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Using Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction in English

If you are interested in how to incorporate Rosenshine’s principles of instruction into your lessons, check out a few of my tried and tested examples below. I’ve tried to draw together all of my lesson ideas, tips and practical examples to show how using Rosenshine in your lessons can improve the learning of your students.

Let’s start with who he is…

If you’ve never come across these principles before they are the work of Barak Rosenshine. He was a Psychology Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Illinois until he became a history teacher. He then went back to the University of Illinois to conduct research into education. He developed his 10 Principles of Instruction as well as expanding this into 17 Principles of Instruction.

The reason I’m such a fan of his ideas is that they have a grounding in the psychology of learning as well as educational research. In addition, as a teacher it is easy to incorporate most, if not all, of his principles into each lesson we teach.

As teachers, I actually think we do a lot of what Rosenshine promotes. However, by looking in detail at his principles of instruction and the research behind them, you can find ways of streamlining your practice and tailoring it further to the needs of your pupils. Or, it may just give you the confidence of knowing you’ve been doing it right all along.

I have tried to go through each principle in turn and give examples from my own classroom as well as a range of activity ideas to use in yours – I hope you find it useful!

1. Begin with a short review of learning

‘Review can help us strengthen the connections among the material we have learned.’

I used to do this verbally after the starter had been completed, however I have recently changed to including a starter (do now activity) that focuses pupils on reviewing what we have looked at in the previous lesson. I have found that this makes the learning feel much more relevant and allows for a better transition between lessons, especially if you don’t see your classes on consecutive days. I also find this is a great way for me to assess how much information has been recalled; I am then able to fill in any gaps or re-address certain areas.

Some ways in which I have incorporated this into my lessons:

  • Mini quizzes created by me

  • Mini quizzes created by pupils

  • Peer questioning

  • Matching definitions to new vocabulary learned in a previous lesson.

  • List 5 things you learned learn about…?

  • What do you know about? What do you want to find out?

  • What are our 5 top tips for successful writing?

  • Write down 3 words to describe what____did in the chapter we read yesterday.

  • I also use this time to look at errors that I may have noticed in a homework or marked piece of work.

These reviews can be from the previous lesson or even from over a week ago. The main point here is that the review acts as a sort of bridge from one lesson to the next and allows pupils to make links to previous lessons and knowledge. Your decisions on what to review at the beginning of the lesson will also depend on what you want to do for the remainder of the lesson. If you would like to do a diary entry from the perspective of a minor character, but this character hasn’t been discussed in class in a while, then you may want to use the starter to focus on words and phrases to describe this character or even ask pupils to make a list of key events that they have been involved in so far. I have found that in my own teaching, when this type of review is made explicit, clear and simple, pupils are able to process the content and skills much quicker and continue to make links to previous learning throughout the lesson.

2. Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step

‘Presenting too much material at once may confuse students because their working memory will be unable to process it.’

This particular principle is closely linked to the idea of mastery and requires the teacher to carefully consider the following:

  • What do I want pupils to be able to do?

  • Which skills do I want them to use?

  • What do they already know?

  • What is the end product I am aiming for?

  • What is the success criteria?

  • How will this be useful to pupils on a long-term basis?

  • What is the timeline for this?

  • What are the different stages of this task or skill?

  • Which activities best support this?

  • How will I know if pupils are on track?

  • How will I know if they have mastered a skill?

I always do a rough plan before I begin to plan lessons and write out my end goal first, this helps me to think about all of the different tasks I may need to embed and also helps me to map out the skills I either need to test or review.

This a plan for an assessment I wanted to prepare pupils for

However, things don’t always go to plan! And that’s ok. I try and ask questions to establish understanding; embed small activities that I can quickly check; or use peer support. Ultimately, if they haven’t mastered it, I don’t move on.

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

‘Questions allow a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction.’

I love this one because I’m a huge fan of the value of using questions throughout a lesson. It’s quick and easy and is something you can just run with if you feel it’s necessary to dig deeper with your questions.

At the moment, I’m really focusing on my use of ‘what, how, why’ questions and am currently working on encouraging pupils to use these with each other. If you’re interested in learning more about this, please see my earlier blog post.

