Applying Rosenshine to the geography classroom

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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 the geography classroom. The guides have been written by Mark Enser, Head of Geography, Heathfield Community College, 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.

Rosenshine (2012) suggests that starting a lesson with a review of previous learning has two functions:

  1. To practise recalling material that has been learned before to strengthen students’ ability to remember it in future
  2. To link new material to that which has come before. 

Both of these functions are incredibly important in geography. Our discipline is based on knowledge about the world around us; we use this knowledge to do geography.

A classic piece of geographical investigation –what processes are taking place on a meander? – can show why it is so important to commit information to memory. We could, in theory, know nothing about meanders before we begin the investigation and simply look it up. If we did this, though, we would have to store a huge amount of information in our working memory to make sense of what we read. We might need to look up terms like ‘thalweg’, ‘slip off slope’, ‘hydraulic action’ and ‘deposition’. We would need to keep remembering how water moves on an inside bend compared with an outside bend, and remember what this looks like in the field. This is all before we can even begin the business of applying it to our investigation. Far better to commit this information to our long-term memory to ensure we can access it when we need it, for example to investigate meanders. 

If we agree that recalling previously learnt material is important, we need to establish why Rosenshine believes that reviewing it will help. The answer is that when we review previously learned material, we take advantage of the testing effect. This theory, first suggested by Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century, suggests that every time you recall information, you retain more of it for longer. This has become known as Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve. 

The testing effect: work on the testing effect has been replicated and refined many times since and is now well established (Agarwal et al., 2012). We can take advantage of it in geography in a number of ways:

  • A quick quiz at the start of a lesson. Put a few questions on a slide – some from the last lesson, some from earlier in the topic and some from older topics – and ask pupils to answer them in silence. Remind your students that the point is to try and recall – it is the effort of remembering that is critical. Have the answers on the second slide so they can mark their own work – seeing the correct answers immediately after trying to recall them will also strengthen recall (Roediger and Butler 2011).
  • Present a  longer question where pupils have to draw on what they learned previously. This often works well where they are responding to a photo or graph with a question that asks them what inference they would make from it. 

The second purpose of Rosenshine’s recap of previously learnt material – linking new material – is no less important in geography. Our subject is highly synoptic, with many links between different topics. If we aren’t careful, however, it can feel as though each topic is a silo of information with little to connect them. What we learn about life in Low Income Countries (LIC), for example, may feel very removed from a topic about the action of rivers. 

Recapping previous lessons allows us to draw out these links and make them explicit. 

We might start a lesson on river floods by looking at a previous topic on how LICs struggle to cope with hazards, before moving to look at why flooding has been a particular problem in Mozambique. A lesson on the conditions in tropical rainforests could start with a recapping of the role of high and low pressure systems so that students can explain why there is such high rainfall along the equator. 

This builds up the idea of ‘thinking like a geographer’, of understanding the complexities that exist within a place. It can be critical in an approach to a regional study of geography (Standish 2018) where we want pupils to apply their understanding of a wide range of different geographical themes (climate, landscapes, development, trade, migration) to a particular area of the world. 

Reviewing previous lessons on these subjects means pupils are primed to apply them to the area being studied. 

Geography is a very broad discipline and there is a huge amount we want our pupils to cover. Rosenshine’s first principle reminds us that by slowing down and looking backwards we will move forwards faster. 

References

Agarwal PK, Bain PM and Chamberlain RW (2012) The Value of Applied Research: Retrieval Practice Improves Classroom Learning and Recommendations from a Teacher, a Principal and a Scientist. Education Psychology Review 24: 437–448.

Roediger HL and Butler AC (2011) The Critical Role of Retrieval Practice in Long-Term Retention, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15(1): 20–27.

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 3 Oct 2019).

Standish A (2018) The Place of Regional Geography. In: Jones M and Lambert D (ed.) Debates in Geography Education. London: Routledge, pp. 62–74.

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.

When I started teaching, we were encouraged to limit the amount of time we spent at the front of the class. We were taught that pupils only remember 10% of what they were told, but would remember 90 per cent of what they discovered for themselves. This led to us setting long, open-ended projects for pupils to complete during the lesson. This would allow them to explore the task for themselves and construct their own meaning. 

Rosenshine’s paper suggests a different approach. He found that more effective teachers broke the lesson up into smaller sections; they introduce new information and pupils practise using it, before more new information is added. This reduces overloading students’ working memory and allows them to make sense of something before moving on. This is done under the guidance of an expert, rather than pupils being left to work it out for themselves (Kirschner et al. 2006). 

