Applying Rosenshine to the English classroom

susan-yin-2JIvboGLeho-unsplash (1)
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin

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 the English classroom. The guides have been written by Stephen Lane, Teacher of English, Lichfield Cathedral School, UK.

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.

In most secondary schools, students have English three or four times a week. Not only does this give us time to cover the increasingly rigorous subject content, but it also gives us plenty of opportunity to review previous learning. Although Rosenshine emphasises ‘daily review’ (Rosenshine, 2012), we might not see our English students every day due to timetables. This can be helpful, however, as it allows us to incorporate an element of spaced forgetting, which in itself can aid long-term retention.

There are, of course, several ways to review previous learning at the start of a lesson. 

The most effective strategies, in terms of knowledge retention, are likely to be forms of retrieval practice, such as quizzes, ‘cold calling’ question-and-answer sessions and so on. These all take into account the testing effect (Sumeracki and Weinstein, 2018), which reveals that the simple act of testing students during the teaching phase helps them to retain the information more permanently. 

Quizzes

Quizzes are fun activities which promote long-term retention whilst being low-stakes for pupils – no-one is recording their score or reporting it to parents. There is a workload burden for us as teachers, however, in terms of creating such quizzes so I tend to keep these for vocabulary tests. Every week I give my KS3 and KS4 students a bank of advanced vocabulary to learn on which they are tested once per week. These lists are taken from this wonderful blog post by Head of English and TES columnist Rebecca Foster (who tweets as @TLPMsF)  (Foster, 2018).

Cold Calling

Cold calling is a powerful technique, which does away with hands-up without the need for randomisation tools such as names on lollipop sticks. Cold-calling is the name given to specifically naming which student you wish to answer the question, and can ensure that all students get to answer questions in the lesson. It is a quick and easy differentiation tool where the teacher can target certain questions of varying complexity and challenge at certain students. It can be used throughout the lesson, but it’s particularly useful at the beginning to review previous learning. A modified version of this is to ask the same question at the start of each lesson, cold calling on individual students to give their answer. For instance, during my first term with Year 7 we look at the opening chapters of Genesis from the Bible as a foundational text whose themes and motifs run throughout English literature. Each lesson for a week or so I ask: ‘Why are we studying the Bible in an English lesson?’ Every student has to answer to cement the idea that the English language is very old, that the ideas in English literature are even older, and that some of these ideas can be found in the Bible. 

Further explanations and videos of examples in practice can be found on Doug Lemov’s brilliant website (Lemov, n.d.).

Free recall

Another method of retrieval practice is brain dumping (Gonzalez, 2017), or to give it its more formal name, free recall. This simple technique involves students using a blank sheet of paper to write down everything they can remember about a given topic in a short space of time. Research suggests it is at least as effective as more guided forms of recall, such as quizzes (Smith et al., 2016). This is one of my favourites – I find it is easy to organise, requires minimal workload for the teacher, and maximises student learning.

With the Year 11s who are studying Macbeth, for example, students often begin the lesson by writing down as many quotations as they can remember for a given character or theme. These can then be shared as a class, enabling students to add further quotations to their sheet. The following lesson might then see a repeat of this activity, with students expected to increase the number of quotations they recall each time, thus scaffolding their learning. A natural development of this might be to then pick some of those quotations and write a short paragraph about each. Similarly, when studying poetry, students write down everything they can remember about Romanticism. You could try this in every lesson for a week to see if students make progress and if their brain dumps become more detailed. 

It’s important to give students time to review their notes when they have finished their brain dump to add any key information missed, or to correct any errors; this will stop them transferring errors to their long-term memory.

References

Foster R (2018) On using Quizlet to learn ambitious vocabulary – The Learning Profession. Available at: https://thelearningprofession.com/2018/01/14/on-using-quizlet-to-learn-ambitious-vocabulary/  (accessed 25 October 2018).

Gonzalez J (2017) Retrieval Practice: The Most Powerful Learning Strategy You’re Not Using | Cult of Pedagogy. Available at: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/retrieval-practice/ (accessed 25 October 2018).

Lemov D (ND) Doug Lemov’s Field Notes. Available at: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/ (accessed 25 October 2018).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

Smith M A, Blunt J R, Whiffen J W et al. (2016) Does Providing Prompts During Retrieval Practice Improve Learning? Applied Cognitive Psychology 30(4): 544–553.

Sumeracki M A and Weinstein Y (2018) Optimising learning using retrieval practice. Impact Issue 2: The Science of Learning. London: The Chartered College of Teaching.  Available at: https://impact.chartered.college/article/sumeracki-weinstein-optimising-learning-retrieval-practice/ (accessed 25 October 2018).

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.