Here are some of the ways I use questions in my teaching:

  • I write questions on their work and then ask them to answer them e.g. ‘why is this metaphor used?’ ‘How do you know she feels sad?’ They answer in green pen so I can then quickly check their responses.

  • I give example responses to the class and ask them to ‘do my job’ and write down the questions they would like answered. This helps pupils to understand how they can then question themselves and use their answers to extend the quality of their responses. Some questions they have asked are ‘I still don’t know what the effect of the metaphor is – explain.’ ‘Why have you used a full stop here?’

  • Peer questioning and feedback. I like pupils to do this verbally as so much more tends to reveal itself this way.

  • Asking follow up questions when pupils offer you an answer – ‘why do you think that?’ ‘Why do you think the author included this?’ ‘How did you come to this conclusion?’ ‘How do you know?’

  • Voting – ‘hands in the air if you think the character was wrong’. Then question a variety of pupils on why they think this.

  • Share your opinion in pairs, question each other.

  • I pick pairs and one reads out an answer while the other listens and then responds. ‘Listen to a partner read out their answer, you will respond with either a question or a reason why you agree with them.’

  • Mini-whiteboards – pupils can write their answers and reveal them to you. This also lets you know if you can move on or if you need to go back and address this again.

  • Modelling – I often model how I ask questions as I read. You can either do this on a large white board or by using a visualiser. I recently did this with my y11s who found it extremely useful. I chose an extract from a novel and read through it, pausing when I noticed something interesting. I then annotated around my highlighted sections whilst talking pupils through this e.g I like this simile, but what is the effect? Why is it used? Can I link it to this word later on?

My class were struggling to know what to say about the examples they chose so by being able to see how I worked through the process, they were able to see how they could also do something similar.

In addition, whenever I want pupils to question each other I always present a list of question for them to refer to, or we come up with a class list before they begin.

I find that pupils are more successful when they can question themselves and each other and anticipate such questions independently. Overall, questioning encourages pupils to qualify their ideas and take them further and leads to more thoughtful and detailed responses.

4. Provide Models

‘Students need cognitive support to help them learn to solve problems’

I think modelling is one of ‘the’ best ways of explaining difficult concepts to pupils. A lot of my pre-activities, before I ask pupils to demonstrate a skill, focus on the use of mentor texts that I have either created or that are from other pupils.

You can use modelling at various points in your unit of study such as:

  • Before you ask pupils to begin work on a task. Show them what the end result will look like. Encourage them to make lists on what it does well and transform this into their ‘Top Tips for Success’.

  • During your teaching of this skill or activity. Stop regularly and look at how they are doing; give them an opportunity to move around the room and look at how others are doing. Then give them time to re-think or improve anything they’ve written so far.

  • After for re-drafting . Use examples from the class to provide pupils with a visual idea of how to improve. You could also use a modelling sheet to aid the re-drafting and improvement process.

There are various practical ways in which you can use modelling:

  • Photocopy an example from someone in the class or display using a visualiser and elicit feedback from pupils.

  • Ms Duckworth’s thought process (insert your name). I talk through how I approach a task and the decisions I am making and why. This works well with any year group as quite often it is this process that they struggle with. I have my own exercise book as well and will sometimes complete the same task they do so they can assess it later.

  • Class experts – I write lists on the board of who is an expert and what their area of expertise is. Pupils can go and talk to these people and ask for advice on what their target is e.g. Bilal is an expert on embedding quotations; Raynor is an expert on analysing a technique.

  • Class paragraphs – you type while pupils give you direction. This is also a good one for group discussion as I usually make several pupils in charge of the success criteria so they can check we are on track.

  • Group answers – this builds confidence before going it alone and you’ll find that you get lots of interesting discussion and reasoning from pupils as they undertake this task. I usually end this with exchanging work across groups and peer assessing before moving on to individual writing time.

  • Make it better – give pupils an unfinished piece of work or one that needs fixing. Ask them to improve it and then elicit feedback.

  • Model answers - created by you and marked by pupils or used as a guide when writing their own responses.

