Applying Rosenshine to primary practice

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In 2012, Barack Rosenshine published the Principles of Instruction: a set of 10 research-based principles of instruction, along with suggestions for classroom practice. The principles come from three sources: (a) research in cognitive science, (b) research on master teachers, and (c) research on cognitive supports.

Principle 1: Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning: Daily review can strengthen previous learning and can lead to fluent recall.

Principle 2. Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step. Only present small amounts of new material at any time, and then assist students as they practice this material.

Principle 3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students: Questions help students practice new information and connect new material to their prior learning.

Principle 4. Provide models: Providing students with models and worked examples can help them learn to solve problems faster.

Principle 5. Guide student practice: Successful teachers spend more time guiding students’ practice of new material.

Principle 6. Check for student understanding: Checking for student understanding at each point can help students learn the material with fewer errors.

Principle 7. Obtain a high success rate: It is important for students to achieve a high success rate during classroom instruction.

Principle 8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks: The teacher provides students with
temporary supports and scaffolds to assist them when they learn difficult tasks.

Principle 9. Require and monitor independent practice: Students need extensive, successful, independent practice in order for skills and knowledge to become automatic.

Principle 10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review: Students need to be involved in extensive practice in order to develop well-connected and automatic knowledge.

On this page, we have gathered a collection of guides for how the principles might be applied to primary practice. The guides have been written by Gemma Goldenberg, Research and Learning Specialist, Chartered College of Teaching.

This content was originally produced as part of the Accelerate programme, a Department for Education-funded early career teacher programme designed and delivered by Education Development Trust with the Chartered College of Teaching. It is used here with kind permission of Education Development Trust.

Principle 1: Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning: Daily review can strengthen previous learning and can lead to fluent recall.

According to Rosenshine’s Principles of instruction (2012), beginning each lesson with a short review of previous learning is a key strategy in enabling students to recall learning, make connections and free up capacity in working memory by developing automaticity.

But what would a review of learning look like in practice in a Primary classroom? 

Rosenshine suggests that review activities should take 5-8 minutes. In Primary this may involve quick-fire recall of known times table facts, topic-specific vocabulary or spellings, which have been taught in recent days or weeks, before moving onto learning new ones. This can be done with flashcards or through a game-based approach. 

Repetition

Frequent repetition of known facts will increase speed and fluency, eventually enabling pupils to recall this knowledge automatically. It may also enable children to make connections with the new learning for that day, strengthening their understanding. For example, when teaching how to find fractions of a number of objects, you may want to begin with a quick review of known times table facts and associated division facts. This review could be done using a song, such as the times table raps available on YouTube, or those produced by Times Tables Rockstars. 

Quizzes

Alternatively, review can take place through a quick-fire pop quiz or game such as those found on Topmarks. As well as providing an opportunity to strengthen recall of multiplication and division (therefore consolidating previous learning), useful connections can also be made with new learning, for example, knowing automatically that 8 x 7 = 56 and therefore 56 ÷8 = 7, will help students when they come to work out what ⅛  of 56 would be.

Review 

Review activities can also include brainstorming and listing, class or small group games and speaking and listening activities, such as asking pupils to move around the room, telling each pupil they meet one word, fact or concept from the previously learnt material. In this way, pupils can collate a large bank of ideas by listening to the memories of others. To give more ownership to pupils in quiz activities, at the end of one lesson pupils could devise quiz questions based on the material learnt, to use in the review during the following lesson.

Daily review can also consist of a class conversation about previously learnt concepts and information. Consider using discussion points such as, ‘What was the main thing we learnt in our grammar lesson yesterday?’ or, ‘Who can tell their talk partner three things they remember about the story we read last lesson?’. You could also simply ask pupils to turn back in their books and look at the learning they recorded in the last lesson, perhaps summarising it verbally with a peer or through a brief written reflection using sentence starters such as, ‘The main thing I learnt in yesterday’s lesson was…. An example of this is…. Something I found challenging was….’. This will result in students recalling key learning as well as the vocabulary used. 

Example work

Visualisers can be used to look at an example of one person’s learning and discuss it as a whole class, alternatively photocopy and enlarge relevant pieces of work and ask pupils to discuss them in groups. Where lessons didn’t involve written recording, visual aids such as props or equipment from the previous lesson, or photographs or short video clips of previous learning, could provide a helpful scaffold and visual stimulus for a review discussion. 

The use of working walls in classrooms can further support these daily review conversations. If key vocabulary, concepts and facts from a lesson or unit are summarised and scribed on a working wall, this provides a visual prompt for the next day’s review of learning. Children should be encouraged to take increasing responsibility for creating the working wall themselves. 