On 26 January 2017, Professor Dylan Wiliam tweeted, ‘I’ve come to the conclusion Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory is the single most important thing for teachers to know’ (Wiliam, 2017).

This simple statement reflects the significance of cognitive load theory (CLT) and its implications for classroom practice. The theory essentially proposes a model of human memory where the long-term memory has an infinite capacity, and the working memory is limited to around four or five items. As Rosenshine tells us: ‘presenting too much material at once may confuse students because their working memory will be unable to process it’  (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 13). It is therefore important for teachers to carefully plan what they want students to know, and breaking it into manageable chunks, presenting ‘small amounts of new material at any time’ (p. 14). 

This can present a significant challenge in English. When studying a novel, for example, how do we split progression through chapters into four manageable chunks at any given point each lesson? An obvious solution is to ask lots of questions along the way, with plenty of written comprehension exercises to consolidate learning. The problem here is that such activities slow down how quickly the class progresses through the book. 

One approach is to decide on four or five key points that you want the class to focus on within each chapter or section. You can then turn these into questions that you show to the class at the beginning of the lesson so that they can keep them in mind as they read that section (answering as they go along or at the end of the lesson). This can help to reduce cognitive overload, especially with a book which is challenging to read because of its language, for example. It could be argued that such an approach necessarily means that we might be limiting opportunities for students to explore texts more independently, but this can be resolved by having more open response questions to challenge students. 

It might be helpful to consider how the second principle of breaking down new material into small chunks might apply to teaching the structure of the sonnet. Let’s assume we want a Year 7 class to learn to recognise an English sonnet. The main features of an English sonnet are:

  • 14 lines
  • three quatrains followed by a couplet
  • each quatrain employs an alternate rhyme
  • iambic pentameter.

Depending on the class in front of you, each of these components may take just minutes to explain to a good level of understanding, or an entire lesson. In my experience, the basic structure can be covered reasonably quickly, but it takes more time to develop a secure understanding of iambic pentameter. Now, the question is: how do I ensure these are retained in students’ long-term memory? 

You could start by presenting an example of an English sonnet, perhaps Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’, to the class. You could ask the students to read it and then invite some initial responses, perhaps using cold call. Before delving into the structure, it’s a good idea for students to have some sense of what the poem is about. But it’s important to remember that the focus of the lesson is on the structural elements of the English sonnet. 

You could then ask for observations about the structure. Most children can spot that it has 14 lines. Start there and write it on the board. The next observation may be something about the rhyme structure – explore that a little until they spot ABABCDCDEFEFGG, and write this on the board. And so it goes on: each time they offer a feature, write a synopsis of that feature on the board. Ask the pupils to copy this information into their exercise books – perhaps as you go along, or as a summary activity. 

During this process, repeat the things you have covered regularly, especially any new terminology, such as alternate rhyme, quatrain and so on. Such repetition helps to secure this information in long-term memory. This could be strengthened by frequently asking students to repeat the terms and asking them what the terms mean, thus taking advantage of the testing effect. 

I tend to find that iambic pentameter requires more time, usually in the following lesson. Students usually recognise that each line has 10 syllables, and from here you can go into the more nuanced detail of metre. It is important to break down the words ‘iambic’ and ‘pentameter’ so that students understand what an iamb is and that ‘pentameter’ is a measure of five. 

In order to demonstrate how iambic pentameter works, I write one line from the sonnet of choice on the board and, using a different colour, annotate it with ‘–‘ to denote an unstressed beat and ‘X’ to denote a stressed beat. We sound out this line together, exaggerating the stresses and talking about how it sounds a bit like a heartbeat. The students then copy this into their books:

−          X

−          X

−          X

−        X

−          X

Shall     I

com    pare

thee     to 

a      sum

mer’s   day

 

Once the students have a grasp of iambic pentameter, I encourage them to have a go at writing some of their own lines of verse, offering very simple examples of my own:

I went downstairs and ate a bowl of flakes

I combed my hair and brushed my grubby teeth

I came to work and had a cup of tea…

I often give an additional challenge for the students to employ alternate rhyme. If I’m feeling really brave, and the students seem up for it, I sometimes throw in the curve ball that the first line of ‘Shall I compare thee’ might actually begin with a trochee, depending on your point of view. 

At the end of the lesson, rehearse the key pieces of information. Clear the board and have students put away their exercise books before cold calling them with closed questions such as:

  • How many lines does an English sonnet have?
  • What is a quatrain?
  • What is alternate rhyme?

Ask each of these questions several times to different students at a rapid pace. This serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it takes advantage of the testing effect to help cement this new information in long-term memory. Secondly, it gives an opportunity to assess understanding and check for errors. 

I would then repeat this quick-fire cold calling at the start of the next lesson – or perhaps have the students do free recall – to activate prior learning in accordance with Rosenshine’s first principle. 