The old idea of pupils working out answers for themselves with minimal instruction from their teacher has been deeply embedded in geography teaching for some time. This is, in part, because it is often confused with the enquiry approach, where pupils are encouraged to set their own questions, follow their own lines of enquiry, find and critique the information they need, and then reach a conclusion. This approach, however, can be done with more guidance as discussed by champion of enquiry, Margaret Roberts (2017). 

So how can you balance Rosenshine’s principal of breaking down new learning with enquiry in the geography classroom? 

Let’s take a lesson on the Boscastle Floods, for example. We could start by giving pupils information on the causes of floods, the physical geography of the Boscastle area, the layout of the town, the impacts of the floods on different groups of people and how they responded to it. We could then ask them to write a report answering the question: How do the responses to the Boscastle Flood make it unlikely that such an event will happen again? We could give this information as a lecture or as a pack of information in different forms that pupils could use as they wish. 

According to Rosenshine’s second principle it wouldn’t matter because it still wouldn’t be effective; pupils would still need to hold too much new information in their heads to answer the question.

A more effective approach would be to do the following:

  • Introduce the idea that flooding increases when surface runoff shortens the lag time and leads to too much water reaching the river too quickly. You could then ask students to apply this to different factors which could increase surface runoff.
  • Discuss the physical and human geography of Boscastle before asking the pupils to annotate a map showing the factors that increased the flood risk.
  • Then look at the day of the flood and break the impacts into social, economic and environmental. Ask students to suggest which category was more significant in the long- and short-term.
  • Then talk students through the immediate response to the flood and ask them to evaluate how effective it was, given the impacts of the flood they have already seen (using the process of recap from principle one).
  • Next, contrast a map of Boscastle before and after the flood. Ask students to identify the flood defence measures put in place and talk them through how they work. 

This process should mean they can recall each part of the topic relating to the floods in Boscastle, and issues around flooding more generally. They should now be able to answer an in-depth question drawing on all they have learnt. 

Following this advice to break down a topic into shorter, teacher-led segments does mean that you will be talking for longer. Rosenshine’s research found that the most effective teachers spoke for a total of 23 minutes in a 40-minute maths lesson compared with just 11 minutes for the least effective. Effective teachers used the extra time to explain new material very clearly, give lots of examples and ask lots of questions. 

In the geography classroom we can use this time in front of the class to clearly model how to approach a question, to save us running from pupil to pupil to explain it afterwards, or to demonstrate a geographical skill, like using an OS map to give evidence for the factors increasing flood risk. It gives us more time to ask geographical questions, to really listen to the answers pupils give, and to explore them in more depth. 

I would suggest that this second principle of Rosenshine is important because it encourages us to slow down and ensure that pupils have the chance to grasp each thing they are being taught, before we rush on to the next big idea. 

References

Kirschner PA, Sweller J and Clark R  (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist 41(2): 75-86. 

Roberts M (2017) Planning for Enquiry. In: Jones M (ed.) The Handbook of Secondary Geography Sheffield: The Geographical Association, pp. 48–60.

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.

Considering Rosenshine’s second principle, I mentioned his finding that more effective teachers talked for significantly longer during lessons than less effective teachers (23 minutes versus 11 minutes respectively within a 40-minute lesson). In this third principle, Rosenshine explains what effective teachers use that time for – questioning

Geography is a questioning discipline – we seek to answer questions about the world. As geography teacher Phil Wood points out: ‘If students are expected to develop independent learning skills, critical thinking capacities and, ultimately, the ability to carry out independent enquiry, then we need to model and develop the skill of questioning as a core concern.’ (Wood 2006).

As discussed previously, it is tempting to jump straight to the place where pupils act as independent learners and tackle complex geographical questions, but this is the end point of 13 years of formal education. Questioning, Rosenshine reminds us, allows pupils to practise answering questions in small steps and build their understanding of the bigger picture. It also allows them to think deeper about their initial answer to a question and consider the process of how they arrived at it.

There is an important caveat we should keep in mind in the geography classroom, however; not all questions are equal. We want to avoid asking questions where pupils need to guess what is in our heads. At the start of a topic about Ghana, asking pupils, ‘What is Ghana’s capital?’ is unlikely to be of much use. Questions that start, ‘Can anyone tell me…’ only reveal whether they can. Then what?