For example, in a Year 5 science unit on ‘living things and their habitats’, pupils are expected to describe the differences in the life cycle of a bird, insect, mammal and amphibian. This unit could begin with a review of each animal class and its key features, for example, mammals give birth to live young, are warm blooded and have fur or hair. These key facts could be listed as bullet points on the working wall, which can be referred to in future lessons. Once one type of life cycle has been studied, a small group could be asked to provide a sketch of the life cycle to add to the working wall. In the next lesson, this sketch can be used as the stimulus for the review activity. The life cycle previously taught could be photocopied and cut up for pairs to sequence, or the sketch could be used as a prompt enabling groups to act out or re-tell the lifecycle orally. This review can then provide the foundations for moving onto a contrasting life cycle and draw comparisons and differences across the two types.

Finally, Rosenshine also advocates reviewing material with errors as an alternative way of reviewing previous learning. This may involve talking through previously set homework and any difficulties faced, addressing common misconceptions.  Allowing time at the start of a lesson for pupils to respond to marking feedback would also be an effective way of achieving this. Students could spend the first part of each lesson making corrections based on teacher’s marking, or responding to next steps. 

Many daily review activities are simple to incorporate into lessons as they require minimal planning and resourcing. However, getting into the routine of framing all new learning within the context of what has been previously learnt, and enabling frequent opportunities for recall and over-learning has been shown to be highly effective in raising achievement.

 

References

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 17 November 2020).

Further reading

LaBerge D and Samuels SJ (1974) Toward a theory of automatic information processing in reading. Cognitive psychology 6(2): 293–323.

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/blog/principles-of-instruction

Briones J (2016) The Importance Of Reviewing What You Learned and How To Review. Available at: https://www.johnnybriones.com/blog/the-importance-of-reviewing-what-you-learned-and-how-to-review (accessed 17 November 2020).

Wrobleski S (2012) Top 12 Ways to Rev Up Classroom Review Strategies. Available at:http://www.teachhub.com/top-12-ways-rev-classroom-review-strategies (accessed 17 November 2020).

Further guidance on using working walls: https://www.tes.com/news/six-steps-better-working-walls-primary-maths

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/themissi/working-walls/

Principle 2. Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step. Only present small amounts of new material at any time, and then assist students as they practice this material.

In Rosenshine’s Principles of instruction (2012), it is recommended that teachers present any new material to pupils in small steps, avoiding overloading them with too much new information to process.

This recommendation is based on cognitive load theory (Sweller 1988), which asserts that after new ideas and information have been encoded, they are held temporarily in our working memory before being able to reach long-term memory. Working memory is what we have conscious awareness of at a given moment, it is like a mental post-it note that keeps track of short-term information, holding on to it for long enough for us to use it.  However, working memory has a limited capacity and can only process a certain number of elements at any one time. Overloading working memory can slow down the learning process and lead to errors and confusion, including pupils struggling to retain and follow instructions.

Therefore, when introducing something new, teachers should break down the subject content and introduce it step by step, allowing time between each step for checking understanding and practising the new skill or information. Rosenshine recommends that the next step is only introduced once the first one has been mastered.

Let’s see how this would look in a worked example. When teaching an English lesson on the correct way to punctuate direct speech, there are several ‘rules’ that need to be taught. These include using speech marks at the start and end of each person’s dialogue, beginning speech with a capital letter, starting a new line for each new speaker, and choosing the correct punctuation to end each section of speech (e.g. a comma if the person is going to continue speaking). Teachers may also wish to discuss reporting clauses and alternative words to use instead of ‘said’. 

It may be tempting to introduce and model all of these rules during a lesson introduction, then set pupils the task to write and correctly punctuate a conversation – perhaps creating some success criteria to help pupils follow the rules correctly. However, this will be too much information to be covered at one time if pupils are new to writing and punctuating direct speech.

Therefore, teachers should choose one aspect to first introduce and model. For example, pupils could begin by learning about speech marks and where to position them. The teacher could show examples of speech marks in a familiar text, pointing out their position. They could model adding missing speech marks to an existing text, clearly explaining where they should go and why, before asking pupils to do the same activity. Pupils could first add speech marks to the same section of text as the teacher, then move onto unseen sections of dialogue. Once the teacher is confident that pupils have mastered this aspect, they could then move onto ensuring speech begins with a capital letter. Pupils should edit existing texts for this rule only. 

Once both the position of speech marks and the inclusion of capital letters have been mastered, pupils may be ready to proofread sections of speech to add both speech marks and capital letters. They could then be asked to write their own section of direct speech, ensuring both rules are applied. Pairs could check one another’s work and the teacher should check everyone has understood, drawing out any common misconceptions and re-teaching as needed. Only once this has been mastered should the teacher move onto teaching the next ‘rule’, such as starting a new line for a new speaker. One again, this would be modelled first, then practised on an existing text, before being applied to one’s own writing. 

