, students are able to do the concept/skill correctly and may only need occasional redirection or feedback. Feedback is used to move the practice gradually to it being independent. Do you see what we did there? Yes, it’s the model of Gradual Release, which is embedded within di. Shall we add another layer to this?

During the National Reading First Conference, in 2006, David Howe spoke of how to bring struggling readers up to grade-level. Within his presentation he showed a simple model of learning, which addressed the stages of skill development, and spoke to the importance of practice when guiding learners across the continuum of skill development. The stages include skills moving from Unknown, to Accuracy, to Fluency, and ultimately Maintenance. In his presentation, he spoke of the important role that perfect practice makes in moving students through each stage.

What I would like to do is to put each of these concepts together to create a map for understanding how to determine where students understanding of a concept or skill is to know what level of support is needed in the classroom. If we know where a learner is in their development of a skill, then we understand where we are in our instruction, the level and frequency of practice and feedback needed, and when small group instruction and independent work is appropriate. Take a look at the organizer below.

Interactive Map for Small Group Instruction and Independent Practice framed

Can you see it – how these models interact together to make the designing and implementation of small group and independent practice successful? Remember it because we will revisit it within this topic.

By: Terri Hamilton


Direct Instruction Model:

Model of Gradual Release:

Stages of Skill Development: