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The Gradual Release of Responsibility and Feedback

Two important teaching concepts I have been thinking about often in my transition to a new gym.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility model is based upon Lev Vygotsky’s theory of learning and the zone of proximal development. Simply stated, a teacher looks at what a student can do on his or her own, and what he or she needs guidance with in order to learn more complex tasks, eventually using the knowledge to apply the skills learned to a variety of situations.

Although the GRM (Gradual Release Model) is most often referred to in the context of education, it is definitely applicable to many learning situations, the gym included.

After spending years with a personal trainer who provided 1:1 instruction in the gym, in the end, I was not much more independent than when I started; in fact, I was overly dependent on someone making decisions about every dumbell, kettlebell, and move I made. All I learned was that everything I was doing was supposed to be making me a stronger runner. There was no transfer of skills, and I was not encouraged to become more independent. Failure was not an option. If I couldn’t do something, we would just do something else. I had a 1:1 tutor who enabled me.

And now I am in a new environment where my zone of proximal development is being considered, and my teacher/trainer is allowing me to try things on my own-with guidance. I am definitely outside of my comfort zone. As I try to do things on my own, I am not quite sure if my feet and knees are where they are supposed to be, I am not quite sure how it is supposed to feel, and if my trainer isn’t modeling it for me, there is no one else to watch. I like the idea of learning to do things on my own; I do not like not knowing if I am moving correctly, or if the weight is too heavy, or if I should do 1 more rep. I am used to having constant feedback.

According to a major education study, Professor John Hattie compared 1000’s of studies and found that teacher feedback had the most effect on student learning-both positively and negatively. Feedback can make a huge difference in learning. Hattie also determined that the most effective feedback was when the student does not have proficiency or mastery  of content. In other words, feedback is more effective when correcting mistakes or misconceptions.


There are different levels of feedback, as well, and as I move  away from basic task and process oriented feedback  to more self regulatory feedback, I imagine I will become more comfortable with my independence.

For now I am still feeling uncomfortable about being unsure, and lacking a bit of confidence trying to navigate new moves with less guidance. The ups and downs continue as I try to find my way around.




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