Quick Definition of Guided Practice
Definition: Guided practice is a teaching practice pioneered by Barbara Rogoff. It involves three steps for practicing new skills in the classroom. First, the teacher models how to do a task to the student. Second, the student does the task with guidance from the teacher. Third, the student practices the task independently.
This is a guided practice method that moves students through their Zone of Proximal Development by scaffolding their learning development.
Use this method to write lesson plans, help struggling students, and demonstrate your knowledge of good pedagogical skills during lesson reviews and observations.
Here are some ways scholars define guided practice. Use these sources to define it in your essay:
- Sharratt (2013, p. 145) defines guided practice as a “transition practice that … allows leaders to pull back and the learners to step forward” through smooth movement from teacher- to student- centered learning.
- Duchesne et al. (2013, p. 90) argue that it is “support provided to enable students to participate in expert activities in increasingly expert ways.”
What we notice in these definitions is two key elements:
- Support: The teacher provides support for learners to help them progress;
- Transition: The process may begin with heavy teacher support and modelling, but should end with near independence on behalf of the learner.
Links to Socio-Cultural Theory
Guided practice has its origins in the sociocultural theory of teaching and learning (also known as the social-constructivist theory). This theory emphasises the importance of social interaction for cognitive development.
Guided practice builds on three key theoretical concepts within the sociocultural theory: Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, Vygotsky’s More Knowledgeable Other and Bruner’s Scaffolding.
a) Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotsky hypothesised that the best way to teach learners is to create lessons that are just too hard for students to complete on their own, but possible for students to do with the aid of a teacher.
We often call this the Goldilocks Principle: A lesson that’s too easy won’t lead to much learning. A lesson that’s far too hard will simply confuse students. But, a lesson that is challenging but not impossible should motivate students and lead to maximum learning development.
b) More Knowledgeable Other
For students to achieve maximum progression in their learning, Vygotsky proposed that students should learn alongside a ‘More Knowledgeable Other’. A More Knowledgeable Other can be a teacher, parent or classmate. The MKO should simply be someone who can provide assistance like prompting, modelling, explaining and suggesting that keeps the learner on the path towards achieving their educational goals.
Importantly, because there is a guide, scholars argue that students will be learning in culturally and socially relevant ways. In other words, they learn things the ways their teachers, society and culture have deemed appropriate.
Guided practice is therefore also considered a culturally sensitive pedagogy.
Bruner expanded on Vygotsky’s ideas by introducing the concept of ‘scaffolding’. Instructional scaffolding is a term that emphasises the importance of guidance during the learning process to help a student move through their Zone of Proximal Development.
A scaffold is any learning strategy that keeps a student on the path towards their learning goals. As the student gets more competent at their tasks, the scaffolding should be removed so that the student can eventually complete the task alone.
Guided practice is a form of scaffolding.
The I do, We do, You do Guided Practice Strategy
The I do, we do, you do method provides four clear steps for guided practice. It can be used as the basis for lesson plans or a guide when teachers have a student struggling to understand a concept.
1. I Do (Teacher Modelling)
The first step of the I do, we do, you do method is modelled instruction. Modelling gives learners the opportunity to understand the task and gather initial details about how it would be performed.
I recommend using some of the following strategies in the ‘I do’ modelling stage:
- Break the task down into small, clear, understandable steps;
- Use visual aids such as process charts to help students understand the steps;
- Use mnemonic patterns and acronyms as retrieval cues to help students’ memory recall (For example, I use a mnemonic pattern when teaching university students how to write Introductions using the I.N.T.R.O method – see my post here.)
- Encourage students to take notes on key points they might need to remember in the future.
Learners are not necessarily passive in this stage. Learners should be reflecting and actively thinking while they watch the teacher modelling the information. Leave time for students to ask questions at the end of each step in your modelling.
While we often consider modelled instruction as to ‘direct’ and ‘transmissionist’ in its approach, the fact remains that sometimes students need to be given clear, direct instruction on information that is new to them.
The important thing is that we don’t just model instruction. We also need to give students the chance to practice, discuss and experiment with the new information. This is what happens in the following three steps.
2. We Do (Co-Construction)
At this stage, students participate in ‘shared practice’. Students work in groups or pairs to support each other through the learning process. Often, this will involve re-doing the modelling stage (Step 1) while the teacher and teachers’ assistants work to elicit students’ input as much as possible.
At this stage, teachers might want to consider:
- Asking students for their shared input on a plan for completing the task;
- Asking students to recall and predict the next steps in the step-by-step process of completing a task;
- Asking students to debate, discuss or question elements of the process, such as debating which approach is best way for completing a sub-task.
- Encouraging groups to practice through play-based learning.
While students work in groups at this stage, the teacher remains central to shaping the discussion. Some autonomy has now been released to the students to allow them to actively contribute their ideas while they have the support of their peers while completing the task.
3. You Do (Facilitation)
The ‘you do’ stage of this gradual release of responsibility model is the first in which the individual student takes most of the control of the learning process.
In this stage, the student does their best to complete the task on their own. However, the teacher is present to patiently support students’ learning. Teachers and assistants can walk around the classroom giving guidance to any students who need it.
Some teachers prefer to ask students to do the facilitation stage in smaller groups, such as pairs.
Here are some examples of strategies for this stage:
- Teachers encourage students to speak out loud to the teacher about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it;
- Students are encouraged to ask questions when they are stuck. Teachers should provide prompts, open-ended questions and nudges to help students recall the next steps;
- Teachers can provide computer programs or visual aids as prompts for students should they be needed.
It is important that the teacher observes students in this stage to identify misconceptions that students may have developed. If students skip this stage, they will not have an opportunity to be mentored through the early stages of independent learning.
4. You Do (Independent Practice)
Finally, students should reach a point of independent practice where they are freely able to complete the task on their own.
In this stage, strategies you can use include:
- Having the students create a final product that they can display around the classroom;
- Assigning practice of the task or activity as a homework or study task;
- Asking students to complete the task in a new environment or with a slightly different twist to promote competency across unfamiliar contexts.
- Encouraging enjoyment of the task to promote motivation.
Ensure you provide students with the opportunity to seek facilitation if need be. While you have removed active facilitation, leave the door open for further guidance if the students solicit it.
By the end of Step 4, the teacher will need to re-assess the student’s zone of proximal development. They will have pushed the boundaries of their zone of proximal development out further, and tasks that were previously beyond reach may now be possible with guidance.
Assess the student’s new zone of proximal development and re-start the process at Step 1. The I do, We do, You do process should be considered cyclical.
Duchesne, S., McMaugh, A., Bochner, S., & Krause, K. L. (2013). Educational psychology: For learning and teaching (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Cengage Learning.
Sharratt, L. (2013). Scaffolded Literacy Assessment and a Model for Teachers’ Professional Development. In Elliott-Johns, S. & Jarvis, D. (Eds.) Perspectives on Transitions in Schooling and Instructional Practice. (pp. 138-155) Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.