Instead, Rosenshine urges us to ask questions that go deeper into a pupil’s understanding. One way to achieve this is to ask what some term ‘Socratic questions’. These six question stems can be used to encourage pupils to reflect on their answers and to connect different pieces of information. An example would be: 

Teacher: Should London prioritise protecting its green space? 

Student: Yes. 

  1. Classify their thinking

Teacher: What do you know about the need for green space in London? 

Student: It helps to prevent flooding as water can infiltrate into the soil. It also provides space for communities and tourists like it. 

  1. Probe assumptions

Teacher: What would change your answer about prioritising green space? 

Student: If there was another way to prevent flooding, or if something more dangerous than flooding would happen, if not. 

  1. Demand evidence

Teacher: What evidence is there that cities need this green space to prevent flooding? 

Student: In Lagos they built on open land in the city and flooding increased. 

  1. Alternative viewpoints

Teacher: Would everyone agree that green space should be a priority in cities? 

Student: No. If we don’t build on this land then house prices will be more expensive. People who can’t afford a house would have different priorities. 

  1. Explore implications

Teacher: What would be the implications of saying that London should prioritise green space?

Student: It would mean that the authorities would need to act to protect green space and ban building on it. It might mean that developers need to look for somewhere else to put homes, like brownfield sites. 

  1. Question the question

Teacher: Why do you think we need to ask questions like this? 

Student: We can’t prioritise everything and need to consider what we think is most important.

 (Enser, 2019, pp.117–118).

One of the trickier aspects of this process can be dealing with pupils who simply answer, ‘I don’t know’. There are a few approaches to overcome this. One is to move on to another pupil, but then to return to ask the original pupil’s view on their answer. Another approach is to lead them to an answer by breaking the question down into smaller pieces. For example, for question 5 you could ask, ‘What else could the green space be used for?’ then, ‘What do you think those people will do instead?’, before returning to the original question. 

One potential pitfall with spending a large amount of class time on verbal questioning is that it may only involve a handful of pupils who are engaged in a conversation whilst others drift off. Rosenshine also reminds us of the importance of involving everyone. There are a number of ways this can be achieved in the geography classroom.

  • Random name generators can be used to ensure that teacher bias doesn’t mean the same few pupils are always asked a question. You can use online programmes to do this, or simply write numbers on lollipop sticks and assign each pupil in the class a number. A weakness of this approach is that it means questions aren’t targeted to those you think need to answer them and it can slow down the flow of the lesson. If you are going to use this strategy, ensure you ask the question before selecting a name. It means everyone will be thinking of an answer, just in case they are chosen. 
  • Mini whiteboards can be used to quickly gather responses to simple questions. Ask every pupil to record their answer and then reveal it at once. You can then use the Socratic questioning technique above to draw out more detailed responses from some pupils. 
  • Online quizzes There are a number of online platforms, such as Kahoot, that allow you to set quizzes that pupils answer on a phone or tablet. Many allow you to see who answered which questions correctly. 
  • Post-it notes can be used to overcome the issue of pupils feeling too shy to answer questions and ensure you hear from everyone. They can be particularly good in geography where pupils are making spatial decisions. For example, putting their name on a post-it and then sticking it to a map at the front of the class to show where they would place X. They can then be questioned about their decision-making process. It can also be used to show where they would put something on a Venn diagram or along a continuum (i.e. from ‘Very Sustainable’ to ‘Not Sustainable’).

Questioning is fundamental to the geography classroom. We want to expose pupils to good quality geographical questions and the best way to achieve this is to ensure we ask them ourselves. They also allow pupils to practise their answer verbally before committing it to paper, work out their thinking and have this thinking developed. 

References

Wood P (2006) Developing Enquiry through Questioning, Teaching Geography 31(2): 76–78.

Enser M (2019) Making Every Geography Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Geography Teaching. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. 

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

The fourth of Rosenshine’s principles has strong implications for secondary school geography teaching. In this principle, Rosenshine reminds us that the most effective teachers model how to complete work.

One reason this is so important in geography, in particular, is that pupils will have had very variable experiences of it in their primary schools. Some will have had teachers with a very good understanding of the subject and strong schemes of work, but many arrive with little idea of what good geography looks like. We need to show pupils how geographers see the world.