The main objective here is to break new learning down into key chunks, and to rehearse these chunks to aid long-term retention.

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.

Questions are powerful classroom tools that serve two basic functions: to help students practise new knowledge and to help the teacher determine what their students have learnt and if any further instruction/re-capping is needed.

The first purpose – ‘students need to practice new material’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 14) – ties in well with other research which shows that testing students can have a positive impact on long-term retention of knowledge. This is known as the testing effect (Smith et al., 2016; Didau, 2016). As Didau explains, testing has several significant benefits:

  • retrieval aids later retention
  • testing causes students to learn more from the next study episode
  • testing improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts
  • testing helps with retrieval of material not tested.

(Didau, 2016, pp. 235–239)

Retrieval practice – as discussed in Rosenshine’s first principle – also makes use of the testing effect. Used at the beginning of lessons, it can embed knowledge in long-term memory and recap prior learning. Asking a large number of questions throughout the lesson takes advantage of the same effect.

The second purpose –Questions allow a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 14) – chimes with the findings of Hattie. He found that feedback to teachers about students’ learning is just as important as feedback to students (Hattie, 2008). 

Rosenshine himself distinguishes between two types of questions: factual and process. The former is probably self-explanatory; the latter are questions which ‘ask students to explain the process they used to answer the question, to explain how the answer was found’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 14).

Factual questions: In English, factual questions can be used to ensure key, foundational knowledge is secured. How many witches are there in the opening scene of Macbeth? Who says “unsex me here”? Who sings “Tell me it’s not true”? And so on. In fact, for English literature, quotations quizzes can be an effective way of employing factual questions like this. 

Further examples of factual questions might include:

  • How many lines are there in a sonnet?
  • What is a metaphor?
  • Who first witnesses Hyde’s transition into Jekyll?
  • Who steals Desdemona’s handkerchief?
  • What is a complex sentence?
  • What is an adverb?

As I hope can be seen from these examples, factual questions can be employed across the whole range of topic areas, key stages, and ability range in English. They can be used as tools for differentiation, with increasing levels of challenge. 

It is also worth noting that in GCSE English language, such questions form the low tariff questions, such as ‘Look at lines 1-20 of the source text. List five things we learn about …’. 

Process questions: In the English classroom, process questions may be those that ask students for evidence in support of an observation about a text – a quotation, with an explanation of how that quotation supports the claim, or some comment about the effect of the writer’s use of language. For example, we might ask students “How does Shakespeare present Lady Macbeth as manipulative in these lines?”

These questions tap directly into the assessment objectives for GCSE English literature – AO1 Understanding, and AO2 Writer’s techniques. It is helpful to use the AOs in planning your questions and, as you gain experience of working with AOs, you may find that this approach becomes second nature.

Combination questions: We can use a combination of factual and process questions very easily. You could, for example, present students with quotations from Macbeth and ask them to identify the speaker (factual), and then to explain that quotation (process). Alternatively, you could use the A-level specifications for inspiration and give students a statement, asking them to say whether or not they agree with it. For instance, sticking with Shakespeare, we might present the students with the following: Shakespeare presents Caliban as a victim. How far do you agree with this statement? 

It is important, however, not to let certain students dominate question-and-answer sessions; teachers must find ways of involving all students. Lemov’s ‘Cold Calling’ technique is useful here as you choose students to answer questions. I use this technique to test students who may not have understood a key piece of knowledge, or whose attention may have waned.

I also use cold calling to check the understanding of the quiet but high-attaining students. I also often ask the same question of different students, working on the premise that repetition is a key to retention. I also cold call on a student to ask them to repeat or rephrase an answer given by another student. Again, this is to use repetition as an aid for retention, but also to ensure that students are listening to the responses given by others and to check for understanding: a key purpose for questions as identified by Rosenshine. 

Perhaps most importantly, I often return to a student who has perhaps given an unsatisfactory answer later in the lesson having re-taught that piece of knowledge to check they have retained the correct information. 

It is sensible to pre-plan the questions you wish to ask during a lesson, including pre-planning which students you intend to ask which question based on your prior assessment of the pupils. Building a bank of questions, or at least types of questions, can ensure that you cover a range of factual, process, and combination questions. However, it is wise to be flexible and open to the possibility that some answers might surprise you. 

References

Black P and Wiliam D (2010) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. Phi Delta Kappan 92(1): 81–90. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003172171009200119 (accessed 2 November 2018).

Didau D (2016) What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong? Carmarthen: Crown House.

Hattie J (2008) Visible Learning. New York: Routledge

Lemov D (2017) Imagining a New Bloom’s – Teach Like a Champion. Available at: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/imagining-new-blooms/ (accessed 12 November 2018).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1). Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

Smith MA, Blunt JR, Whiffen JW et al. (2016) Does Providing Prompts During Retrieval Practice Improve Learning? Applied Cognitive Psychology 30(4): 544–553.

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

Modeling and worked examples are an important element of effective teaching. One reason is that it enables students to see the process of constructing responses to questions and tasks. Rosenshine tells us that: ‘Students need cognitive support to help them learn to solve problems’ and that ‘modeling and thinking aloud while demonstrating how to solve a problem are examples of effective cognitive support’.

The approach also helps to avoid cognitive overload by introducing new material in small chunks. Rosenshine tells us that: ‘Worked examples allow students to focus on the specific steps to solve problems and thus reduce the cognitive load on their working memory’ (p.15).

The need to focus on specific steps is particularly relevant in the English classroom where we often ask students to construct an extended piece of writing – be it analytical, discursive, descriptive, narrative or whatever. There is a danger in assuming that students in any year group will know how to structure an essay (and those that do can often benefit from developing their essay writing further).

In her superb blog post On Writing Essays People Actually Want to Read, head of English and blogger Rebecca Foster (on Twitter as @TLPMsF) outlines a lesson that she used with her top set Year 11 class in which she focused on the deliberate steps involved in constructing arresting essay openers, paragraphs with effective topic sentences, and employing ideas taken from wider reading (Foster, 2017). The outcome was greatly improved pieces of analytical writing which aligned with the higher bands of the GCSE assessment criteria.

A great way to model writing is to construct effective paragraphs on the board, taking ideas from the class. This gives pupils a sense of shared ownership over the writing, and you can stretch paragraphs beyond the limiting boundaries of PEE (a structure which I hope to vanquish from my students’ writing over time).

Start by questioning your students, using cold calling, for example. In a class about Macbeth, you could ask:

  • Using three adjectives, how could we describe Lady Macbeth? (adapted from Foster, 2017)
  • What quotations could we use to support this description? 
  • What connotations might we associate with the words within that quotation?
  • What other interpretations could we offer? 
  • How could we link this to another part of the play?

These questions allow you to create work that is unique to the class. Once you have some responses, you can start to form a paragraph on the board. This can either be fully teacher modelled, with the teacher talking through his or her thought process, or by taking suggestions from the class (or a mix of both).

Thus, we might end up writing something like:

Manipulative, deceitful and nefarious, Lady Macbeth is presented in the early scenes of the play as resembling the witches from Act One. She calls upon “spirits” to “unsex” her, casting off her femininity with her desire to be filled with “direst cruelty”. Her call to evil spirits immediately casts her in a witch-like role as she turns away from God and asks that heaven cannot see her actions. Her desire to be unsexed echoes Banquo’s description of the witches, with their “beards” contradicting their apparent womanhood. Furthermore, Lady Macbeth’s reference to the “hoarse” raven could be seen in similar terms as the witches communicating with their familiars. 

This process is not limited to analytical essays. Any piece of extended writing can be modelled in this way. Working together on the opening paragraphs of a descriptive task can help students to see how powerful writing is built by word, sentence and paragraph.

Modelling the planning process can also be helpful. This is an area that I often find students struggle with, or bypass all together. It is important to encourage students to think carefully about their writing before they begin to write; there are very few students who can produce masterpieces ad hoc. I don’t usually mind if students use brainstorming, mind-mapping, or bullet point lists, so long as they develop the idea that this should be a relatively swift process. To model the process, I will do an example brainstorm on the board, talking through my thought process as I do so.

But modelling is not limited to the actual answer or response to the task. Students should be shown how to work with the questions in our subject, identifying the function words and being clear about what they entail. Furthermore, it is useful to model the process for annotating extracts in Section A of each of the GCSE papers, dependent upon the rubrics of your chosen exam board and specification. To do this, having a copy of the extract projected onto the board is especially helpful, so that I can model the annotation of the paper and talk through what I am doing as I do it. 

In addition to these equivalents of worked examples, most exam boards provide sample student responses that are often provided with an examiner’s commentary and marks. Making use of these in the classroom can be an effective way of modelling, particularly if the sample answer used is not a top mark answer; asking students to think of ways to improve a sample answer can lead to fruitful discussions about the process of constructing such extended pieces. 

In any case, carefully modelling the processes involved in our subject is an important and powerful tool for any teacher of English. 

References

Foster R (2017) On writing essays people actually want to read… – The Learning Profession. Available at: https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/01/21/on-writing-essays-people-actually-want-to-read/ (accessed 13 November 2018).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1). Available at : https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

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

In his fifth principle of instruction, Rosenshine says that effective teachers use guided practice.

Guided practice is important because without sufficient rehearsal students will forget new material. As Rosenshine says: ‘An important finding from information-processing research is that students need to spend additional time rephrasing, elaborating, and summarizing new material in order to store this material in their long-term memory’. 

