Last weekend we (United Learning) launched our Expert Teacher Programme. We are using Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of instructions as a core text for this course. At our launch I proposed 7 Rules of Rosenshine to support teachers in developing expertise through these principles.
Rosenshine Rule 1: Theories of teaching begin with theories of learning
Whichever Rosenshine paper we choose to read, from his classic 2012 PDF published in the American Educator, to the lesser known 1982 Instructional Functions paper, it’s clear that his guidance on teaching is rooted in his understanding of how we learn. We see this in these lines from his 1986 Teaching Functions paper:
“When too much information is presented at once, our working memory becomes swamped. This suggests that when teaching new or difficult material, a teacher should proceed in small steps and provide practice on one step before adding another. In this way, the learner does not have to process too much at one time.”
Rosenshine Rule 2: Combine theory and practice
Teacher expertise won’t develop in a library or a lab (unless you’re a science teacher). Teacher development rests on a careful combination of written theory and applied practice. Rosenshine recognises this, as we see in the opening lines of his 2012 paper:
Rosenshine Rule 3: Look beyond the poster
I love the 1-page PDFs of Rosenshine’s principles that stare back at me in staffrooms, classrooms and even toilets across our family of schools. But the more I study Rosenshine the more I realise that he is proposing a ‘general pattern’ (his phrase) of teaching rather than separate principles to be applied step-by-step. Even his classic 2012 paper misses some key points from his earlier work, like this enlightening paragraph on the instructional core at the heart of the principles:
“Three of these functions form the instructional core: demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice. The first step is the demonstration of what is to be learned. This is followed by guided student practice in which the teacher leads the students in practice, provides prompts, checks for understanding, and provides corrections and repetition. When students are firm in their initial learning, the teacher moves them to independent practice where the students work with less guidance.”
It’s clear that Rosenshine does not see his principles as separate steps to be followed in order. A quick example of this is the way he phrases the 6th principle in the 2012 paper:
So we don’t just check for understanding between points 5 & 7 – we do this throughout the process.
Rosenshine Rule 4: Confidence with caution
Rosenshine presents his work with nuance and caution. Take this from the 1982 paper:
In this spirit, we try to moderate our language when talking about the principles. We talk about them as the characteristics of effective teaching and the things that effective teachers tend to do more of and do well. They are not a checklist for every lesson.
Rosenshine Rule 5: This method of teaching is highly interactive
Rosenshine’s principles are associated with direct/explicit instruction. But they do not mark a return to chalk and talk; to cold, sterile, heartless teaching. Applying his principles requires teachers to be highly attuned to their students, gauging their understanding throughout the lesson so that they know when it’s safe to withdraw from the lesson and allow pupils to work with greater independence (this is my understanding of Principle 7 – obtain a high success rate – i.e. knowing when to move from teacher instruction, to guided practice to independent practice).
This Rosenshine lecture on YouTube (Part 1 and Part 2) makes it clear that he wants teachers to apply the principles with alacrity, citing a study where effective teachers taught with ‘brisk pace, energy and enthusiasm, a fierce commitment to student achievement.’
This lecture also reminds us that there’s still a place for experiential, independent learning, but this tends to come after pupils have a secure understanding of their subject, not before:
- ‘The more effective teachers believe in acquiring basic learning as a first priority’
- ‘Experiential learning is more effective AFTER pupils have acquired fundamental knowledge and skills’.
Rosenshine Rule 6 – a foundation on which to build
We have committed to these principles for the long run, and we want them to serve as solid foundations on which to develop great teaching across our trust for many years to come. The principles help ensure that when it comes to teaching and learning, we’re all talking the same language. With this platform in place, we want teachers to explore the principles and bring them to life in the context of their subject, school and students. The closing words of his 1982 paper support this:
Rosenshine Rule 7 – a challenge
Towards the end of his lecture, Rosenshine describes a common frustration. He would check the state results every year in search of schools with excellent outcomes despite high levels of disadvantage. He would visit these schools but would often leave disappointed, not because these schools weren’t brilliant, but because their brilliance depended on ‘an extraordinary effort by principals and teachers to make this achievement’. Rosenshine was concerned – ‘This bothers me … This isn’t sufficient … We cannot expect a nation to make this extraordinary effort.’
This strikes me as a critical challenge we face in our nation’s schools. We know that some schools have achieved success through running hyper-efficient, finely tuned organisations which demand extraordinary levels of commitment from teachers and leaders. Good for these schools, but it’s tough to replicate this everywhere.
We hope that our expert teacher programme will make a small step towards this by empowering a group of teachers up and down the land to engage with evidence and gradually refine their classroom practice, thereby doing less of the things that don’t much matter, and more of the things that do.