This is where modelling comes in and it can be used in three ways: 

Model the steps: The first way is to model the steps we need to take to complete a task. This might involve talking pupils through how to do something, for example, draw and interpret a climate graph. The first time you model it, you might take them through it step-by-step – how to draw the axes, how to mark on the points for the line graph for temperature and how to draw the bars for precipitation, etc. You can also model the thinking behind it, for example, why temperature is shown as a line graph and precipitation as a bar graph, etc. 

One consideration to make with this is how and when to stop modelling and have students practise without it. You might decide that the second time they encounter climate graphs, you will just quickly run through the main points and then allow students to do it themselves (giving more support to those who need it). Then the third time they come across, you might it leave it entirely up to them. It will depend on the complexity of the task. 

Model the end point: A second way to approach modelling is to show pupils a finished piece of excellent work. This shows them the standard they are aiming for and makes your expectations explicit. Many geographical questions are open-ended and could be answered in varying degrees of depth. There are many ways to answer ‘Should the Lesotho Highland Water Project have gone ahead?’, for example. This could be answered ‘Yes’ or ‘Yes, because…’ or ‘Economically it should because… but environmentally…’ – and so on. Giving an exemplar answer helps pupils to realise what is expected from them at this point. 

It is important that this model answer is explained and unpicked. Pupils need to understand the criteria that makes this such a strong piece of work. One way to achieve this is to share the criteria and then ask them to find evidence in the answer that this has been met. They can then apply this to their own work before handing it in and so help to improve their metacognition (how they think about their own learning (Quigley and Stringer, 2018).    

It can also be useful to model common errors so that pupils become familiar with identifying and changing these in their own work. One way to approach this to create a piece of work that typifies the errors often found in answers to a particular question and ask the class to ‘search and destroy’ (find as many errors as they can and correct them). Once again, the aim is to have them apply this in their own work. 

Modeling a geographical outlook: As mentioned in the opening to this piece, pupils often have very little idea of what it means to ‘think geographically’; they don’t know what the subject involves. We can use modelling to help here too.

One way we can do this combines modelling with retrieval practice, discussed in principle one. Place an image of a landscape on the board. Ask the class to use what they have learnt in a particular topic to analyse this image. This could involve a coastal scene with different types of landscapes shown and the evidence for different processes. Once they tried, model it yourself. Show them the level of complexity that a geographer would use to pick apart an image, explain the processes you are using to analyse the scene and the knowledge you are drawing on. 

Our pupils don’t tend to see geographers at work. If we want pupils to do geographical work in a geographical way, we need to model it. 

References

Quigley A and Stringer E (2018) Making Sense of Metacognition. Impact: Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching (3): 26–30. Available at https://impact.chartered.college/article/quigley-stringer-making-sense-metacognition/ (accessed 4 October 2019).

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

This fifth principle from Barak Rosenshine reminds us that the most effective teachers spend a long time guiding student practice, rather than rushing to have them work independently (Kirschner et al., 2006).  The time spent guiding students is used to question them more deeply about their thought process, model answers and explore misunderstandings. 

This final point is very important in the geography classroom – guiding practice gives us time to discover any misconceptions before pupils start to work. If we don’t capture these, pupils will practise with the misconceptions and they will become learnt. 

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it may make it permanent. It is especially important to pick up procedural errors – such as the line and bar graph components of a climate graph or the northings and eastings on map coordinates – before they become embedded and therefore permanent (Hattie and Timperley, 2007). 

The other reason we need to guide practice so carefully in geography is that there are so many misconceptions about the processes we teach. These misconceptions seem to arise in what psychologist and researcher Geary terms ‘folk knowledge’ (Geary, 2007). They can be very hard to shift and need to be drawn out during guided practice, usually through questioning, and painstakingly explained away. Examples include:

  • The reason people live in tectonically active areas is that it is cheaper to live there
  • Global warming is caused by the hole in the ozone layer letting in more of the sun’s energy
  • It is hotter on the equator because it is closer to the sun
  • You get volcanoes on the equator because it is so hot
  • Rivers have more velocity in their upper course.

The list goes on, and often leaves geography teachers baffled as to their origin. The problems arise because of incorrect links in pupils’ schemata (their mental web of knowledge) on the topic. For example, their knowledge that water runs fast down a slope gets attached to their knowledge about how a river behaves, but doesn’t take into account the role of friction from bedload. Their knowledge that the hole in the ozone layer was a serious environmental problem gets erroneously attached to their need to explain why the earth is warming. 

