Creating Adaptable, Independent Learners

By on July 27, 2015

The cycle of independence is the framework whereby teachers help students become independent agents of their own learning and literacy practice. It’s not a new concept really--many (Duke and Pearson, 2002; Graves and Fitzgerald, 2003; Fisher and Frey, 2013) refer to it as a gradual release of responsibility, but it is key to the long-term success of our students.

LiteracyTA uses cycle of independence to describe our suggested, on-going process for literacy acquisition. We approach literacy as skill-based, as a process that develops “habits of mind” through repetition, collaboration, and practice, and all LiteracyTA products--the web-based Teacher Assistant, the Literacy Skills Activity Books, and our Literacy Training for teachers, are designed to simplify the process for both teachers and students.

The cycle of independence is the process whereby we build adaptable readers and learners. Our goal is that by the end of our students’ first phase of education--from elementary through high school--our students come away with an ingrained and flexible mental construct about how to approach literacy and learning challenges. In short, they are ready for College and Career.

It works by teaching students “habits of mind,” or a reader’s ability to address, analyze and apply strategies to any literacy learning demand. We achieve this, as the word "cycle" implies, through repetition and practice. The outcome for our students is independence.

They should be able to ask and answer questions like these (and more):

  • What are my outcomes for reading--and possibly writing and speaking about this text?
  • What kind of text is this and how does that change my approach?
  • What am I looking for as I read?
  • What reading skills will I apply?
  • How will I account for my learning?
  • How will I organize what I learn in this text?


But students are not born knowing how to apply this process naturally. That’s where we come in as teachers. We model and guide, we set up collaborative work, we ask questions (but mostly, teach students how ask their own questions), and we assess and guide students to reflect upon their own learning.

And then we do it again.

Over time, our students will develop flexible “habits of mind,” and be invigorated with each successive literacy task because they detect that the cycle of independence leads to and becomes the spiral of success.

The illustration below gives us a visual for the cycle of independence. The bullets are all skills supported in the Teacher Assistant.

Cycle of Independence

So, practically speaking, how do we initiate and continue the process?

For teachers it begins with a comprehensive plan for skill-based instruction. LiteracyTA simplifies this for teachers by providing you with three powerful tools:

1.) The Skill Instruction Pacing Guide provides you with a whole semester approach to teaching literacy skills using the cycle of independence.

Skill Instruction Pacing Guide

2.) The Skill Planning Teacher Journal is a step-by-step printable planner for creating lessons.

Skill Planning Teacher Journal

3.) The Web-based Lesson Planner is one of LiteracyTA’s proudest accomplishments. With only a few experiences you will be planning entire lessons in minutes. The Lesson Planner provides you with every tool a teacher could hope for from embedded Common Core Standards, a ready-made presentation and timer, to some you’ve never dreamed of--a prompt-builder, text complexity meter and a real-time collaboration group assigner.

Lesson Planner

We try to make the transition to skill-based instruction for students just as simple and well-guided as we do for teachers.

  1. Rubrics provide teachers with easy assessment tools and students with on-going and measurable formative feedback.
  2. The Performance Tracker gives students an organized way to review, analyze, and reflect on their learning, and then set goals and action steps for further progress.

Progress is what every student desires and what all teachers hope for every student. For this to become a reality, teachers should initiate and and lead in the cycle of independence.  

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

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