Rosenshine points to the value of questions for this, as good questions require students to ‘process and rehearse the material’ (p. 16). He also points out that ‘rehearsal is also enhanced when students are asked to summarize the main points, and when they are supervised as they practice new steps in a skill’ (p. 16). There are two elements here – summarising and practice.

Summarising

Summarising is pertinent to study in the English classroom where students might be asked to summarise the events of a chapter, or the presentation of a character for instance. Often, this can be combined with repetition as an obvious rehearsal tool. 

For example, in a lesson with Year 7 on William Caxton you might begin by explaining that Caxton lived in the 1400s, introduced the printing press into England and published an edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. You might then cold call on students to repeat this information, before writing it on the board for the students to copy into their exercise books.

You could follow this with a reading of the Caxton’s Eggs text which can be divided into three sections: the varying nature of the English language; the story about the merchant asking for eggs; and Caxton’s dilemma of which version of ‘egg’ he should write. The teacher might pause the reading at the end of the first section, summarising it and inviting students to summarise it too. This enables students to rephrase the summary, which is itself a powerful facet in embedding the new information in long-term memory (so long as the rephrasing is accurate and retains the correct knowledge). The teacher might then write a summary on the board for the students to copy down. 

After a reading of the second section – the story of the merchant – you might invite the students to verbally summarise what happens, taking responses from several students, allowing them to rephrase, and then repeating their summaries back to them. You could then invite the students to write their own summary of the story of the merchant, walking the room to read the students’ work as they write to check for accuracy, and to look for opportunities to use the work of individual students as models (see the fourth Principle). 

Guided practice

Walking the room to read students’ work as they write relates to the second element: supervising students as they practise new steps, and tallies with Rosenshine’s ‘guided practice’. It provides opportunities for immediate ‘corrective feedback’ (Clark et al., 2012, p. 16), either to the individual or to the whole class to address common errors or misconceptions. 

Rosenshine points out that the ‘most successful teachers spent more time in guided practice, more time asking questions, more time checking for understanding, more time correcting errors, and more time having students work out problems with teacher guidance’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 16). He also suggests that where this is done effectively, students are more engaged during individual work, and better prepared for independent practice, such as homework. 

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the wider implications of this principle. Novices, which is what students are, need guided practice to learn new material. Clark, Kirschner and Sweller all emphasise the importance of what they call ‘fully guided instruction’, pointing out that ‘research has provided overwhelming evidence that, for everyone but experts, partial guidance during instruction is significantly less effective than full guidance’ (Clark et al., 2012, p. 7).  It is beyond the scope of this article to explore the debate between fully and minimal guided instruction, but the Clark et al paper is an excellent starting point. 

References

Clark BRE, Kirschner PA and Sweller J (2012) Putting Students on the Path to Learning The Case for Fully Guided Instruction. American Educator, Spring: 6–11. Available at : http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Clark.pdf (accessed 10 October 2019).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

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

I have a confession to make: I often find myself asking classes, ‘Does that make sense?’ Every time I tut internally, for what purpose does it actually achieve? What am I expecting students to say in response? I could try and fool myself into believing that this question is my way of checking for understanding but, in reality, I suspect I am just seeking some reassurance.

Embarrassingly, this approach is identified by Rosenshine as being a habit of least effective teachers who ‘simply asked, “Are there any questions?” and, if there were no questions, they assumed the students had learned the material and proceeded to pass out worksheets’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 16).

As a reflective practitioner, I am endeavouring to curb this habit in favour of more deliberate and specific methods to check for understanding. Rosenshine tells us that the ‘more effective teachers frequently checked to see if all the students were learning the new material. These checks provided some of the processing needed to move new learning into long- term memory. These checks also let teachers know if students were developing misconceptions’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 16).

Questioning: An obvious way to check for understanding is through the deliberate use of questions, as explored in the third article in this series which looks at Rosenshine’s third principle of instruction: ‘Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 14).

Summarising: Asking students to summarise or repeat information is also an effective way of checking for understanding, and so too is ‘asking students whether they agreed or disagreed with other students’ answers’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 16).

Summarising is a particularly useful technique in the English classroom, and is actually an essential skill in succeeding in this subject – it’s an element of both reading elements at GCSE English Language, and an important skill for GCSE English Literature.

Asking students to summarise their learning is an efficient tool for learning in the classroom: it bears no financial cost; it takes little time in terms of teacher planning; and it can be achieved swiftly within lessons. You can ask an individual to a whole class, or it can be a paired activity. It can, of course, also be a brief individual writing task.

It is sensible to use a variety of these strategies. The vital thing is to use the activity as an opportunity to check for understanding, and to ensure that students are not encoding incorrect information into their long-term memories as described by the negative testing effect (Nebel, 2018).