Education writer David Didau and psychology teacher Nick Rose suggest that it is very difficult to remove these false links once they become established (Didau and Rose 2016). Instead, the false schema may sit in pupils’ memory alongside the correct one. This runs the risk that the wrong prompt could make pupils reach for the incorrect information. 

Be aware of this in guided practice; teach carefully and constantly check for understanding before moving pupils on to apply what they have learnt to independent practice.

We need to ensure that we do more than ask, ‘Have you understood?’ or that students simply repeat back something you have just said. Instead, we need to test their understanding by asking questions that show whether they have really understood it. One way to do this is to ask them to apply it to something else. For example, if we want to check that they have understood what tertiary employment is we might ask them to name a new example. If we wanted to check they understood the implications of moving from secondary to tertiary employment we might ask them to suggest the implications of this change for South Wales. 

Guided practice also allows pupils to rehearse their thought processes before committing it to paper. This involves the teacher carefully asking questions about a pupil’s thought process. For example, you might ask a pupil: ‘Should London protect its green spaces?’ and get the rather obvious answer: ‘Yes’. You can then ask follow-up questions, such as:

  • What has led you to reach this conclusion?
  • Are there any economic consequences of this decision?
  • Who would oppose it?
  • Are you saying this should be a priority for London?
  • Should other cities, such as Lagos, also protect their green spaces?

This questioning process can also draw in other pupils to challenge or support what has been said. In doing so, you want to draw attention to the process you are taking them on of thinking like a geographer, substantiating conclusions, and considering social, economic and environmental factors, the role of stakeholders and changing scale and place.

Guided practice should result in independent practice that is free of errors. It should also lead to pupils who are more easily engaged in their independent work as they will be able to access this more easily and will feel more confident in their ability to succeed at it. 

References

Didau D and Rose N (2016) What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational. 

Geary D (2007) Educating the Evolved Mind: Conceptual Foundations for an Evolutionary Educational Psychology. In: Educating the Evolved Mind: Conceptual Foundations for an Evolutionary Educational Psychology. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing. Available at: https://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/Geary01.pdf (accessed 4 October 2019).

Hattie J and Timperley H (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research 77(1): 81–112. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/003465430298487 (accessed 4 October 2019).

Kirschner PA, Sweller J and Clark RE (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist 41(2): 75–86.

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

This sixth principle follows fast on the heels of the fifth (guide student practice) and links closely to the seventh (achieve a high success rate). In this principle, Rosenshine explains that the most effective teachers very carefully check that pupils fully understand a topic – and make them prove their understanding – before moving on. 

The reason it is important to have pupils prove their understanding is that learning is not visible. Graham Nuthall’s research in The Hidden Lives of Learners shows that what teachers think has been learnt is often not the reality; pupils pick up all kinds of misconceptions and erroneously link together the wrong pieces of information in their schema (Nuthall, 2007).

For example, we may believe that we have carefully explained the push and pull factors leading people to move to Mumbai, only to read a pupil’s work and find that they have written about moving for tourist attractions and the weather. Their ‘folk knowledge’ about why people move (based on factors they themselves feel are important in selecting a place to live), has attached to the question and helped to embed this misunderstanding (Didau and Rose, 2016).

If the teacher had checked what pupils in the class were going to include in their answer, this could have been addressed. Better yet, if the teacher had been aware of this common misconception, it could have been deliberately drawn out through questioning and challenge. 

Rosenshine points out that the most effective teachers use time in class for pupils to model their answers before they begin, and question them closely to establish who has understood what. The least effective teachers had a habit of asking, ‘Any questions?’, before moving pupils on to independent practice. One problem with this question is that pupils don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t know if they have misunderstood something. It is also human nature to think you are more capable of something than you actually are. This Dunning-Kruger effect means it is important to have objective and outside feedback on whether or not we have understood something and are ready to move on (Kruger and Dunning, 1999).

Instead of asking ‘any questions’, we need to ask the questions that check for understanding. If they are about to write a paragraph contrasting high and low pressure areas we might ask one pupil to tell us which place will have less rainfall and another to tell us which will be warmer. The second question helps to draw out the misconception that high pressure areas are warm just because they are dry. 