  • Modelling sheet – recently I made a list of all of the common errors that I found when marking analytical paragraphs. I then wrote an example of what it should look like. Now when I feedback and say ‘try and embed your quotations’, they go and pick up the modelling sheet in order to check what it looks like before they re-draft.

Modelling sheet of common errors

5. Guided practice and checking for understanding & 6. Checking for Understanding.

These checks also let teachers know if students were developing misconceptions.'

I have decided to combine these here as I think they often go hand in hand. Guided practice relies on the checking, monitoring and intervening of the teacher if it is to be successful. There are many ways in which to guide and support your pupils, but we must also be prepared to check the effect our methods have had, before the pupil moves onto the next stage of learning or implementation.

  • Class paragraphs - check understanding as you go and ask questions to clarify. Pupils to give direction, easy to correct as you go.

  • Steps part 1 - We all do step 1, check, then move on. This kind of chunking aids confidence but also helps to address any errors before moving onto the next stage. Sometimes a full piece of work is handed in and there is more than one target, however this can be too confusing for pupils to process. By doing one step at a time and then checking, targets are smaller and easier to work on. This reduces the amount that pupils can become overwhelmed and also allows them to feel successful each time they master a section. This also links back to Principle 2. I always use this method when teaching new content, but I also continue to use it throughout units of study. I find that it then serves as a form of repetition that helps with retrieval, particularly when undertaking a more difficult task such as analytical paragraphs. To further add guidance to this, the steps also contain mini success criteria e.g using quotations in your writing - you must embed and introduce. I’ve placed this one first as I always start with this when trying something brand new, however I also repeat this activity throughout the year as it consolidates what they already know and reminds them of how to be successful. It also acts as good preparation for any larger task.

  • Steps part 2 – this is an addition to the previous example of using steps, but requires little input from the teacher apart from setting up the task. This can be used once pupils are used to the activity in part 1. Pupils work through the steps in groups and gradually build up their skills. They then finish the task by using all of this information to write up a group answer.

Pupils worked through the steps and continued to exchange sheets and build up their answer

  • Scaffolded tasks that practice skills in a clear and structured way – using 'how what why'.

  • Group work and checking

  • Marking with reflection and improvement (RISE)

  • Regular repetition of the above before pupils are required to undertake the task independently.

What, how, why scaffolded sheet

Self reflection and improvement sheet

7. Obtain a high success rate

Once errors have been learned, they are very difficult to overcome.’

Many of the tips already discussed also feed into this principle however there are some extra points to consider when evaluating the success of your pupils.

  • Don’t be afraid to stop mid lesson and go back.

  • I recently set up a task (rather well I thought), then told pupils they could begin. At which point only one did so, while the rest stared at their paper desperately trying to think of what to write. So I stopped the task, and asked questions to ascertain where the problem was. It turns out it was rather simple, but was posing a barrier for them: they didn’t understand how to write their idea as a full sentence. When teaching this task in steps I had overlooked this aspect and had instead focused on the more difficult elements. In order to fix this, I did some modelling on the board, elicited ideas from them, we made a 3 step success criteria and then they attempted only this step. They then peer checked against the modelled examples on the board and the 3 step success criteria. The pupils who perfected this then repeated the step with a different idea to further consolidate the skill. For those that hadn’t, I was able to go around and help on a one to one basis. By the end of the lesson this aspect of the task was mastered but at a much slower rate than I planned for. However, all pupils were happy and successful and I felt confident that they could now replicate this skill at a later date.

  • Ensure all pupils have mastered the skill before you move on.

  • Sometimes the pace of a lesson is directed by those pupils that master skills quickly and it can be difficult to wait until everyone is at the same stage before moving on. I have a few ways of dealing with this: *Extensions – always have an extension for each task so pupils have something to move onto. Sometimes this can simply be to peer assess with someone else who has finished or to self assess for errors.

*Expert badges – if pupils have finished they can bring their work to me for checking. I

then give them the relevant expert badge based on what I have seen in their work. If

they are an expert in analysing language, they can then walk around the room and help

those who are struggling with this aspect.

*Walk and check – I walk around the room with my marking pen and quickly mark any

work that a pupil thinks is finished. If they still have errors they can spend some time

correcting them.