According to Rosenshine, such checking serves two purposes:

(a) answering the questions might cause the students to elaborate on the material they have learned and augment connections to other learning in their long-term memory, and (b) alerting the teacher to when parts of the material need to be retaught

 (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 16).

Thinking aloud: One of the ways that Rosenshine gives to check for understanding is to have students ‘think aloud’ as they plan an essay, for example. This is particularly pertinent to the English classroom. You might ask students to talk through their planning process with a partner, for example, or combine it with Rosenshine’s principle of providing models, and model your own planning process by ‘thinking aloud’ as you write on the board.

In general, it seems that encouraging students to ‘think aloud’ in this way has positive impacts upon their writing. Over the years, I’ve noticed that many students lack planning and deliberate crafting skills, and this seriously impedes them in terms of accessing the higher assessment bands at GCSE.

This may be one area where some collaborative working may be successful; students working together in pairs to plan an essay, summarising the main points with each other in their talk, and discussing how best to write, say, a convincing opening paragraph or how to construct an analytical paragraph.

There are, of course, any number of ways to check for understanding, through different types of question, summarising activities, and written responses to texts and writing tasks. The important factor, of course, is acting swiftly upon any errors.

References

Nebel C (2018) The Negative Testing Effect — The Learning Scientists. Available at: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2018/8/2 (accessed 17 November 2018).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

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

It is reasonable to assume that an aim of all classroom teachers is to obtain a high success rate, where student achievement is optimised; after all, we all want to do a good job. With Ofsted’s new focus on what Spielman calls the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ (Spielman, 2018), the time is ripe for teachers to engage once again with pedagogy (the how) and curriculum (the what), and the increasing prominence of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction in the education discourse is perfectly aligned with this new push.

Principle 7 is linked with the others; Rosenshine brings together some of the strategies to illustrate methods which can obtain a high success rate within lessons. He defines ‘success rate’ as being judged by the ‘quality of [students’] oral responses during guided practice and their individual work’, measured by the percentage of correct answers. He says that: ‘The research also suggests that the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement appears to be about 80 percent’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p.17), as it shows that students are learning, whilst also being challenged.

Wrong answers are great. Wrong answers enable the teacher to identify misconceptions and errors, enabling them to reteach where necessary.

A large number of wrong answers would suggest that the material was not being taught effectively in the first place, however. Rosenshine’s 80 per cent figure seems like a reasonable goldilocks zone where the teacher can be confident that the children are retaining the material and where they might therefore feel secure in their knowledge development.

So, how can one achieve this golden balance of 80 per cent? Rosenshine tells us that the most effective teachers attained a high success rate by:

  • teaching in small steps (combining short presentations with supervised student practice);
  • giving sufficient practice on each part before proceeding to the next step;
  • frequently checking for understanding and requiring responses from all students.
    (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 17) 

By way of an example, Rosenshine gives an anecdote of a teacher he once observed who whilst walking the room realised that the students were struggling and therefore ‘stopped the work, told the students not to do the problems for homework, and said she would reteach this material the next day’ (p. 17). She stopped the work in order to prevent the students practicing errors.

This principle is highly applicable in every subject domain, and not least in English where reading comprehension activities are plentiful. For an experienced teacher, these strategies might have become habit. However, for new and early career teachers, they may need deliberate planning and sequencing.

The steps outlined by Rosenshine provide a useful framework for lesson design, either within a single lesson, or across a scheme. Having said that, even experienced teachers would be well advised to be more deliberate in their structuring of lessons to obtain a high success rate and maximise learning.

References

Didau D (2017) Problems with the ‘zone of proximal development’. Available at: https://learningspy.co.uk/featured/problems-zone-proximal-development/ (Accessed 17 November 2018).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36 (1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (Accessed 4 May 2018).

Spielman A (2018) Amanda Spielman speech to the SCHOOLS NorthEast summit – GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielman-speech-to-the-schools-northeast-summit (Accessed 17 November 2018).

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

Rosenshine says scaffolding is a tool which effectively helps to guide students in their learning of difficult tasks. He defines a scaffold as ‘a temporary support that is used to assist a learner’ which are ‘gradually withdrawn as learners become more competent’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p.18), and provides some examples:

  • The teacher models the steps
  • Thinking aloud by the teacher as he or she solves the problem
  • The use of tools such as cue cards or checklists that complete part of the task for the students
  • A model of the completed work against which students can compare their own work (from Rosenshine, 2012, p. 18).

Scaffolding is different to differentiation, which posits that work should be tailored to suit the differing learning needs or prior attainment of students. This has led to teachers being told to differentiate work to the extent that different children should work on different tasks within one lesson. Differentiation produces greater workload for teachers but minimal impact on learning; it produces disparity in learning outcomes; and it risks a similar effect to what Gove called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ (Gove, 2013).