When we check for understanding through questioning, we need to be wary of accepting closed answers. We also want to check why pupils think the answer they are giving is the right answer. For example, if you are teaching about the global atmospheric model, you might ask a pupil where they would find a band of low pressure. The student might answer ‘on the equator’. This is all well and good, but you need to know if they actually know what low pressure is; otherwise you don’t know if they have understood what you have taught. If they have confused it with the features of high pressure then their answer tells us little about their understanding. We then want to follow up by checking they know why low pressure is found there. We can do this by quizzing the same pupil or by bouncing the question to other pupils by saying, ‘X is right. Y, can you explain why she is right?’. 

Time spent in this way, establishing that all pupils have firmly understood something and can elaborate on it, will be well rewarded by error-free practice. 

References

Didau D and Rose N (2016) What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational. 

Kruger J and Dunning D (1999) Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–1134.

Nuthall G (2007) The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: NZCER Press.

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

In this seventh principle, we see Rosenshine build on principles five and six, where he focuses on the need for, and nature of, guided practice. Here he tells us that the most effective teachers ensure that pupils fully understand what they have been shown and told during instruction, before they start to work on more independent practice. If pupils practise with errors, he explains, they will simply embed those errors. 

We must make sure that pupils have understood most of what has been taught before moving on. This is our ‘high success rate’. This raises the question though, which bits must they understand?

This question of what to focus on when ensuring pupils have secure knowledge before moving on can be best understood in geography by considering it alongside the research of Jan Meyer and Ray Land into what they termed ‘threshold concepts’ (Meyer and Land, 2003). These concepts are ones that pupils must understand to access later learning. If these aren’t secure, there is little point in trying to move the class on to something else. 

Meyer and Land suggested that threshold concepts have six characteristics:

  1. Transformative: they change the way in which you see the world
  2. Troublesome: they might seem counterintuitive or alien
  3. Irreversible: the transformative nature means that once they are learnt, the concepts are unlikely to be forgotten
  4. Integrated: they reveal connections between the different parts of the discipline
  5. Bounded: despite this, these concepts only apply within defined parameters
  6. Discursive: they lead to the development of new language.

We can identify a number of such concepts in geography, for example, sustainable development. If we explain this concept to pupils, it should: transform the way they see the decision-making process in our subject; challenge some preconceptions about environmental issues; not be easily forgotten; show links between economics, human development and the environment; be of use primarily in our subject; and lead to a new language to discuss these issues.

If they have not understood the nature of sustainable development, or have misunderstood it, then there is little point in moving on to them practising making decisions in light of it. If they know they have not understood it, they will lose confidence in their ability; but, even worse, is if they think they have understood it when they have not.

A common example of a misunderstanding here is that sustainability is only concerned with environmental issues and ignores the need for economic sustainability. This would result in pupils making decisions that they believe are based on sustainability when they are not. This false definition will enter their schema (or web of knowledge) that is connected to the decision-making process and the misconception will arise whenever they try to make a choice in the future. 

There are two solutions to this problem. 

The first is to be aware of likely misconceptions and address them during guided instruction. This awareness will develop over the years of teaching, but more experienced teachers can pass this on during department meetings or by building them into the schemes of work. Examples might include:

  • The reason people live in tectonically active areas is that it is cheaper to live there
  • Global warming is caused by the hole in the ozone layer letting in more of the sun’s energy
  • It is hotter on the equator because it is closer to the sun
  • You get volcanoes on the equator because it is so hot
  • Rivers have more velocity in their upper course.

A second approach is to monitor independent practice carefully (see principle nine) and look out for these errors. If one or two pupils are making them then this can be dealt with by re-teaching it to them, but if it becomes clear that many pupils are making the same error, the practice needs to be stopped and the guided instruction re-started to correct the error. Future lessons can than be altered to prevent the error from recurring again in the future. 

References 

Meyer E and Land R (2003) Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising Within the Disciplines. In: Improving Student Learning: Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development: 412–424.

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

One issue that can complicate geography teaching is that we typically have pupils in mixed-attainment classes, due to timetabling. The question then arises: how do we provide a good level of challenge that is accessible for every pupil? The answer is found in Rosenshine’s eighth principle – scaffolding

As with principles five to seven, this principle involves the idea of guiding your pupils, but it moves from the instruction phase into the implementation phase, where pupils practise what they have been taught. It suggests that the most effective teachers use scaffolds to support a pupil with complex tasks and plan to remove these when appropriate.

Scaffolding needs to be used carefully to ensure that all pupils are learning what you want them to learn. Too much scaffolding can mean that pupils can complete a task without thinking carefully about it and, as such, little learning occurs. As Daniel T Willingham reminds us, ‘memory is the residue of thought’ (Willingham 2009). An example of over-scaffolding might be the use of writing frames that leave pupils to just fill in the gaps. 

