The Roots of Rosenshine’s Principles.

I’m excited to say that I am in the process of writing a short book explaining how to implement Rosenshine’s Principles of instruction, aimed at teachers in the US.  The opportunity to do this came about after one of my ResearchEd talks about Rosenshine’s 2012 American Educator article – as explored in this post.

What I did not know, until the publisher sent it to me, is that the American Educator article is largely taken from an 2010 issue in the International Academy of Education (IAE) Educational Practices academic pamphlet series.  It’s basically the same text.

I posted this on twitter and, to my great joy, I was contacted by Dutch researcher/education scientist Tim Surma who has a great collection of Rosenshine documents.  It turns out that the 2010 Principles are a development of ideas Rosenshine has worked on since the 1980s.  In 1986 he published a paper called Teaching Functions with colleague Robert Stevens.   Tim posted a list of the key teaching functions on twitter.  I then searched for the document and what I found was an even earlier Rosenshine document – a facsimile of a typed paper submitted to a US conference in 1982. (See images above).  The key instructional functions recorded are almost identical.

There is a lot to say about all this but the main point of this post is to share the text:

Instructional Functions

1. Daily Review and Checking Homework
Checking homework (routines for students to check each other’s papers)
Reteaching when necessary
Reviewing relevant past learning (may include questioning) Review prerequisite skills (if applicable)

2. Presentation
Provide short statement of objectives
Provide overview and structuring
Proceed in small steps but at a rapid pace
Intersperse questions within the demonstration to check for understanding
Highlight main points
Provide sufficient illustrations and concrete examples Provide demonstrations and models When necessary, give detailed and redundant instructions and examples

3. Guided Practice
Initial student practice takes place with teacher guidance
High frequency of questions and overt student practice (from teacher and/or materials)
Questions are directly relevant to the new content or skill
Teacher checks for understanding (CFU) by evaluating student responses
During CFU teacher gives additional explanation, process feedback, or repeats explanation — where necessary All students have a chance to respond and receive feedback; teacher insures that all students participate Prompts are provided during guided practice (where appropriate)
Initial student practice is sufficient so that students can work independently
Guided practice continues until students are firm
Guided practice is continued (usually) until a success rate of 80% is achieved

4. Correctives and Feedback
Quick, firm, and correct responses can be followed by another question or a short acknowledgment of correctness. (i.e., “That’s right”).
Hesitant correct answers might be followed by process feedback (i.e., “Yes, Linda, that’s right because…”).
Student errors indicate a need for more practice.
Monitor students for systematic errors.
Try to obtain a substantive response to each question.
Corrections can include sustaining feedback (i.e., simplifying the question, giving clues), explaining or reviewing steps, giving process feedback, or reteaching the last steps.  Try to elicit an improved response when the first one is incorrect.
Guided practice and corrections continue until the teacher feels that the group can meet the objectives of the  lesson.
Praise should be used in moderation, and specific praise is more effective than general praise.

5. Independent Practice (Seatwork)Sufficient practice
Practice is directly relevant to skills/content taught Practice to overlearning
Practice until responses are firm, quick, and automatic Ninety-five percent correct rate during independent practice Students alerted that seatwork will be checked
Student held accountable for seatwork
Actively supervise students, when possible

6. Weekly and Monthly Reviews
Systematic review of previously learned material Include review in homework
Frequent tests
Reteaching of material missed in tests

Note: With older, more mature learners, or learners with more knowledge of the subject, the following adjustments can be made: (1) the size of the step in presentation can be larger (more material is presented at one time), (2) there is less time spent on teacher-guided practice and (3) the amount of overt practice can be decreased, replacing it with covert rehearsal, restating and reviewing.

*I’ve kept all original spellings of practice, US-style. 

Interesting Points To Note:

In the 1982 paper, Rosenshine underlines ‘Checks for Understanding’, adopting the acronym CFU.  This is appears to be at the centre of the whole process – something I’d whole-heartedly support in my experience.  For me, it’s always been the core concept in the Principles – I’ve said only recently that CFU is probably the single biggest common area for improvement in the teaching that I see – so I’m happy to see Rosenshine literally underlining it as being important.

Here is an excerpt from Teaching Functions where he explains how not to do CFU:

The wrong way to check for understanding is to ask only a few questions, call on volunteers to hear their (usually correct) answers, and then assume that all of the class either understands or has now learned from hearing the volunteers’ responses. Another error is to ask “are there any questions?”and, if there aren’t any, assume that everybody understands. Another error (particularly with older children) is to assume that it is not necessary to check for understanding, and that simply repeating the points will be sufficient.

Also, in the 1982 paper, at the bottom, there is a superb final line: with older, more mature learners.. (c) the practice involves covert rehearsal, restating, and reviewing (ie deep processing or “whirling”).  I want to see the idea of whirling catch on!

In the text of the 1986 Rosenshine-Stevens paper, they talk about the limitations of the principles:

It would be a mistake to claim that the teaching procedures which have emerged from this research apply to all subjects, and all learners, all the time. Rather, these procedures are most applicable for the “well-structured” (Simon, 1973) parts of any content area, and are least applicable to the “ill-structured” parts of any content area.  

They go on to explain that all subjects have ‘well-structured’ elements – some more than others.  It’s an important bit of nuance in the implementation of Rosenshine’s principles.  Evidently enough, some content needs more teacher-directed instruction, some students need more guided practice, some can absorb information in larger chunks.

There’s a lot more to Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction than could be captured in one article.  The 2012 Article isn’t anything new – far from it. These ideas about what effective Teaching Functions are have a long history.  For me, this adds weight to their validity especially as the original observational research is now backed up by more recent cognitive science: it all comes together as Rosenshine explains on the first page of Principles.  

Thanks to Tim Surma for pointing me toward these fascinating documents.  Having done my PGCE in 1986/87 I just wish someone had shown me them rather sooner.


(Teaching Functions 1986 available from:


  1. Thanks Tom. Look forward to your book CFU is such a useful acronym. You’re right that is often where the gap lies in lessons. Too often teachers assume that ALL pupils understand, when they don’t and they allow the more dominant pupils in the classroom to be the spokespeople for everyone.

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