Thus the process of writing and punctuating direct speech is taught cumulatively, with pupils having the opportunity to learn each step in isolation before being expected to combine it with the other steps taught and apply it to their own writing. Using familiar texts before unseen ones will help scaffold the process. Depending on the age and attainment of the pupils, this process may take place within one lesson or a series of lessons.

Instruction and modelling should always be followed by checking pupil understanding at each stage. In addition, allowing adequate time for rehearsal and consolidation, and re-teaching where necessary, ensures that the information/new learning from one step is secure before tackling the next step. This frees up capacity in working memory.

The recommendation to present new learning in small steps can be applied to any context or subject area. Some further examples of accounting for cognitive load when teaching includes:

  • Only using word problems in maths when pupils are already familiar with the mathematical facts and operations within the problem 
  • Not asking pupils to generate their own creative writing at the same time as applying a new skill within that writing, e.g. a grammar rule or new type of punctuation
  • Mastering a skill in PE, such as a particular pass, within training activities before applying it within a game or match. The same can be said for mastering a move in gymnastics before being expected to incorporate it into a routine or sequence
  • Learning about what a continent is and being secure in defining a continent and naming all seven  before moving onto learning about individual countries within those continents 
  • When using slides to present information from any subject, ensuring that they are clean and simple and do not contain a lot of irrelevant images or fancy fonts and colours which may increase cognitive load and distract from the information you want pupils to process. 

References

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 17 November 2020).

Sweller J (1998) Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science (12): 257–285.

Further reading

The Principles of Instruction:

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/blog/principles-of-instruction 

Cognitive Load Theory:

Shibi D and West R (2018) Cognitive Load Theory and its application in the classroom. Impact 2: 18–20. Available at: https://impact.chartered.college/article/shibli-cognitive-load-theory-classroom/ (accessed 17 November 2020).

Morin A (unknown) 5 Ways Kids Use Working Memory to Learn. Available at: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/5-ways-kids-use-working-memory-to-learn  (accessed 17 November 2020).

Principle 3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students: Questions help students practice new information and connect new material to their prior learning.

In his Principles of instruction (2012), Rosenshine recommends that teachers ask a large amount of questions during lessons. In order to be most effective, these questions should have a particular purpose – to provide opportunities for pupils to practise new information and connect it to their prior learning.

Questioning is a valuable method for assessing how well pupils have understood new information. Therefore process questions are key – asking pupils to articulate how they came to an answer and the method or reasoning they used. Research has shown that students achieve higher scores when their teachers are trained to increase the volume of both factual and process questions asked after introducing new material. 

It is also important to gain responses from as many students as possible, so that the teacher can accurately assess whether the majority of pupils have understood the information taught or whether re-teaching needs to take place.

As an example of how this might look in practice in a Primary classroom, let’s imagine a Year 4 maths lesson and the first in a sequence of lessons about rounding numbers. To begin with, the teacher asks pupils to discuss with a talk partner for two minutes about anything they already know or remember about rounding numbers. This enables all pupils to respond and connect to prior learning and the teacher can circulate, listening in to assess prior knowledge.

A list of cities and how far they are in kilometers from the school’s location is then displayed. The teacher points to a particular city on the list which is 1,340 kilometers away and says, ‘I would say that this city is about 1,000 kilometers from here, but Mrs P next door says it’s more like 2,000 kilometers from here. Who do you think has made a better estimate?’. Pupils are asked to put their hands on their heads if they agree with the class teacher or put their hands in the air if they agree with Mrs P. This allows all children to respond and for the teacher to assess the understanding of the whole class.

A demonstration then follows where the teacher explains and models using a number line, that 1,340 lies between 1,000 and 2,000 and how to decide which multiples of 1,000 the number 1,340 is closer to. The key vocabulary is introduced and the teacher demonstrates saying ‘rounded to the nearest 1000’. 

Then a similar question is posed, using a different city. This time the city is 2,504 kilometers away, pupils are asked to write on a mini whiteboard the multiples of 1,000 that sit either side of that number on a number line. They are then asked to hold up their boards and to circle which of those numbers is closer to 2,504. Children are given time to think and then asked to either call out the answer in unison, or hold up their whiteboards. 

So far, all pupils have been able to respond to all questions asked by the teacher, therefore the teacher will have a good idea of whether the class has grasped the strategy or need another demonstration using a different city, and can adapt the lesson accordingly, providing as much modelling and demonstration as needed. 

Process questions follow: “How did you decide which multiples of 1000 were either side of this number? What strategy did you use to decide which number was closer? How do you know? Does anyone disagree? How can we decide who is correct? What can we use to help us if we get stuck?” Talk partners or small group talk is utilised to allow all pupils to engage with these questions. The teacher uses the responses from these questions to facilitate a class discussion which draws out the key strategies for rounding to the nearest 1000 and addresses any misconceptions. Throughout the class discussion pupils can be asked to raise hands to use another signal to show whether they agree or disagree with other pupils’ responses.

A city is then chosen which is 2500km away, pupils are asked to discuss with a partner – “What makes this one tricky?” The teacher explains the method of rounding up when a number is exactly halfway between 2 numbers and then poses a similar question to check pupil understanding. Pupils are asked to choose between 2 options, e.g. ‘If I want to round 3500 to the nearest 1000, which of these numbers should I choose?’ 3000 is written on one side of the board and 4000 is written on the other. Pupils point to the answer they think is correct and then explain how they know to a partner. 

If the teacher’s formative assessment shows the pupils are ready, questions could then be rephrased  e.g. ‘Look at the list of cities, can you find 3 cities that are 4000km away if the distances are rounded to the nearest 1000?’ Finally pupils are asked to use the list of cities and distances to create their own question about rounding, scribe it onto their whiteboard, and ask it to a partner. After this introduction, pupils should be ready to work independently, answering a range of questions about rounding to the nearest 1000.

The Principles of instruction document already outlines several strategies for engaging whole classes in responding to questions, as well as a list of question stems to use during teaching. However, another strategy that could be considered is the use of student/classroom response systems. 

There are now many ways to use technology to ask questions and gain responses from all individuals in a class, in real time. Examples of such systems (sometimes referred to as ‘clickers’) include Google classroom, Kahoot, Quizalize and Socrative. These systems enable teachers to pose questions and for pupils to respond electronically. The teacher can view all responses and choose to keep these anonymous or display them for discussion. 

This type of software makes gaining a whole class’ worth of individual responses practically possible and relatively quick and easy. However, there can be a tendency to use such software for closed questions or multiple choice rather than the process style questions Rosenshine advocates. Therefore when creating questions it is important to consider how their wording can enable pupils to articulate strategies and show conceptual understanding as well as simple recall.

Further reading 

Student/classroom response systems

Caldwell JE (2007) Clickers in the large classroom: Current research and best-practice tips. CBE—Life Sciences Education. 6(1): 9-20.

Kenwright K (2009) Clickers in the classroom. TechTrends. 53(1): 74-77.

Guide to using classroom response systems in teaching: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/clickers/

Effective questioning in the classroom

http://www.nsead.org/downloads/Effective_Questioning&Talk.pdf

https://www.tes.com/new-teachers/five-steps-effective-questioning

Principle 4. Provide models: Providing students with models and worked examples can help them learn to solve problems faster.

The 4th principle of instruction listed by Rosenshine (2012) is the use of modelling. Rosenshine advocates the use of models during teaching in order to provide cognitive support when pupils are solving problems. Both worked examples and teacher ‘thinking out loud’ are also included in his conception of modelling. Worked examples are step-by-step demonstrations of how to solve a problem or carry out a task. These strategies reduce cognitive load for pupils by allowing them to focus on the individual steps required to get to an answer.

Research has shown it to be effective in maths and science lessons when pupils study worked examples as well as completing questions independently, some teachers interleaved examples with questions which led to successful learning of problem solving strategies. Giving pupils partially completed worked examples and asking them to complete the missing steps is one way of encouraging the effective use of worked examples to focus on particular steps in a process.

Rosenshine suggests that teachers follow a sequence such as:

  • Provide prompts
  • model the use of prompts
  • guided practice
  • supervised independent practice.

This can be applied to many different subjects and activities. In Principles of Instruction (2012) Rosenshine demonstrates how this structure could be followed when teaching reading comprehension. Below, I will provide an example of how this could be applied to a Geography lesson where students are expected to learn each stage of the water cycle.

    1. Provide prompts: The teacher could show the class a video clip that explains each stage of the water cycle. They could then show the class a series of cards, each one with an image and a word representing each stage of the cycle.
    2. Model the use of prompts: The teacher demonstrates how to sequence the cards to show each stage of the water cycle in order. During this modelling, the teacher thinks out loud to demonstrate their thinking and reasoning process, for example, ‘I’m going to place the cards in a circle rather than a list as I know the water cycle is continuous and goes round and round. Hmm, I’m not sure what comes next after evaporation, is it precipitation or condensation? Well I know precipitation is when the rain falls down to the ground, so it can’t be that as the water vapour in the air, hasn’t changed to liquid water yet, so it must be my ‘condensation’ card that goes next.’
    3. Guided practice: Pupils work in pairs to sequence the set of cards into the correct order and talk through the water cycle. The teacher circulates, providing support as needed. The teacher then collects the cards and displays a worked example on the board, where someone has created a diagram of the water cycle with a picture and explanation of each stage, but one stage of the cycle is missing. The teacher asks the students which step is missing and what they would draw or write to go into that gap. To support pupils, the teacher can gradually fade the scaffolding provided each time. Using this technique, a series of worked examples are provided, each one has more steps/information missing than the last, so with each example the pupils are completing more of the information themselves, gradually getting closer each time to independently creating their own complete water cycle diagram.
    4. Supervised independent practice: The pupils are asked to create their own diagram that explains each stage of the water cycle. The teacher is available to monitor the pupil’s understanding and provide prompts as needed.

Further reading on Rosenshine’s principles of instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf  (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Further reading on the use of worked examples

Atkinson RK, Derry SJ, Renkl A et al. (2000) Learning from examples: Instructional principles from the worked examples research. Review of educational research. 70(2): pp.181–214.

Schwonke R, Renkl A, Krieg C et al. (2009) The worked-example effect: Not an artefact of lousy control conditions. Computers in Human Behavior. 25(2): 258–266.

Sweller J (2006) The worked example effect and human cognition. Learning and instruction. 16(2): 165–169.

A maths teacher’s summary of research papers linked to worked examples: http://mrbartonmaths.com/teachers/research/worked.html

A science teacher’s blog about using worked examples: http://kellymorganscience.com/teaching-with-worked-examples-save-learner-time-and-effort-while-increasing-performance/

Principle 5. Guide student practice: Successful teachers spend more time guiding students’ practice of new material.

Rosenshine (2012) stresses the importance of giving pupils adequate time to practice new information. This practice involves the rephrasing, elaborating and summarising of new learning, in order to help it be stored and retrieved easily from long-term memory. 

Research has shown that more successful teachers spend more time on guided practice: helping students become familiar with new material by questioning them, asking them to summarise their learning, addressing errors and misconceptions, providing examples and supervising them as they practice. Lesson introductions/presentations which were too short and quickly followed by independent work, led to pupils making more errors and having a less secure grasp of the material taught. Lessons where teachers spent more time on guided practice were shown to have students who were both more successful and more engaged when they began independent work.

What might this guided practice look like in a Primary classroom? The example below describes how it could be used when teaching figurative language.

In a less successful lesson on using similes and metaphors, a teacher might draw the student’s attention to these features within a text the class are studying. The teacher would give a definition for a simile and a metaphor and explain the difference between them. The remainder of the lesson would be for pupils to complete an independent task – writing their own similes and metaphors to describe certain objects, places or people.

According to Rosenshine, a lesson following the structure above has not given adequate time for guided practice, and students are therefore more likely to make errors and are less likely to remember the learning in future lessons. An alternative structure for the lesson, which provides more opportunities for students to practice the new information and embed it in long term memory, is exemplified below:

As in the initial example, the lesson could begin by looking at a simile and a metaphor in a class text and giving students a definition of each. The teacher would then give a mixture of similes and metaphors and ask students to group them. Throughout this process, the teacher would ask pupils, ‘How do you know that one is a simile?, Who agrees/disagrees/why?, Why can this one not be a metaphor?’. The teacher would then ask the pupils to work in pairs to discuss and then write their own definitions of a simile and a metaphor. These would be discussed as a class and used to shared-write a succinct class definition for each. 

Following this, the teacher could model writing a simile and a metaphor, asking for input from students. Students could then move onto writing their own example of a simile and a metaphor, independently or in pairs, the teacher would circulate during this task offering support as needed. Once students had been given time to write one of each, they would be asked to use their definition to check whether they had done this successfully. Students would then be asked to read one of their examples aloud, with the rest of the class voting on whether they thought it was a simile or a metaphor and justifying why. After this final check of understanding, pupils could continue to write some more examples or find examples in the text and categorise them. The end of the lesson would consist of the students verbally summarising what they had learnt about similes and metaphors in this lesson or writing a written reflection or exit ticket summarising the important learning they will ‘take away’ from the lesson.

The opportunities within this lesson to re-phrase and summarise the key features of similes and metaphors will help embed this information in students’ long-term memory. Students have had to process and rehearse the information several times, making it easier to recall in future.

Further reading on Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf  (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Principle 6. Check for student understanding: Checking for student understanding at each point can help students learn the material with fewer errors.

Regular checks for pupil understanding help to address misconceptions and also provide the processing needed to enable information to transfer into students’ long-term memory, according to Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012). 