You might want pupils to complete the task: Evaluate the effectiveness of the response to a tropical storm you have studied.

This task involves pupils recalling a specific tropical storm and its response, deciding what ‘effectiveness’ in this instance refers to (economically, politically, socially or environmentally), deciding whether the response was effective and selecting the relevant information to make the case. Students then need to put this argument in a suitable structure. 

If you scaffold this task too heavily, and give them a writing frame to complete where most of these decisions have been taken from them, they may not be practising the element of the discipline you were hoping for. They are likely to just be practising the recall of relevant information which, while important, can be done at another time. 

For scaffolding to be more successful, we need to consider the purpose of the task we are setting. We don’t need pupils to practise everything about the task, as they would in a final performance, we want them to work on a particular element. As a result, we want to remove the need to think about things extraneous to this chosen element and allow them to think hard about the right thing. 

If we wanted them to practise selecting relevant information and forming an argument, we could scaffold by taking away the final part of the task where they need to worry about the structure of the writing. This could be achieved by providing structure strips that tell pupils the type of information to include in each paragraph, rather than the information itself (Logue 2017). 

If you wanted pupils to think about how to structure their answer, you could lighten the load on recall. In this instance the scaffolding would be a crib sheet of facts to include in the answer but less guidance on how to structure the work, as this is the skill you want them to practice. 

A common way to scaffold a task in geography is to give pupils a very explicit success criteria so that they know how their work will be judged. This removes an element of guesswork and allows them to concentrate on practising the task at hand. For the task discussed above, this might look like:

  • Names a specific tropical storm
  • Includes details on the responses
  • Evaluates both immediate and long-term responses
  • Links the impact of the storm to the response
  • Considers the economic and social effectiveness of the response
  • Reaches a conclusion about both. 

For us to scaffold work successfully we have to keep in mind exactly what it is we want pupils to be practising in any particular task. We then want to scaffold anything extraneous to this aim to allow them to focus on the right aspect of the work. 

References

Logue P (2017) Differentiation Ideas that Work Every Time. Available at: https://mrshumanities.com/2017/05/27/guest-post-from-ploguey-differentiation-ideas-that-work-every-time/ (accessed 4 October 2019).

Willingham DT (2009) Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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

One criticism of the kind of teacher-led, more didactic approaches to learning found in Rosenshine’s work is that it doesn’t give time for independent practice. Principle nine, however, is very clear that independent practice is very important for pupils to gain fluency in the thing they have just been taught.

This principle does, however, pose an issue for geography teachers; the nature of our discipline doesn’t align very well with the kind of work being discussed here. Rosenshine argues that pupils should practise completing a high number of tasks that are very similar to the ones they have been exposed to during guided practice. This, like much of the work in this paper, comes from observations in maths and science classrooms (although unusually English features here too). You can well imagine a maths classroom where pupils have been guided through how to work out quadratic equations and then go on to complete a number of examples themselves to become fluent. But in geography…?

You can see occasions where this principle might be applied in the way that it appears here. Certain elements of disciplinary knowledge would benefit from mass practice – describing distribution, identifying trends on a graph, using map coordinates, working out distance using a scale, etc. Much of what we teach, though, is more substantive knowledge and this lends itself less well to the approach as set out in Rosenshine’s ninth principle (Counsell, 2018). 

Other points in this principle are more generally useful in the geography classroom, however. One point that is worth considering is the importance of carefully monitoring independent practice. As has been mentioned previously, there is no point in practising errors or they will become embedded. It is therefore important to circulate during independent practice and check for these kinds of procedural errors (Hattie and Timperely, 2007). If the same errors are occuring in the work of a number of pupils, it probably means there was a problem with the guided instruction phase and the class needs to be stopped while this is re-taught. 

Rosenshine also makes a brief mention of collaborative learning here and suggests that pupils may benefit from having time to discuss their work, and draw out and correct misconceptions and errors as a group. This is supported by the EEF toolkit, which has found that carefully planned collaborative learning may have benefits (EEF, 2018). 

This can work very well in geography when pupils are forced by their peers to explain and justify the conclusions they have reached about a certain issue. For example, if the class has been using map skills to decide on the best location for a new supermarket, having them argue their case with a partner about who was right can help them to explore their thinking and potential weaknesses in their decision. 

