From Novice to Expert: The Gradual Increase of Responsibility Model

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Vicki Collet, Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, breaks down a user-friendly, differentiated approach to coaching called Gradual Increase of Responsibility. Read more as she walks through the process and offers some new tools you might be able to incorporate into your practice.


uccessful coaching is a developmental process that's responsive to teachers' needs. When working with a teacher on something new, you typically provide more assistance in the beginning and gradually reduce that support as the teacher gains experience and expertise. While this is often the case when working with a novice teacher, your coaching role is fairly different when you're working with an expert. These patterns are described in the "GIR Model" for coaching, or "Gradual Increase of Responsibility."

The GIR Model Explained

The GIR Model* is an adaptation of Pearson and Gallagher's 1983 Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Model. Like this framework, the GIR Model shows how support changes over time.

The GIR Model is conceptually simple, but complex in practice! Throughout the GIR process, coaches model, make recommendations, ask inquiring and probing questions, affirm teachers' appropriate decisions, and praise in order to provide decreasing scaffolding that supports teachers' use of effective instructional practices.

How an instructional coach moves through phases of the GIR Model will, of course, be idiosyncratic. Some teachers will benefit from lots of modeling and recommendations when trying something new; for others, questions to support reflection about potential changes will provide sufficient support. You choose what scaffold to use based on teacher needs and move from one stage to the next when teachers need less support.

1. Modeling

Modeling is the most supportive scaffold in the GIR coaching framework because it provides teachers with an example they can emulate to improve instruction. Modeling is most impactful when there is a specific focus for the observation. There's so much going on in a classroom during a lesson, it may be difficult for the observer to know where to focus her attention. However, a pre-observation discussion between a coach and teacher provides the opportunity to determine this focus.

Video clips can also serve as models, providing an opportunity for observation without interrupting instructional routines. As with "live" modeling, recordings don't need to be perfect examples; learning occurs through reflecting on both successes and less-successful aspects of lessons. Another way to model is through demonstration of expert thinking during coaching conversations. These "think alouds" model decision-making processes. Whether they're recorded or live, with students or without, modeling provides significant scaffolding for instructional change!

2. Recommending

As Anjum Halai notes in her 2006 article, "[t]eachers who have as reference only their own experience . . . require something more than reflection to analyze and question their own practice." In addition to modeling, making recommendations is another way you provide "something more."

Coaches take an expert stance when they make recommendations. Additionally, drawing from research and your own experience, you advocate for particular actions. In addition to taking into consideration the students' needs, you consider the knowledge and abilities of the teacher you are working with. You may provide information about instructional strategies; content or skills being taught; the developmental processes of learning; or the standards, curriculum, or resources being implemented.

Recommendations are helpful for novice teachers or those who are implementing unfamiliar instructional approaches. When less support is needed, recommendations can be more general or another type of scaffolding (like asking questions) may be more appropriate.

3. Asking Questions

While modeling and recommending provide high levels of scaffolding, asking questions is a less-supportive coaching move. Questions help teachers think flexibly about the choices they make as they design instruction, encouraging them to ponder current practices and discover new ways to think about their work.

As Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick note, good questions help to establish habits of the mind—ways of thinking about teaching—that can continue without the coach's support. Questioning encourages a reflective stance that helps teachers identify and sustain successful elements of instruction. Planning thoughtful questions ahead of time improves the effectiveness of coaching conversations.

For example, if a coach asks, "What might you hear students saying if they understand that concept?," she invites consideration of the measurement of learning targets. Inquiring and probing questions provide opportunities for coaches to support teachers' thinking as they implement new practices.

You probably ask questions that promote higher-level thinking throughout a coaching cycle, but this coaching practice can become the dominant move as the need for recommending and modeling diminishes. Keep in mind that some teachers may never need the significant scaffolding provided by modeling and recommending. For them, asking questions may be your initial support. Whether asking questions is introduced at the onset of a coaching cycle or begins to dominate as the cycle progresses, this coaching move is a scaffold that empowers teachers.

4. Affirming

When teachers have internalized questioning as a reflective practice, they need less support. They may still look to you, however, for confirmation that they are making appropriate instructional decisions, especially during times of change.

As a coach, you provide a sounding board for teachers' unfolding ideas. For example, a teacher approached her coach with a desire to talk through her end-of-year assessment plan. As the discussion transpired, it was clear the teacher was already formulating a detailed design for this testing. She appeared to be looking for an audience so she could fine-tune her ideas and get a few words of affirmation. The coach listened, summarized what she had heard, and asserted that the plan was a good one. That affirmation seemed to be what the teacher was looking for.

Coaches give affirmation by confirming that practices are appropriate, by agreeing with teachers' plans for instruction, and by using work samples or student data to validate the effectiveness of instruction. For teachers who are making sound instructional decisions but are still looking to you for confirmation, affirming is an effective coaching move, like a metaphoric pat on the back.

5. Praising

The research-developed GIR Model suggests that praising is an effective coaching move, and the prominent one near the end of a coaching cycle. As the need for other coaching moves drops away, praising lingers as a meaningful teacher-coach interaction. Providing specific, justified praise is a collegial action that should be a genuine response to teacher successes.

Praise serves the beneficial purposes of building rapport, empowering teachers, and supporting changes in instruction. Specific praise reinforces the use of effective teaching strategies. A teacher who hears, "Having students restate the objective in their own words really kept them focused!" is likely to intentionally include this practice as an ongoing part of his instruction.

Effective praise is authentically offered by the coach without the teacher's appeal. This acknowledgment bolsters confidence and contributes to teachers' ongoing development. Once praising is the dominant coaching move, that is the cue to end the coaching cycle.

Determining a Coaching Move

You likely have a repertoire that includes each of the moves described above. In any coaching conversation, you may instinctively include a mixture of these practices. The benefit of labeling these coaching moves as part of a model is that it can help you use these strategies more intentionally.

When planning a coaching conversation, it's useful to consider which coaching move should dominate. Should modeling be planned for, or would recommending or questioning give the most bang for the buck? Perhaps an affirming pat on the back is all that is called for. After determining which coaching move seems appropriate in the given context, you can make a note of it, prepare intentionally for it, and then ensure that you don't stick with that move beyond the time that it is most useful.

Charting the dominant coaching moves with a teacher can nudge you to move on when less scaffolding is called for. I hope you'll find the GIR model to be a user-friendly guide for differentiated coaching!


*Collet, V. S. (2012). The Gradual Increase of Responsibility Model: Coaching for teacher change. Literacy Research and Instruction, 51 (1), 27-47.

About our Guest Blogger

Vicki Collet is an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas. Her research focuses on instructional coaching, literacy, and teacher learning. She has worked as an elementary and middle school classroom teacher, an interventionist, and an instructional coach. Be sure to check out her blog, My Coaches' Couch, and her Facebook.

Follow Vicki on Twitter @vscollet!

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Topics: Guest Blogger, Feedback, Your Coaching Toolbox, Questioning Techniques, Teacher Support, Coaching Models, Modeling

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