Principles of Instruction Rosenshine's principles, perfect for any teacher's toolkit - Mr T Beattie Harris Academy

Barak Rosenshine's work has contributed immensely to the world of education. After his first spell at university, he spent his early life as a History teacher before going on to complete a PhD in Education at Stanford University. Rosenshine's research has a clear focus on learning and teaching; how teachers instruct pupils, how pupils attain and achieve and how teachers perform. In his own words, in an interview with George A. Clowes for School Reform News, he said 'When I arrived there (Stanford), in 1963, I came across a book called Handbook of Research on Teaching, and I said, "That's it—I want to study how to improve teaching." I took the class that used the book and I've been studying research on teaching ever since."...and boy did he live up to his word. After reading his article on 10 research-based principles of instruction, I thought to myself that if I were to implement some of this work into what I do in the classroom, it could definitely make me a better teacher.

Rosenshine's principles have become very popular and some solid work has been carried out over the last few years here in the UK exploring his principles.

  • Ross Morrison McGill aka teacher toolkit has a great article on Rosenshine here.
  • Oliver Caviglioli has a superb infographic of the ten principles available to download as a PDF here.
  • Tom Sherrington aka Teacherhead has just released a fantastic book on Rosenshine and has an article on his blog which looks at the principles here.

I am going to take a snapshot and explore some of his principles over the next few weeks. All ten are definitely worth looking into, so take some time and read his complete article at your own speed now in American Educator.

ONE - Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.

Rosenshine's research suggests, "The review of previous learning can help us recall, words, concepts and procedures effortlessly and automatically when we need this material to solve problems or to understand new material."

From Principles of Instruction.

What this means is that it is vital for teachers to take some time at the beginning of each new lesson to go over material that has been learned by the pupils in previous lessons. It is about making sure that the pupil is ready to move forward in their learning; it is hard to move forward if what you are meant to be building on does not exist. Pupils need to develop their understanding regarding knowledge, concepts and skills. Mastery of old learning should take place in order to develop new learning.

This could, or maybe should, also include reviewing any home learning that has taken place since the last lesson and is a great opportunity for some peer and self assessment to be built into the lesson. What about a quick check on any vocabulary that might have been introduced during previous lessons? Take time to allow pupils to revisit a glossary or even construct one from previous learning -i.e. what are the most important words or terms in the unit so far? If you use Cornell notes, I am considering taking the first few minutes of a new lesson to get pupils to fill in the summary section at the bottom of their notes. A really effective way of recalling previous learning.

TWO - Present new material in small steps, then help students to practice that material.

This is pretty graphic, but if you have ever bitten off a bit of toffee that is too big for your mouth, problems loom on the horizon. Usually in the form of drool. Like the toffee, giving pupils too much new material at once also turns out a bit messy. For the pupil, the thinking becomes a little cluttered, there are some things that don't compute and other things that get left out completely. Lets just think of these things as cognitive drool. It's not really useful for anyone.

From Principles of Instruction.

Our working memory is exhaustive. There has been lots of research on cognitive load theory recently which suggests 'if the cognitive load exceeds our (the pupil's) processing capacity, we (they) will struggle to complete the activity successfully'. Rosenshine suggests that the more effective teachers spent more time presenting new material and then more time guiding student practice than ineffective teachers. In other words, take your time and make sure to bring your pupils with you!

THREE - Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students.

Asking questions does not make you a good teacher. Being good at asking questions however makes you a very good teacher. Efficient and excellent questioning techniques encourage pupils to participate in classroom learning. It also helps you to elicit pupil feedback so that you can check whether pupils are mastering the learning - pupil feedback to move learning forward. I encourage you to have a think before you question in your classroom. There are other things people might include here, but for me I like to think about the purpose of my questions - why am I asking the question, what type of question is appropriate (open, closed, socratic etc)? Include think time or wait time, select pupils for responses randomly. One of my favourites is to play devils advocate to create a bit of wobble and finally make good use of minimal encouragers (nods, agreement, "keep going" etc) to tease out information.

From Principles of Instruction.

One of my favourite techniques is Pose, Pause, Pounce and Bounce. I love using it as it encourages all pupils to participate; all pupils have to tune in to the response being made as by bouncing the question you encourage further dialogue and an evaluation of the initial pupil's response. It's higher order thinking skills in action.

From Principles of Instruction.
FOUR - Provide students with models and worked examples.

This term I have tried to include WAGOLL's as I teach. Its a beautiful acronym and stands for 'what a good one looks like'. I did a little experiment earlier this year with the same task and two different mixed ability S3 classes. With one class I explained the task and gave certain process based rather than product based success criteria. With the other class I over emphasised worked examples, took a few photographs of complete pieces of work from previous classes, which allowed me to model success and what excellence looks like. Lo and behold the pieces of work from the second class were a much better standard. WAGOLL's work!

From Principles of Instruction.
FIVE - Successful teachers spend more time guiding students' practice of new material.

Practice makes perfect. Well, that's a lie, but practice certainly brings improvement. I can remember as a kid acting in our school show, it was Grease and I was playing Kenickie. The hours I had to spend rehearsing those lines were painstaking, but it worked and without the rehearsal I would have either had to bring my script on stage or make the thing up. The consequences of either would not have been good.

There is a need to engage pupils in their learning. And as teachers we can facilitate that engagement by helping our pupils rehearse. Coaching, effective questioning, practice, synthesis and summarizing learning all help pupils rehearse. It is also important to guide the rehearsal. During that performance of Grease in Banbridge Academy, back in the day, when I was a boy, teachers didn't leave us to it, they guided our rehearsal. If a song wasn't right they corrected the tune, if we missed a line they prompted from the front, if the dance steps weren't right - I think they just gave up to be honest, my dancing was and is atrocious. However, I think you get the point. There is no point in rehearsing if what you are rehearsing is wrong. As a teacher it is our job to pick up on the misconceptions of our learners and that can only come if we are really particular with how we elicit feedback from pupils regarding their learning.

From Principles of Instruction.

That's the first five of Barak Rosenshine's principles covered. please look at the active links and some of the great work that is out there on Rosenshine. Buy Tom Sherrington's book for a deeper analysis of the principles and tune in over the coming weeks for part two as we look at the final five of the principles.


Created with an image by geralt - "board learn training"

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