The optimal learning model or gradual release of responsibility takes Vygotsky’s ideas about the zone of proximal development and puts theory into practice. In this research-based model, the responsibility for task completion shifts gradually over time from the teacher to the student. The following steps describe this shift:
Teacher Modeling: Explain the strategy, demonstrate how to use it, and think aloud while demonstrating.
Guided Practice: Practice using the strategy with students during shared writing and mini-lessons. Allow students to share their thinking processes. Give feedback and support. Gradually release responsibility to students.
Independent Practice: Students try to apply the strategy on their own, receiving feedback from teacher and other students.
Application of the Strategy: Students apply the strategy in a new format or more difficult text.
When we employ mentor texts as part of our writing instruction, we work through this recursive process of modeling, guiding, and providing practice, as students progress from noticing what mentor authors do to envisioning using these crafts themselves to finally incorporating these techniques in their own writing.