When students are asked questions to clarify their understanding, are asked to summarise information or asked to repeat instructions and procedures using their own words – this information is reconstructed in their minds, making connections to existing information in long-term memory, which helps to strengthen and consolidate the learning. 

Asking pupils to think out loud or say whether they agree or disagree with another pupil’s response and justify their answer are also ways of checking understanding. More successful teachers have been shown to carry out these checks more frequently during lessons.

Imagine a History lesson about changes in Britain from the Stone age to the Iron age. Pupils have previously learnt about some features of the Stone age – the types of homes people lived in, how food was obtained and prepared and the tools people used.  In this lesson, they are moving onto looking at the Bronze age, which is a new topic and so will involve learning a lot of new information. The outcome for the lesson will be for students to create a fact file which summarises the key features of the Bronze age and how it differed from the Stone age.

The class look together at some information about the Bronze age on a website and also watch a short video. Rather than just presenting this information and then asking the students to use it to create their factfile, the teacher ensures regular checks of understanding take place so that when pupils move onto their independent work, they are secure in the key knowledge they will be expected to use for the task.

Therefore, throughout this presentation of new information, the teacher stops regularly to check understanding and address any misconceptions. e.g after reading out loud the first paragraph of information from the website they ask pupils ‘What is this information telling us about?’ They check pupils understand that they are no longer looking at the Stone age but have moved onto the Bronze age. 

Pupils are then asked to tell a partner the main fact they learnt from the paragraph. The class then read the next few paragraphs of information. The teacher asks pupils to work in pairs and summarise the information into 3 bullet points. They monitor children’s responses to look out for any misconceptions which can be addressed and discussed with the class. The teacher also asks questions to clarify understanding ‘What have we found out so far? Has anyone noticed anything that’s different to the Stone age? What else would you like to find out?’

When watching the video, the same techniques are used. After every couple of minutes of footage the video is paused and students are given the opportunity to summarise or rephrase the information. Pupils are encouraged to make comparisons with the Stone age and justify their responses e.g. ‘What was the main change between these 2 ages? Who agrees/disagrees? Why? Which age would you have rather lived in? What are your reasons?’

The introduction to the lesson concludes with a brief quiz on the key features of the Bronze age, allowing the teacher to identify any pupils who may still be struggling.

When explaining the task to be completed independently, the teacher breaks the instructions down into steps and asks pupils to repeat them to a partner or asks a student to summarise the instructions for the class.

By building in regular checks for understanding in this way, students should be better prepared for independent work and more likely to have transferred the learnt information into long term memory. There are further suggestions for how to check for understanding in the further reading below.

Further Reading

The Principles of Instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at:  https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf  (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Checking for understanding

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/115011/chapters/Why-Check-for-Understanding%C2%A2.aspx

https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/21-ways-to-check-for-student-understanding/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/dipsticks-to-check-for-understanding-todd-finley

http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/how-do-you-know-your-students-are-learning/

https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/27-simple-ways-check-understanding/

Learning and long term memory

https://primarytimery.com/2017/09/16/memory-not-memories-teaching-for-long-term-learning

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/oct/06/what-every-teacher-should-know-about-memory/

Principle 7. Obtain a high success rate: It is important for students to achieve a high success rate during classroom instruction.

Research suggests that 80 per cent is the optimal success rate for student learning; in classrooms where around 80 per cent of questions are answered correctly, this shows that students are learning and understanding the material taught, but are also being adequately challenged.

According to Rosenshine (2012), this high rate of success is most commonly met in classrooms which utilise aforementioned strategies such as teaching in small steps, building in time for guided practice and checking pupil understanding regularly. 

A mastery approach requires that this high success rate is the case for all pupils. Therefore if some pupils have not successfully learnt the material, the next step should not be taught. If pupils are rushed onto a subsequent series of lessons, before mastering the first ones, lower attaining pupils are likely to rehearse and consolidate errors and will fall further behind.

Let’s look at an exemplification of this in maths. Following a mastery approach, lessons should be organised into short units, with each unit being mastered before moving onto the next. Imagine a series of lessons based on working with numbers up to 10,000. 

Pupils begin by counting in hundreds and then move onto counting in thousands, they later move onto using place value to build and partition numbers with thousands, hundreds, tens and ones. 

Imagine that the first lesson is taught on counting on in 100s, and everyone in the class has understood the learning and is able to achieve a success rate of around 80 per cent of the questions asked of them. The following day, the teacher moves onto counting in thousands. However, during this lesson, around ⅓ of the class are showing difficulties and are making errors in around 50 per cent of the questions they attempt. 

In this scenario, the teacher would want to stop mid-way through the lesson and address misconceptions, re-teaching aspects if needed. If by the end of the lesson, there were still children struggling, the class should not move onto place value the following day. Instead, the unit should pause at this stage. 