A better approach is to have the same high expectations for all students, but to provide tools to help students to achieve them. This is the essence of scaffolding. Rosenshine gives some extended exemplifications of these examples, which I won’t rehash here, and there are many ways to use it in the English classroom. 

Writing frames are another way of scaffolding. These can be differentiated to match the different levels of prior attainment within the class and this approach can work particularly well with homework tasks.

One particularly notable example of how scaffolds can be used to help students develop their writing over time is Rebecca Foster’s Weekly Writing Challenges (Foster, 2017a). This gives a specific task each week, with key ingredients to include. Students are then asked to peer-assess, highlighting where these features have been used. 

Foster has also created banks of advanced vocabulary that students are expected to learn and upon which they are regularly tested; these words are also included as key ingredients in the weekly writing challenges. In a separate blog post, Foster also explores how essay writing can be explicitly modelled, giving yet further scaffolds to students (Foster, 2017b).

Probably the most ubiquitous form of scaffolding in English is the PEE (point, evidence, explanation ) paragraph. I first became aware of this model during my early years of teaching when PEE was used to help get students over the Level 4/5 threshold at KS3, and later to help students straddling the C/D borderline at GCSE. This is the problem with the PEE paragraph – it was initially conceived to help students around the ‘average’ performance criteria, but began to be used across the attainment range. This structure is of little use, however, when supporting students aiming at the higher grades as it limits sophisticated analysis. 

The overuse of the PEE paragraph highlights two things. Firstly, that any scaffolds used must be appropriate for the level at which your students are working at. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, scaffolds must be seen as temporary supports which, as Rosenshine clearly articulates, should be withdrawn as students become more competent.  

References

Didau D (2017) Problems with the ‘zone of proximal development’. Available at: https://learningspy.co.uk/featured/problems-zone-proximal-development/ (accessed 17 November 2018).

Fisher D and Frey N (2010) Scaffolds for Learning: The Key to Guided Instruction. In: Guided Instruction: How to Develop Confident and Successful Learners. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Available at: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111017/chapters/Scaffolds-for-Learning@-The-Key-to-Guided-Instruction.aspx (accessed 18 November 2018).

Foster R (2017a) On our Weekly Writing Challenges 2017-18. Available at: https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/11/05/on-our-weekly-writing-challenges-2017-18/ (accessed 18 November 2018).

Foster R (2017b) On writing essays people actually want to read… – The Learning Profession Available at: https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/01/21/on-writing-essays-people-actually-want-to-read/ (accessed 13 November 2018).

Gove M (2013) The civil rights struggle of our time: Michael Gove’s speech to the Mayor of London’s education conference. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-civil-rights-struggle-of-our-time (accessed 18 November 2018).

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

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

In his introduction to Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine states that: ‘Education involves helping a novice develop strong, readily accessible background knowledge’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 12). Through his 10 principles, he constructs an approach to teaching that enables students to build this strong background knowledge – from careful presentation of new material, through heavily guided rehearsal of that material, to independent fluent recall. 

The ninth principle offers an important step on the way to that fluent recall, where students conduct independent practice under the watchful monitoring of the teacher. 

We all know the old adage that practice makes perfect, but this is a ‘dangerous half-truth. Practice makes permanent is a truer statement’ (National Association of Teachers of Speech (US), 1925 – thanks to @SteveBishop100 for finding this reference). As Rosenshine tells us, ‘independent practice is necessary because a good deal of practice (overlearning) is needed in order to become fluent and automatic in a skill’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 18).

This fluency and automaticity is vital for student progress, as it enables students to use the resources of the working memory on application and development. An obvious example in mathematics would be that of times tables; knowing these in long-term memory frees up working memory resources to complete more complex tasks. 

Rosenshine says that: ‘The more successful teachers provided for extensive and successful practice’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p.19). He says that research has found that ‘students were more engaged when their teacher circulated around the room, and monitored and supervised their seatwork. The optimal time for these contacts was 30 seconds or less’ (p. 19). 

One of the most interesting elements of Rosenshine’s suggestions is that he points to cooperative learning where ‘students help each other as they study’ (p. 19). This may seem to fly in the face of what seems to be a teacher-centred approach advocated in Rosenshine’s previous principles. It is important to remember, however, that this cooperative learning comes during the repeated practice phase of the process; students will have received explicit instruction, teacher-led questioning, modelling and heavily guided practice prior to this point. 

In the English classroom, we can easily imagine students working in pairs to construct example analytical paragraphs, or descriptive passages for instance. Perhaps they could work together to practice creating lines of iambic pentameter, or produce sonnets in teams. 