It can also be useful for them to hear the ideas of others and consider how they might apply them to their own work. Either way, it is important to share with them some prompts for useful questioning, such as those used in Socratic questioning (Enser, 2019). This means that pupils need to think deeply about their own work to answer these questions and to confront what they still do not know. 

Rosenshine’s ninth principle reminds us to ensure that pupils have time to practice tasks, whether this is by writing or discussion, but that this should be done under the supervision of their teacher so that errors are not embedded and that feedback is received on what needs to be re-taught.

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.

Rosenshine’s tenth principle cleverly returns us to the first – the need to review what has been learnt before. In this final principle he suggests that frequently returning to previous work allows the development of complex schemas (webs of knowledge about a particular topic and the connections to other topics).

By having a well-developed schema, we avoid overtaxing our working memory as we can chunk what we know about a topic together. When I think about ‘meanders’ (and which geographer doesn’t do that frequently?), I automatically recall the information linked to that. Slip-off slopes, thalwegs and helicoidal flows all come unbidden into my head, without any effort, ready to be deployed. 

The reason this happens is because I have reviewed what I know about this topic frequently and have thought about it when learning something new. If we don’t review what we have learnt, we might end up with information sitting in silos, unconnected and therefore of little use. 

As with principle nine, we can see that this also needs heavily adapting for the geography classroom. Many geographers will only see their class once or twice a week so a ‘weekly review’ is no different to recapping previous learning at the start of a lesson (see principle one). Instead, we are likely to see monthly and termly reviews being used to good effect.

The aim of this review is for pupils to look back through their work and see the big picture; how what they have learnt is connected. It also allows them to practise recalling what they have previously learnt and to pick up on any errors that now need correcting. 

This can be implemented in the geography classroom in many ways.

One way would be to sit with a pupil and discuss their work with them. This can be done while other pupils are getting on with independent practice. In this time you can discuss the progress they are making, ask searching questions about their work and help them make connections between different topics. You may only be able to sit with one pupil each lesson but it means you will review each pupil’s work with them a couple of times a year.

Another way to approach frequent review is to use the Cornell Note Taking system (Allison, 2018). This system involves pupils creating a wider left-hand margin in their exercise book and a box of a few lines at the bottom of the page. They then complete their work in the right hand box as usual. At the end of the lesson they summarise what they have learnt in the box at the bottom and then write a few quick questions based on their work in the margin on the left. When it comes to review their work they can now quickly read their summary before attempting their own questions. 

You can also carry out a review through concept mapping (Blunt and Karpicke, 2014). At the end of the topic ask pupils to create a mind map of what they have studied from memory. They then need to identify the links from the different parts of the topic and add these links (using lines of different colours can be an effective way for them to show these). It is important this is done from memory so as to take advantage of the testing effect and improve the ability to recall the information in the future. Once they have done as much as they can from memory, they can then use their notes to review what they have managed to remember and fill in any gaps. 

Geography is an incredibly broad discipline and there is a huge amount we try to fit in. This can lead to us rush from one lesson to another and not take the time to stop and check what we have learnt so far and make those vital connections. Engaging in review gives our pupils the space they need to reflect on what they have learnt and start to think like geographers. 

References 

Allison S (2018) Supporting Retrieval with Cornell Note Taking. Available at: https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2018/09/24/supporting-retrieval-practice-with-cornell-note-taking/ (accessed 4 October 2018).

Blunt J and Karpicke J (2014) Learning with Retrieval-Based Concept Mapping. Journal of Educational Psychology 106(3): 849–858.

Counsell C (2018) Taking Curriculum Seriously. Impact (4): 6–9. Available at: https://impact.chartered.college/article/taking-curriculum-seriously/ (accessed 4 October 2019).

EEF (2018) Collaborative Learning. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/collaborative-learning/ (accessed 4 October 2019).

Enser M (2019) Making Every Geography Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Geography Teaching. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing. pp 117–118.

Hattie J and Timperley H (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research 77(1): 81–112. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/003465430298487 (accessed 4 October 2019).

Further Reading 

Lambert D and Morgan J (2019) Teaching Geography 11–18: A Conceptual Approach. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Kirschner PA, Sweller J and Clark RE (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist 41(2): 75–86.

Sweller J (2010) Element Interactivity and Intrinsic, Extraneous, and Germane Cognitive Load. Educational Psychology Review 22(2): 123–138.

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