*Add on tasks – depending on the task pupils can go and choose an activity from the

‘add on’ box, however it must be relevant to the task we are currently practicing.

8. Scaffolds

‘Providing scaffolds is a form of guided practice.’

I have already mentioned the use of these in the classroom and a lot of the other principles tie nicely into this one. Here is an easy to use list of a few that I use regularly; they all help to prepare pupils for independent practice.

  • Guided ‘what, how, why’ sheet that gives pupils a clear set of guidelines for each stage of their writing. See above.

  • Sentence starters

  • Essay companion – this is a firm favourite in my Y11 class as it combines a reminder on the ‘what, how, why’ process as well as incorporating academic phrases for them to replicate.

  • Which is better? Why? Pupils look at example answers and judge which is better and why. This allows them to engage with the task and the skills but also to see how their answer should look.

  • Watch me be the pupil. I verbally talk through my thought process when undertaking a task and call upon pupils to tell me why I made certain decisions.

  • Be the teacher. I use this with example work and also their own. I will mark their work using symbols and then they must add the comments. This forces them to think carefully about what they see in their own work. Once they’ve finished, I hand out the fully marked version so they can see how close they were to my comments.

  • Label the example and make a success criteria to use in your own work.

  • Finish the example

9. Require and monitor independent practice

‘This independent practice is necessary because a good deal of practice (overlearning) is needed in order to become fluent and automatic in a skill.’

It is undoubtedly true that practice makes perfect, this is why it is imperative that you allow for enough independent writing time in your classroom. If you are following all of the above principles, then by the time you get to the independent task pupils will be ready to test their skills.

  • Relevance - ensure that all of your modelling and scaffolding has been relevant to the task you want them to complete. This may be a larger assessment, an exam task or even 20 minutes of independent writing at the end of the lesson. Whatever the task, know what it is you want them to be able to display and practice beforehand.

  • Repeat – repeat the same process again. For example, when planning for a writing task, I always start with small chunks of grammar activities. These are always the same style; they test the same skills; but with different content. I repeat this process each time we do an independent writing task: we remind ourselves of the skill, practice it, evaluate progress, review then write up.

  • Regular – I try and repeat opportunities for independent writing on a regular basis, even if it is for 20 minutes of a lesson. Not only does this enable pupils to have time to demonstrate what they’ve learned but it also helps with their retrieval of these skills as they are constantly being used. An added bonus is that I can also keep a check on how they are progressing and intervene if necessary.

10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review

‘The more one rehearses and reviews information, the stronger the interconnections between the materials become.’

This principle is also strongly linked to the first principle as it is focused on recall and retention. Pupils need to see that everything that they learn is interconnected and that the skills they practice can be utilised across many different pieces of work. This is not always obvious to them, which is why reviews are so important.

  • Review a previous assessment before undertaking the next one. After each assessment my classes fill in a RISE sheet to address their strengths as well as working on their targets. This can then easily be forgotten. However, I ask pupils to go back to this piece of work, review it and then review their reflections. Then I ask them to tell me how they will use this information in the next piece of work. I discuss this in more detail in a previous blog post.

  • Review a skill several times before it is needed for a formative or summative piece of work. Review, practice, reflect…then repeat. By creating a structured pattern of practice such as this, you are enabling pupils to eventually remember the pattern by themselves and replicate independently.

  • Quizzes, posters, board games – all created by pupils.

  • Peer questions – we often have ‘post it question time’ where pupils ask questions about a previous lesson or chapter, then they exchange these and try to answer them.

  • Questioning – use questioning as a quick and easy way to review and recall information.

  • Fill in the gaps activities

A lot of these principles feed into and support each other and you will notice some of my ideas repeated across the principles. This is because many strategies complement each other and work together in order to embed skills and foster success. As teachers, it is our job to know which strategy is needed at any given point in order to address student needs.

Here are my final takeaways from my own practice:

  • Plan for their success.

  • Know what all members of classroom need and have back up plans.

  • Be ready to deviate from your plan.

  • Use a range of activities at different stages – know which and when.

  • Evaluate what works for your class.

  • Check understanding regularly.

  • Feedback is key.

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