In Key Stage 4, an important skill is in planning responses to the writing tasks of the two GCSE English Language papers. Having modelled this as the teacher, it would be reasonable to present students with a bank of writing tasks and have them working collaboratively on planning the first two or three, before working individually to plan others. Later, they might work together on creating interesting opening paragraphs before doing so individually. 

Of course, it is essential for the teacher to continue circulating the room during this process. Inevitably, during any collaborative work you run an increased risk of off-task behaviours, social loafing and other issues around group work activities as articulated by David Didau (Didau, 2015, 2016, pp. 75–78). Furthermore, it is essential to monitor students’ independent practice to ensure that errors are not being repeated. 

References

Didau D (2015) Why (the hell) should students work in groups? Available from: https://learningspy.co.uk/featured/students-work-groups/ (accessed 19 November 2018).

Didau D (2016) What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong? Carmarthen: Crown House.

National Association of Teachers of Speech (US) (1925) A course of study in speech training and public speaking for secondary schools: being the report of a special committee of the National association of teachers of speech. Drummond AM (ed.) The Century co. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=En5ZAAAAMAAJ 

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

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 final principle of instruction, Rosenshine emphasises the importance of regular reviewing of material so students can retain it in their long-term memory. This provides a nice coda to the process he outlines across the 10 principles, reminding us of the initial principle: ‘Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning: Daily review can strengthen previous learning and can lead to fluent recall’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 13). The short-term review of recently introduced material becomes a mid- and long-term review of the material following questioning, modelling, guided practice and monitored independent practice. 

Rosenshine now introduces us to the concept of ‘well-connected networks of ideas’ … in [students’] long-term memory’ (Rosenshine, 2012, p. 19), which he labels ‘schemas’, after Sweller (Sweller, 1988). Rosenshine describes these schema as ‘patterns’ into which knowledge is organised in long-term memory, which in turn reduce load on the working memory: ‘Knowledge (even very extensive knowledge) stored in long-term memory that is organized into patterns only occupies a tiny amount of space in our limited working memory’(Rosenshine, 2012, p. 19). 

With increased rehearsal and review of information, the ‘stronger the interconnections between the materials become’ (p. 19). This in turn makes it easier to recall such information, creating a state of fluency and automaticity, leading to expertise. He writes: ‘The best way to become an expert is through practice – thousands of hours of practice. The more the practice, the better the performance’ (p. 20). 

In English, we can easily conceive of these schemas as relating to different areas of the subject. For instance, students may form one schema called Macbeth, within which are sub-categories: the characters, themes, plot points and so on. If students have rehearsed key quotations, then these may form part of the schema for a particular character. In an exam situation, the student can easily summon the key quotations for a particular character at different points in the play and construct a decent response because, as a schema, the information about the character and relevant quotations occupies just one slot in the working memory.

For this to happen, they also need the schema called essays to only occupy one slot because the student has practised this skill to mastery. 

Weekly and monthly reviews are key elements in building these patterns of connected knowledge in the long-term memory. 

One of the most efficient and effective ways of conducting weekly and monthly review, other than asking lots of questions (Principle 3), is to use retrieval practice. For instance, having taught students the main elements of Romanticism over previous lessons, you could begin a lesson by asking students to write down everything they can think of to do with that topic as quickly as they can. You could then ask them to review their notes and add anything they have missed or to correct any errors. 

You can repeat this exercise at the beginning of the next lesson and, perhaps, the lesson after that. After a week without this activity, you then repeat it, and does so again a week or two later. This approach reflects the approach known as spaced practice which contains elements of deliberate forgetting (Weinstein and Smith, 2016).

In English, this technique is superb as a lesson starter, plenary, homework or revision task, and can be applied to any aspect of the subject – literature texts, elements of writing genres, poetic form and so on. 

Rosenshine’s 10 principles of instruction provide a cohesive process that teachers can use to construct a logical sequence of lessons taking students from novice to mastery. For some, his ideas may seem obvious or old hat. For others, though, Rosenshine gives a sensible structure for instruction which even those of us who have been teaching for decades might very well find useful. 

References

Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of Instruction Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator 36(1): 12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf (accessed 4 May 2018).

Sweller J (1988) Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning. Cognitive Science 12: 257–285. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1207/s15516709cog1202_4 (accessed 10 October 2019).

Weinstein Y and Smith M (2016) Learn How to Study Using… Spaced Practice. Available at: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/7/21-1 (accessed 19 November 2018).

About the author

Leave a Reply

Screenshot 2019-09-24 at 10.16.00

Article

Remote coaching

If you’re engaging in coaching or mentoring with your trainees and early career colleagues at the moment, it’s likely you’ll have begun to facilitate this

Article

Applying Rosenshine to Religious Education

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