The lesson on counting in 1000s can be re-taught the next day, with higher attaining pupils working alongside lower attainers, as tutors. Alternatively, the teacher could provide higher attaining pupils with a deepening task which would consolidate and deepen their understanding of counting in 1000s by applying it to a new context or using it in problem solving, the teacher then works alongside the children who are struggling, providing plenty of guided practice to help them learn the new material. 

Further reading

The Principles of Instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Success rate/mastery approach

https://www.ncetm.org.uk/public/files/19990433/Developing_mastery_in_mathematics_october_2014.pdf

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/mastery-learning/

Principle 8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks: The teacher provides students with temporary supports and scaffolds to assist them when they learn difficult tasks.

Scaffolds can be defined as temporary instructional supports which help the student learn new concepts. Scaffolding is a form of guided practice. As the student becomes more confident and independent, scaffolds can be faded over time.

Scaffolds can take many forms, they may consist of writing frames, vocabulary lists, teacher modelling and thinking aloud, checklists or success criteria, concrete or visual resources to aid problem solving in maths or anything else which actively aids the student in new learning. Scaffolding usually restricts the amount of choices a student has to make, which enables them to focus on learning the specific skill or knowledge required.

A key point to remember is that, just as in the building industry, scaffolds are not permanent – they provide temporary support and then are gradually dismantled at the appropriate time. This sets scaffolding apart from setting students in ability groups and then always giving lower attaining pupils simpler tasks or additional supports. Scaffolding that is reduced over time prevents pupils from becoming over reliant and does not place limits on their learning. 

In Rosenshine’s Principles of instruction (2012), it is recommended that teachers always provide scaffolds for difficult tasks. Scaffolds can be used for differentiation by asking all students to complete the same task, but providing additional scaffolding for those who might struggle. Rosenshine describes the process of scaffolding as being like a ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ – students are guided and supported by the teacher as an expert, who coaches them into independence.

One example of how scaffolding might be used is in science, when learning the ‘working scientifically’ skills. These consist of skills such as how to plan different types of scientific enquiries and take accurate measurements and readings. These can be challenging skills to learn and so scaffolds are likely to be necessary throughout a science unit, whilst students become familiar with the process of planning and carrying out their own scientific investigations. 

Initially, the teacher may scaffold by modelling how to set up and carry out an investigation, thinking aloud to demonstrate how she or he makes decisions about the equipment to use and the variables that need to be controlled and doing a step by step demonstration of how the investigation is conducted. Students may subsequently be asked to repeat this same experiment for themselves. An instruction sheet or checklist may scaffold them in this, or they may do it step by step, guided by the teacher at each stage. 

If an individual or group needed additional scaffolding, the teacher may work closely alongside them, breaking the process down into steps and guiding and questioning them to support their understanding.

In a subsequent lesson, students may be asked to contribute to the design of the investigation. This could be discussed as a class and planned together. The teacher may scaffold by restricting choices such as providing 2 options  for students to choose between e.g. if carrying out an investigation into which material is more waterproof, should we stretch 3 different fabrics over 3 beakers and pour water over them to see how much water goes through into the beaker? Or should we wrap an item in the fabric and submerge it in water and then take it out, unwrap it and see how wet the item got? An investigation planning sheet with prompts would scaffold students in preparing for this enquiry and help them think about the different aspects involved e.g. equipment needed, what will we be measuring? What are the variables/what needs to stay the same/change?

Over time, scaffolding such as this may be removed as appropriate for each individual or group, until they are able to design and carry out their own scientific enquiries. 

Further reading

The Principles of Instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at:  https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Scaffolds for learning

https://www.teachthought.com/learning/learning-theories-jerome-bruner-scaffolding-learning/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/scaffolding-lessons-six-strategies-rebecca-alber

https://www.edglossary.org/scaffolding/

Principle 9. Require and monitor independent practice: Students need extensive, successful, independent practice in order for skills and knowledge to become automatic.

Rosenshine (2012) suggests that information should be ‘over-learnt’, allowing it to become automatic. Automaticity frees up space in working memory as it allows students to complete some tasks without any conscious effort. 

If students achieve automaticity of more basic skills and knowledge, it allows them to access more complex and challenging learning. For example, if a child knows all of their phonemes and can decode words automatically, this enables them to move onto reading and comprehending texts. Similarly, if a student knows their multiplication tables automatically, it frees up working memory to focus on other areas of a multi step maths problem involving some multiplication.

Plenty of opportunities for students to engage in independent practice, following guided practice, allows for material to be over-learnt, which increases fluency and eventually leads to automaticity.

