This post is based on a talk I gave at ResearchEd in Rugby. The paper in question is Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction published in American Educator in 2012, downloadable in full as a pdf here:
I first came across if after seeing Oliver Caviglioli’s superb graphic summary for How2 – available here:
My admiration for Rosenshine is largely informed by my experience working with teachers in various schools and colleges where I’ve been trying to engage people with research in order to support them to improve their practice. For me, it is the best, most clear and comprehensive guide to evidence-informed teaching there is.
Here are some of the reasons:
- It resonates for teachers of all subjects and contexts – because it focuses on aspects of teaching that are pretty much universal: questioning, practice, building knowledge. There are good examples from English and Maths lessons but other teachers could easily extrapolate to their own subject specific issues.
- It makes direct links from research to practice – each of the 10 sections are written in two parts: Research Findings and then In The ClassRoom. The paper is fully referenced for future follow-up.
- It does an excellent job in helping teachers to link practice to cognitive psychology, supporting the formation of a sound theory of action – that mental model teachers need providing a link between their actions and the learning process. There are multiple explanatory references to ideas about memory and cognitive load theory. For each practical strategy, there is an underpinning model based in evidence.
- It has teacher-centred authenticity- it feels like Rosenshine knows what really goes on. The research is often based on linking classroom observations to student outcomes, and the examples given show a strong understanding of the real things teachers do.
- The simple language comparing ‘teachers who were more effective or more successful’ with ‘teachers who were less successful’ is persuasive. It’s not as crude as saying ‘good vs bad’ – the language lays a path to improvement from less successful to more successful. Who wouldn’t want to be in the group of ‘more effective teachers’?! The tone of the article feels helpful rather than judgemental – which is pretty hard to achieve.
- There are four very clear strands that run through the 10 sections – reviewing material, questioning, explaining and modelling, practice. Each of one these can be a focus areas for improvement so there are multiple ways to engage with the ideas and to find a focus for deliberate practice.
Interestingly, within the document, Barak Rosenshine offers a further list of 17 principles that overlap and flesh out the 10 sections. It’s a good simple summary of the whole document. However, as I stress continually, summaries are meant as a prompt – you really need to read the whole thing; it’s packed with insights and it warrants multiple close readings.
I find that, in exploring the document with teachers, it helps to break it down into the four strands (NB these are strands that I am suggesting, not Rosenshine.)
Daily review is important in helping to resurface prior learning from the last lesson -let’s not be surprised that students don’t immediately remember everything. They won’t! It’s a powerful technique for building fluency and confidence and it’s especially important if we’re about to introduce new learning – to active relevant prior learning in working memory.
Weekly and monthly review is about longer-term retrieval practice – to continue the process of building long-term memory to support future learning.
These two sections are brilliant. The main message I always stress is summarised in the mantra: ask more questions to more students in more depth. Rosenshine gives lots of great examples of the types of questions teachers can ask. He also reinforces the importance of process questions – we need ask how students worked things out, not just get answers. He is also really good on stressing that asking questions is about getting feedback to us as teachers about how well we’ve taught the material and about the need to check understanding to ensure misconceptions are flushed out and tackled.
Sequencing Concepts and modelling
The three stages give a superb guide to how to sequence knowledge.
- Small steps – with practice at each stage. We need to break down our concepts and procedures (like multi-stage maths problems or writing) into small steps that each be practised.
- Models – including the importance of the worked-example effect to reduce cognitive load. We need to give many worked examples; too often teacher give too few.
- Scaffolding is needed to develop expertise – a form of mastery coaching, where cognitive supports are given – such as how to structure extended writing – but they are gradually withdrawn. The sequencing is key. Stabilisers on a bike are really powerful aids to the learning and confidence building- but eventually they need to come off.
Stages of Practice
I haven’t read a better explanation of the difference between guided and independent practice. They are both vital.
- Teachers needs to be up close to students’ initial attempts making sure that they are building confidence and making too many errors. This is a common weakness with ‘less effective teachers’. Guided practice requires close supervision and feedback.
- High success rate – in questioning and practice – is important. Rosenshine suggests the optimum is 80%. ie – high! Not 95-100% (too easy). He even suggests 70% is too low… (although, in my only quibble with the paper, I would be cautious about getting to worried about the precision here.)
- Independent, monitored practice. Successful teachers make time for students to the things they’ve been taught by themselves… when they’re ready. “Students need extensive, successful, independent practice in order for skills and knowledge to become automatic”
Rosenshine concludes the paper by discussing their research process, combining a range sources of evidence. He suggests:
“Even though these principles come from three different sources…….ideas from each of the sources overlap and add to each other. This overlap gives us faith that we are developing a valid and research-based understanding of the art of teaching.”
My final messages about engaging with this paper are:
- Don’t turn it into a checklist. It’s a guide for professional learning – not a ticklist for accountability freaks! Don’t kill it!!! Please!!!
- Take time to explore the implications at a subject-specific level. The ideas of practice, modelling, questioning… each have meaning only in the context of curriculum content. The principles need to be articulated in context, in situ…
Thanks to Barak for giving us this gift – and to Oliver for bringing it to my attention!
This blog by Mark Enser is a superb example of putting Rosenshine’s principles into practice – in this case, his subject is Geography. https://heathfieldteachshare.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/putting-theory-into-practice/