The Gradual Release Model of Instruction
If your middle schoolers are anything like the ones I work with, you have surely noticed that they do not like to sit still for very long! Instead, they would rather be actively involved in the learning process. Fortunately, there is an instructional process that strategically combines active learning with direct instruction, called the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). There are three parts to this process. First, teachers explain a particular concept or strategy to students, providing examples and describing the topic. Next, teachers work with the students on the focal concept, gauging their understandings and answering any questions. Finally, teachers "turn the students loose" to work on the concept independently, checking in with students individually as they apply the concept on their own.
While this method can work with a variety of subject areas, it is particularly applicable to teaching writing. Fletcher and Portalupi (2001) explain that this instructional method, when used most effectively, allows a writing classroom to take on the best attributes of an industrial arts, or "shop," class: students learn a particular skill or strategy and then spend the majority of the class period engaged in active learning, with the teacher providing individualized support when appropriate. The grammar instruction I describe in this book is based on the gradual release of responsibility model. I believe that grammar instruction, like other kinds of writing instruction, is most effective when students are actively engaged in their learning (and this is especially applicable to high-energy middle schoolers!). You will notice that the instructional recommendations I provide reflect the key elements of this instructional process: provide students with examples and an explanation of what a particular grammatical concept is and why it is important, work with them and gauge their understandings as they work on activities that focus on this concept, and finally turn the students loose as they apply this idea on their own (supporting them while they do so). While each set of instructional recommendations focuses on the specific elements of the grammatical concept being discussed, these fundamental "gradual release" elements stay consistent throughout, as they have been shown to be important parts of effective teaching (Fisher & Frey, 2003; Lloyd, 2004).
Key Elements of Middle School Writing Instruction
This book focuses on key grammatical concepts addressed in the Middle School Common Core Language Standards and other rigorous state standards. While the book is informed by concepts identified in the Common Core, these grammar tools are applicable to effective instruction whether or not a specific state adheres to the Common Core. Given the book's focus on middle school grammar and writing, it is important to address significant elements of middle school writing instruction and the ways that those attributes connect to teaching grammar effectively. In this section, I address the following elements of middle school writing instruction: (1) today's standards require middle schoolers to demonstrate increasing sophistication in language use; (2) today's standards require middle school students to read and write in a variety of genres; and (3) middle school students write to communicate in authentic ways.
Today's Standards Require Increasing Sophistication in Language Use
The Common Core Writing Standards and other revised and rigorous state standards call for students to demonstrate development in their language skills each year. For example, the Common Core Standards state that "Each year in their writing, students should demonstrate increasing sophistication in all aspects of language use" (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010). I found this statement particularly applicable to working with middle school students. As my students made the important transition into the middle school grades and progressed through those grades, I wanted to make sure that they showed continued understandings of grammatical concepts addressed in previous grades while also mastering the concepts specific to their current grade levels. Since the Common Core State Standards specifically state that "Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year's grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades" (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010), it was important to me to provide my students with in-depth grammar instruction that focused on grade-specific standards while also addressing any previous standards with which they struggled. While working with seventh graders, for example, I focused my instruction primarily on the language standards specific to that grade, but did not hesitate to also address any grammatical concepts associated with earlier grades with which they needed extra support
Today's Standards Require Reading and Writing in a Variety of Genres
One especially noteworthy element of the Common Core State Standards and other updated and rigorous state standards is their call for students to read and write in a variety of genres—a requirement that relates to the reading, writing, and language standards. As students progress through their educational careers, they will need to read and write increasingly complex literary and informational texts. While doing so, the students will need to master increasingly complex elements of grammar and language in order to decipher challenging texts and compose their own works that contain insightful themes and strong arguments. In this book, I have included examples of grammatical concepts from a variety of middle-school-appropriate texts representing fiction and nonfiction. You'll encounter excerpts from graphic novels such George Takei's (2019) They Called Us Enemy, memoirs such as Trevor Noah's (2019) It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime. Stories from a South African Childhood. Adapted for Young Readers, and a range of other fiction and nonfiction texts that incorporate a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Examining grammatical concepts in this range of works and genres can ensure that students understand how a wide variety of writers use grammatical concepts to enhance their works. In addition, showing middle school students examples from this range of texts will meet the expectations that they work with a number of genres during literacy instruction
Middle School Students Write to Communicate in Authentic Ways
To many middle school students, writing is more than just something they are assigned to do in school: it is a means of communication at a very social time in their lives. Middle school students value the way writing allows them to share honest emotions about high-interest topics and connect with their peers (Robb, 2010). When I teach grammar to middle schoolers, I work to capitalize on the social value of writing by demonstrating how grammatical concepts can help them to clearly convey their ideas. I explain that the tools of good writing are not only applicable to school, but rather to all forms of writing in which they engage. For example, when discussing the active and passive voice with a group of eighth graders, I asked the students about the different ways that they wrote outside of school and whether they typically used the active or passive voices when doing so. Some students discussed using text messages and Facebook posts to make weekend plans, while a few others talked about blogging about their favorite sports teams. The students explained which voices they used in their messages, posts, and blogs, and why. In this discussion, my students connected language standards and grammatical concepts to the kinds of writing that students use to communicate outside of school.