Rosenshine asserts that independent practice should be both extensive and successful and should take place within the lesson as well as afterwards. The material used during independent practice should be the same as that used during guided practice, for example – if a particular method of calculation has been demonstrated during a maths lesson, the maths homework should require use of the same calculation. The questions should be pitched as to allow for a high success rate, and should be repetitive enough to require the material to be over-learnt.

In order to be successful, students need to be adequately prepared for their independent practice, that is – they have received enough guided practice and scaffolding to be able to complete the tasks without further adult support. Working alongside a learning partner can help less confident pupils to achieve this independence.

So, in an English lesson on the correct use of apostrophes for example, after the teacher has taught and demonstrated the skill and provided adequate guided practice – students should work independently on tasks which enable them to rehearse this skill. This may involve correcting sentences with incorrect apostrophes, adding apostrophes to sentences which have them missing, or writing their own sentences with apostrophes. Whichever method is used, it should always have been demonstrated during guided practice first. 

The level of difficulty should not be aimed at ‘catching them out’ or overstretching students beyond their existing understanding, it should provide an opportunity to apply the skill or knowledge that’s been taught, over and over again until it becomes effortless. Students should work in pairs to check their work with one another if needed. Homework following this lesson should follow the same style of task.

Developing fluency and automaticity takes time, therefore it will not be achieved within one lesson. Repetition is key. Students will need ample opportunities to engage in independent practice on many different occasions in order to consolidate the learning adequately before automaticity is achieved.

Further reading

The Principles of Instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Independent practice and automaticity

Hook PE and Jones SD (2002) The importance of automaticity and fluency for efficient reading comprehension. Perspectives 28(1): 9-14. Available at: http://www.resourceroom.net/readspell/2002_automaticity.html (accessed 17 November 2020).

http://www.scilearn.com/blog/automaticity-in-reading

https://medium.com/the-mission/the-science-of-automating-and-perfecting-any-skill-ea89f55b5f3e

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-08-3-knowns-in-learning-science-and-how-to-apply-them-in-practicehttps://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/hattie-and-yates-visible-learning-and-the-science-of-how-we-learn-section-1-review/ (The summary of chapter 7 is about automaticity).

Principle 10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review: Students need to be involved in extensive practice in order to develop well-connected and automatic knowledge.

In his Principles of instruction (2012), Rosenshine explains that repeated rehearsal and regular review of information helps students to make connections in their learning, building networks of ideas and information (schemas). This construction of schemas enables information to be held in, and retrieved from, long term memory – which frees up space in working memory.

Retrieval practice such as quizzes and tests can also help students remember and embed the information learnt. Rosenshine gives the suggestion of reviewing the previous week’s learning every Monday and the previous month’s work every 4th Monday. This could be a useful structure when teaching one particular subject to a class in a secondary setting, but would be a challenge to implement in primary schools – if a teacher has taught their class several different subjects, several times across the month – how could a monthly review take place? The review alone would take all day.

One option would be to choose a specific subject area to try this approach with. For example, every 4th Monday, students could review what they have learnt in maths over the past month. This could take the form of a group quiz, a conversation based around the class working wall, or looking back through maths work books to refresh their memory of the learning that had taken place in recent weeks, and having a discussion with a partner about what they had learnt and any particular successes or challenges. Teachers could provide questions or prompts to scaffold this discussion or ask pupils to write a written reflection.

If teachers did want to review learning across the curriculum as a whole, they could perhaps ask students to create a mindmap, with a different branch for each subject area. Then for each subject they could note onto the mindmap the key information that they remember. Students could share and compare mindmaps, adding things to their own if they had forgotten them.

Another option would be for each student to have a learning journal, where they write a weekly or monthly entry or ‘learning review’ about what they had learnt. This could take the form of a written reflection, lists of key information, mind maps or diagrams. Teachers could provide prompts or scaffolds to encourage students to make links and connections within their learning across different units or subjects. Similarly, students could also be asked to create knowledge organisers at the end of a unit, listing all of the key information related to a particular topic.

Repeatedly having to retrieve recently learnt information from memory, rather than just ‘leaving it behind’ and moving on, helps this learning to stick in the long term. Therefore even in a crowded curriculum, building in time for regular reviews of learning and retrieval practice will enable students to learn more successfully.

Further reading

The Principles of Instruction

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American educator 36(1): p. 12. Available at:  https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 17 November 2020).

Poster summary of the 10 principles of instruction: https://teachinghow2s.com/docs/Principles_of_Instruction_Barak_Rosenshine.pdf

Weekly and monthly review/retrieval practice

http://www.learningscientists.org/retrieval-practice/

https://www.retrievalpractice.org/

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_05.htm

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