Applying Rosenshine’s Principles to specific contexts.

As a consequence of writing a book and various blog posts about Rosenshine’s Principles of instruction and using them a lot in my training, I often get asked whether the principles apply in various other specific contexts – or how to interpret them. Generally my response is two-fold:

  • To stress that Rosenshine’s principles are not – and were never intended to be – a universal description of all aspects of teaching; they apply to those parts of teaching where teachers are leading the learning, in an instructional mode. Most teachers have to do this at some point, to some degree, even if it doesn’t dominate.
  • To suggest that the core ideas in Rosenshine’s principles are very widely applicable, whatever the context, whenever instructional teaching is involved. In fact, to use the four strands I normally use to summarise the principles, it’s hard to imagine teaching without doing these things:
    • Reviewing material – checking prior learning has been activated where it relates to new learning and supporting students to remember what they’ve been taught over time.
    • Questioning and checking for understanding – finding out whether all students are making sense of the ideas being explored and adapting the teaching accordingly.
    • Sequencing concepts; modelling; scaffolding – building up learning from small steps, showing how to do things, providing structured support
    • Stages of practice: guiding practice securing a high success rate, building fluency and confidence, before supporting students to practise independently – making sure they can do things for themselves without help.

So – as far as I can see – the question isn’t ‘Do they apply?’ – it’s just a question of how to apply them. How do these principles apply to SEND students? How do they apply in creative subjects, the arts? How do they apply to remote learning? How do they apply in the early years and foundation stage?

It would be a productive process for a team to explore how consistently and effectively these principles are applied in relation to these contexts, identifying the form they might take when woven into the routine fabric of their teaching. For remote learning it might go something like this:

Remote Learning

Reviewing material: Daily and weekly/monthly review
It’s helpful to start live lessons or new remote assignments by activating prior knowledge linked to the topic in hand. This also supports engagement – giving something to do that builds confidence: some simple practice questions that makes students recall and use what they’ve done before. Lots of quizzing apps can support this or the use of forms for quick response questions can do the same job.

It’s helpful to run regular knowledge checks spanning the last one or two weeks linked to the key material students should have learned. If students have clear guidance about what they should have studied through the tasks set – e.g. knowledge organisers and booklets – then they can prepare for these checks independently offline using retrieval practice methods modelled during lessons.
Questioning and checking for understanding
Cold Calling: bedrock of good classroom practice, making sure all students feel involved; making them all think. In live remote lessons, it’s more important than ever. It’s vital to use the opportunity to ask specific students to respond, using the chat function if not via the audio, not just relying on a few volunteers. Again, forms or shared documents or whiteboard apps can support this process, allowing all students’ responses to be seen.

Checking for understanding: essential for remote learning to work well, making sure students can tell you what they’ve understood about the concepts and about the assignments. The blanket ‘is everyone ok?‘ is a waste of time. Ask a sample of individuals: Michael, Aysha – what do you think I’m expecting you to do today?
Sequencing concepts; modelling; scaffolding
Explaining new content via live lessons or pre-recorded videos, make the steps small enough for students to follow and practise. Videos can help in that they allow for pause and replay – it can be worth being very explicit about this in the delivery, highlighting when students should pause or review.
If you give students too much at once without a lot of structure, they will be overwhelmed – needs to be avoided at all costs.

Modelling completed tasks will help a lot. For live lessons or videos, the use of complete and partially complete examples will be useful, just like it is in normal lessons. For off line tasks, still show lots of worked examples and exemplars. Where possible, show students what it will look like when a task is finished

Scaffolding: the same role as in normal lessons; need to decide who needs what kind of support. Prepare some more structured guidance for those who might need it.
Stages of practice: Guided practice and Independent practice
As students will be offline outside a live teaching situation for much of the time, planning their practice is important. Guiding practice can only really happen with live or shared documents. This video shows how google slides or equivalent can be used to guide practice in writing tasks .

Building confidence by giving students lots of practice with familiar material will help – so they feel they can do the work. It won’t be good for them to see remote learning as a constant struggle. Vary the nature of the practice with the same ideas – rather than constantly adding more and more, in any given week.

Independent practice will be dependent on students’ capacity for it – of course younger students may rely heavily on parental supervision for this. A list of short tasks to be completed will help: questions to answers; pieces of writing; texts to read; videos to watch; quizzes to prep for. The more structured the better. Make tasks short enough so that you can give feedback on them easily or students can self-assess, rather than collecting in lots of very long assignments that need a lot of teacher marking


There are so many SEND scenarios that it can be a mistake to generalise too much. The nature of the features of instructional teaching will vary according to the particular needs students have and whether they are in mainstream or specialist provision. Rather than providing a generic description, to illustrate the thinking, I have a scenario in mind where I feel all these principles took form.

This was a situation in an FE college where a SEND student in a skills and employability class was being taught how to use money and make transactions over the counter. I saw him buy his own lunch for the very first time – and this represented something of a major triumph. On completing the task his tutors and classmates were hugging and hi-fiving him. It was emotional. He was triumphant. I did it! I did it! This was a big deal. But how did Jason get there?

Reviewing material: Daily and weekly/monthly review
Over time, Jason had had to build up his knowledge of using money; making the bonds in pounds and pence to £1 and £10. He had had to learn the right form of language to ask politely for what he wanted. All of this would have needed practice; he’d have forgotten how to do it lots of times so reviewing prior learning regularly would have been important, so he remembered it more easily and built up some fluency.
Questioning and checking for understanding
During his lessons – long before getting to the performance stage in the actual canteen – Jason would have been taught how to add money in coins to make the correct amount and how to check his change. His teacher would have checked he understood what to do. This might have been by demonstrating it as well as explaining it verbally. Jason had learned to express himself verbally with more confidence during the course; answering questions would have been part of that.
Sequencing concepts; modelling; scaffolding
The whole process took Jason some time. If you write it all out, buying your lunch and counting out the right money has several stages. This was something aged 16 that Jason could only just manage – so you can imagine how much help he’d needed to reach this point; it was broken down into small steps with lots of modelling and scaffolding. The scaffolds were about the maths operations, handling coins and engaging in the interpersonal bit; making eye contact and talking to the person at the till. His tutor has been with him every other time before this. Scaffolding takes many forms – including moral support.
Stages of practice: Guided practice and Independent practice
Finally, this process models the practice stages perfectly. Jason had learned to buy his lunch with help. He’d done it before -making mistakes or needing someone with him until this moment. He had also done a lot of practice handling money – over and over. He wasn’t yet fluent but the tutor decided he was ready for the scaffolds to begin to come down and Jason was asked to practise the whole thing independently. He may not have done it perfectly the first time; the tutor was on hand. But he persevered and on this occasion the tutor kept a distance and he had aced it. That moment of flying solo into the canteen took some courage from him and his tutor.

Obviously that is just one situation – but to me the key elements of effective instruction all apply. It’s all about making the adjustments, guiding the practice long enough to build confidence to engage in some independent practice, using the knowledge that has built up in small steps, remembered from week to week with review and checking for understanding.

For Arts subjects and EYFS – which I might look at in detail in another post – the same exact thought process applies. It’s obvious that all four boxes can be filled; each section of the principles has a place in those contexts. The nature of ‘reviewing material’ or ‘scaffolding or ‘guided practice’ will change but they will be there in amongst the other areas of the teaching and learning process. That’s a key stumbling block for a lot of people – they imagine (or are perhaps led to believe) that Rosenshine’s principles provide a cover-all description for any situation which simply isn’t the case. However, it’s very instructive to look at where they arise and to discuss how they can be delivered effectively.

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