Having published the little red and black booklet, Rosenshine’s Principles in Action, I now get asked to talk about it a lot. I also get asked a lot of the same questions. Here’s a sample of 10 FAQs.
1. Do the principles all apply to every lesson?
No. It’s really important not to think of the Principles as some kind of lesson plan. Different lessons in a learning sequence will require a different focus: some might have more explanatory modelling; more questioning or more independent practice. You might have whole lessons of practice and whole lessons of teacher modelling and questioning. You might not literally do ‘daily review’ every day. However, over a series of lessons that relate to a secure sequence, you might expect all elements of the Principles to feature in some form.
2. Do the principles apply to every subject?
Yes, to varying degrees. I can’t think of a subject where ideas about review, modelling, questioning, sequencing concepts and practice don’t apply. The Principles will be more directly relevant to the parts of a curriculum where the learning relies on teacher modelling; when there is a specific knowledge base that is best delivered by teacher instruction; where learners are more definitely novices relative to the teacher. Where there is more emphasis on collaborative learning, open-ended project work, devising, making and so on, then instructional teaching will be less of a focus. Arguably all these things are forms of practice so it depends on how you want to define things.
3. What’s the difference between daily review and weekly/monthly review?
The main difference is the purpose. Daily review is a process for activating prior learning in readiness to build on it during the lesson. You set a question or task that makes all of your students think about ideas they’ve encountered before, related to today’s lesson, so that they can start to make new links; to continue to build their schema. Weekly and monthly review are processes for ensuring that we are spacing practice over time, attenuating forgetting and strengthening retrieval. At the same time, by looking back, we’ll be making links between areas of learning, deepening students’ understanding. It’s likely that monthly review will span a wider content range than daily review, so that the learning is more synoptic and avoids the ‘cue’ effect. (If we ‘cue’ the review too much, signposting the solution type, we remove an important aspect of thinking and problem solving – ‘what do I need to do here?’)
However, the tasks and techniques you use for any review process might be the same – there’s a whole repertoire of retrieval practice techniques teachers might use including these: 10 Techniques for Retrieval Practice
4. What does the 80% success rate refer to?
My reading of this is that Rosenshine is talking about the overall success of all students getting answers right in a lesson. This means it’s an approximate average of all students’ success. It definitely does not mean that 80% of students understand an idea. It means that, on average, all students are getting 80% right – albeit with variation. He contrasts it with a study where ‘only’ 73% success was observed, suggesting even this was less effective. Personally, I’m dubious about the precision here. 80% is a nominal indicator or ‘high success rate’ suggesting that it’s important for students to practise getting things right in order to build confidence and fluency, versus emphasising ‘struggle time’. At the same time, it’s not 95% success – which would suggest the challenge level is too easy. It’s best not to get hung up on the number!
5. What about supporting students with learning needs or lower confidence?
Teachers worry about questioning, reviewing and checking for understanding put undue pressure on less confident students. My response is that, if you know your class well and create a positive ‘high challenge, low threat’ culture (to borrow from Mary Myatt), then all of these things build confidence. It can be useful to use pair discussion to allow students space to rehearse their thinking before volunteering public answers; sometimes you can question some individuals while circulating during a practice phase. However, if you pitch the material right, you should be providing underconfident students with opportunities to practise that make them feel successful and therefore gain confidence. Also, sequencing concepts, modelling and scaffolding should allow all students to gain access to the ideas in hand and make steps towards understanding and fluency.
6. What about stretching high attainers?
Here, as Rosenshine says, the more confident your learners are, the greater their prior knowledge, then the more you can afford to present material in bigger chunks; the less you need scaffolding and the more quickly you can move into the independent practice phase. If you use the 80% success-rate as a guide, if students are approaching 100%, you need to adjust to push them on to harder questions and challenges. Instructional teaching is explicitly responsive – you adapt according the level of understanding and fluency students achieve.
7. Where do relationships come into it?
I find it odd that people ask this, as if Rosenshine’s principles claim to be a universal guide to all things related to education. However, it doesn’t mean relationships are absent even if not listed and addressed explicitly. It’s implicit that the principles are being deployed in a positive environment conducive to learning. Also, embedded in the principles of questioning and checking for understanding with plenty of ‘process questions’, is the idea you are getting to know your students; you learn about what they know and how they think in order to decide whether you need to re-teach, give corrective feedback and so on. There’s something about really caring about your students that suggests you’re interested in what they have to say and where they have gaps in their understanding.
8. Why focus on Rosenshine and not Formative Assessment?
This is a good question. As I’ve outlined in this post about the five Wiliam/Thompson strategies Revisiting Dylan Wiliam’s Five Brilliant Formative Assessment Strategies. there is a strong link from each of these ideas to other ideas from cognitive science and other areas of research. I think a great deal of what many people still call ‘AfL’ overlaps with Rosenshine’s principles: daily/weekly/monthly review, questioning, checking for understanding, guided practice (with implicit feedback). However, whereas Wiliam’s work focuses more on the feedback and self-assessment aspect of teaching, Rosenshine gives emphasis to modelling and scaffolding – the explanatory side. Arguably this is all wrapped into what Wiliam calls ‘clarifying learning intentions’ including developing success criteria.
So, it’s better not to set up a choice between them. Taken together, the ‘Rosenshine ten’ plus the ‘Wiliam five’ make a great framework.
9. What’s the issue with it being a checklist?
I am asked this a lot. The problem with it being a checklist is that, in unsophisticated hands, it becomes a list of ‘non-negotiables’ to be done in every lesson. As I explore above, this isn’t appropriate. Worse still, it can be turned into a reductive ticklist of things to be completed, rather than a set of processes that flow through a learning sequence. However, there is value in using a list of Rosenshine’s principles as a self-evaluation tool and possibly a team-audit tool: which of these principles do we use regularly? Where could we gain the most by developing our practice? Where in our lessons do students get independent practice? Do we all check for understanding in sufficient depth and responsively adapt our teaching accordingly.
Like anything, it’s what you do with it that matters. I have a horror of SLTs that have already morphed this into a set of rules – expectations for every lesson, even to the point of them representing a linear sequence to form a lesson plan. That’s just a failure of understanding.
10. What’s the best way to run CPD on Rosenshine?
I think this has several elements and stages:
- Read the original paper, all at once or bit by bit.
- Clarify understanding of the principles: meanings of terms and processes, linking to a conceptual model for learning – supported by resources such as the diagram above.
- Discuss how they apply in the context of each subject area – they need to make sense in the context of the material the instruction relates to.
- Model the techniques: get volunteers to show how the principles are enacted in lessons, bringing them alive, inviting questions and challenges, exploring potential obstacles.
- Agree a focus on small number of the principles – perhaps one of the four strands I explore – with individuals committing to develop and practise them in a specific series of lessons.
- Review the experience of practising using the ideas that were discussed, exploring successes, refinements, next steps.