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What is all the fuss about? Rosenshine’s principles for instruction

Clearly many schools across the country have been sharing Rosenshine’s principles with their teachers during CPD sessions recently. Twitter is full of education guru’s retweeting how Rosenshine is the next best thing in education since sliced bread (or feedback, or metacognition).

So what are these revolutionary principles for teaching? Well here they are:

Rosenshine’s principles

  1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  2. Present new material in small steps with student practise after each step.
  3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students.
  4. Provide models.
  5. Guide student practice.
  6. Check for student understanding.
  7. Obtain a high success rate.
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
  9. Require and monitor independent practice.
  10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

On one level this is great because any advice that helps people enhance and develop their practice is a good thing in my book. It distils some clear principles for teachers to use. It helps articulate the ‘how to teach’ well in an easy to digest format.

For inexperienced teachers, of those struggling, such principles can be seen as a god-send.

Stating the bleedin’ obvious?

There are in fact 17 principles if you read one of the research papers. And each one must be effective and therefore adhered to because they ‘research-based’, and some of this research base is ‘cognitive science’ so, clearly its the gospel isn’t it?

Sorry to be dismissive, but if you asked any experienced, reflective practitioner to write about effective teaching strategies that they knew worked in the classroom, I bet they would come up with a similar list. After all isn’t it better to model something than just expect kids to know? Don’t we need to ask questions to check then develop learning?

Indeed before everyone was obsessed with ‘evidence-based educational research’ teachers used to share such lists.

In Hampshire for example from the mid 1990, each quarter the History newsletter, History Matters was full of such advice. Whole articles were given over to chunking material and modelling. There was no ‘research base’ here, just wisdom passed on from the experienced and effective.

Just because Rosenshine’s principles are ‘research base’ and it says ‘instruction’ in the title (in today’s twitter world ‘direct instruction’ = good practice and anyone who thinks otherwise faces fierce criticism), we get SLTs buying into it (like Hattie before and pupils responding to comment marking before that and AfL before that).

Why are School Leaders so interesed?

Sorry to be cynical here, but I think it may be down to the fact that such a list is easy to impart across a whole school via a generic whole school INSET. The principles are then easy to monitor by clip board wielding managers. If lessons they are observing don’t follow the Rosenshine principles then its a big X on the tick sheet.

I can imagine feedback conversations: ‘Well, I didn’t see a re-cap of prior learning in the lesson so it wasn’t good enough.’

This could happen, even if the re-capping of prior learning was ineffective, or the prior learning was full of misconceptions.

My fear is that the focus will be on the ‘how’ to deliver lessons, and this will take time away from deep discussions and thinking about ‘what’ is it that we want pupils to learn. Both are important. But without the ‘what’ the ‘how’ is somewhat irrelevant.

Thinking more deeply about the ‘what’ and not just the ‘how’

To consider what you want you pupils to learn and to then sequence this learning to make it the whole process as effective as possible in terms of learning, takes much more thought. It also has to happen in subject communities/departments and is not easily translated to a tick list on a clip board usd by a non specialist observer.

As we know, knowledge in history falls into two categories, substantive (stuff, facts, dates and names) and disciplinary knowledge (second-order order concepts). Knowing what substantive knowledge to teach and when is one conversation that we should be having. This can be tricky. What should we include in our curriculum? What stories or themes do we want our classes to remember?

Knowing the disciplinary thinking you want your students to engage with, and the knowledge to be gained here, is another conversation. This is difficult. What analysis surrounding say change and continuity do we want our classes to grapple with? What types of thinking do we want them to master? Do we know? And if we do, when and where should we be focusing on this thinking in our curriculum model? When should we be re-visiting it?

These questions are much harder and involve more teacher knowledge. If schools do not allow subject teachers to focus on such issues, before they advise teachers how to improve what they do in the classroom, then attainment, progress and learning will not shift upwards, we will yet again be stuck in a world of generic and superficial teaching.

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About the author
Richard McFahn
Founder of History Resource Cupboard, Richard has worked for 20 years as a history teacher, subject and senior leader, Advanced Skills Teacher, local authority adviser and history ITE tutor.

1 comment

  1. An exemplary critique that I fully agree with. I am already experiencing the misguided whole school INSET route implementation of this. Discussion on the curriculum, what to teach and when has been entirely absent and I have received my first lesson visit feedback card showing which boxes I ticked and those principles needing work. After 32 years in the classroom I feel that this Rosenshine wave will be the end of my career – not because I have any issues with the principles but because I see weak leadership, scrambling for ideas on how to move on mediocre circumstances but without once considering the in house experience they could be drawing on.

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