The Rosenshine Papers

Why Rosenshine?

In 2018 we (United Learning) adopted Rosenshine’s principles of instruction as the basis for our approach to teaching and learning across our schools. It’s the first time that we’ve taken a collective position on teaching and learning, rather than leaving this critical issue to each school. Our focus previously was on supporting each school in having an internally coherent and effective T&L strategy. With the adoption of the Rosenshine principles we were attempting to go a step further by ensuring that each school’s approach was anchored in a shared understanding of the characteristics of effective teaching.

We did this for a few reasons. Firstly, we wanted to support schools in challenging approaches to teaching that are not supported by good evidence, such as teaching which is overly driven by the exam specification, teaching that is founded on the belief that pupils learn better by discovering things for themselves, teaching that takes differentiation too far by placing different groups of pupils on different ‘tracks’ in the same lesson, and teaching that is overly focused on securing evidence of progress in each lesson, rather than gradually building a secure long-term understanding of each subject.

As a growing Trust, and a Trust that comprises primary and secondary schools in the state and independent sector, as well as an initial teacher training programme, we could see benefits in building a shared understanding of the characteristics of effective teaching. A trainee teacher could leave their summer institute and arrive at their school in September safe in the knowledge that the philosophy towards teaching and learning would be consistent; a deputy head leading on teaching and learning could share resources with counterparts in our other schools; subject advisors could produce curriculum materials confident that they would be applied in the classroom in similar ways. We would move from each school having an internally coherent approach to teaching and learning, towards a coherent approach across the whole group which would serve as a foundation for great teaching in each school and each subject.

Over time we are using the principles to develop a shared and precise language for the way we talk about teaching and learning. In my experience, the language commonly used to describe teaching and learning is anything but precise. Obvious examples would be phrases such as ‘the lesson lacked a bit of oomph’ or ‘pupils weren’t fully engaged’ or, more positively, the lesson featured ‘awe and wonder’. But even terms that seem more clear such as ‘pace’ and ‘challenge’ can lack the precision required to develop teaching practice. Take ‘pace’ – do we mean that the teacher went through things too slowly or that pupils didn’t work quickly enough, or perhaps the teacher wasn’t clear on timings, or maybe the start of the lesson drifted and time was squeezed for the challenging stuff at the end? That leads us to ‘challenge’ – was the content itself too easy, or was it the task, or are we simply saying that not enough pupils produced work at the standard required?

We chose the Rosenshine principles because they’re sensible, evidence-informed and provide the shared foundation we were seeking rather than a rigid checklist to be applied to every lesson. As an established set of principles we were able to avoid a long process of navel-gazing which would inevitably have been required if we had attempted to write our own. The fact they’ve been around for a while also enabled us to reassure our schools that we would commit to these principles for several years ahead, rather than replace them with a passing fad in twelve months’ time.

We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re seeing some early fruits of our labour.  I write this while returning from an inset day in Shoreham where all teachers from four of our schools started 2019 by gathering together to explore the principles in the context of their own subject. Meanwhile our subject advisors have written case studies on how to apply these principles in their subject. The curriculum resources we are producing contain the modelling, the question prompts and the scaffolds that Rosenshine promotes in his work.

So what might Rosenshine look like in the classroom?

As we’ve worked with schools in exploring Rosenshine’s work we’ve confronted the question of what his principles look like in the classroom. I’m in two minds here as to how usefully Rosenshine presented his research. On the one hand, I’m grateful that his principles are contained in short, concise pamphlets such as this 2012 one and this 2010 one. One of the simplest things we’ve done is simply ask schools to ensure that all teachers read all 9 pages of the 2012 paper.

But I do have a few gripes with the way Rosenshine presented his work. Firstly, the 2012 paper contains a list of 17 principles alongside the main list of 10. Rosenshine explains this decision (the list of 17 provides slightly more detail and overlaps with the list of 10) but given Rosenshine’s knowledge of the limits of working memory and cognitive load, it seems slightly curious to share two separate lists alongside each other.

We can take this overlap as a reminder that the principles do not seek to provide a checklist to be followed in order in every lesson. This becomes clear when we note his sub-heading for point 6 (check for student understanding): “checking for student understanding at each point can help students learn the material with fewer errors” (my emphasis). So – to be clear – we don’t check for understanding between point 5 (guide student practice) and point 7 (obtain a high success rate), we check for understanding throughout the whole process. Tom Sherrington has noted that this becomes clear when we read Rosenshine’s 1986 and 1982 papers which emphasise the importance of checking for understanding.

The 1982 paper also helps us understand Rosenshine’s intentions in proposing the principles:


There’s another gem lurking in his earlier papers that I think gets lost in the latter versions. In his 1986 teaching functions paper Rosenshine writes:

“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. The objective of the independent practice is to provide sufficient practice so that students achieve overlearning (Brophy, 1982) and demonstrate quickness and competence. A simple version of this core is used frequently in the elementary grades when a teacher says: “I’ll say it first, then you’ll say it with me, and then you’ll say it by yourself”.”

This seems like critical guidance, and helps us to understand the intention behind Rosenshine’s principles, which I think we can now summarise as:

  • Prior review
  • Instructional core (I>we>you):
    • Presentation and modelling of new material in small steps
    • Guided practice with prompts and scaffolds
    • Independent practice with monitoring and feedback from teacher
  • Future review

At each of these points – every single one of them – we check the understanding of all pupils by asking lots of questions and providing correction and feedback.

This model – the instructional core sandwiched between prior review and future review, with checking for understanding at each point – captures the essence of Rosenshine’s principles of instruction and provides an answer to that question of what Rosenshine looks like in the classroom.

Rosenshine’s back catalogue also helps us understand his 7th principle ‘Obtain a high success rate’.  In his 1986 Teaching Functions paper he writes: “Although there are no scientific guidelines as to exactly what the percentage of correct answers should be, a reasonable recommendation at the present time (suggested by Brophy, 1980) is an 80% success rate when practicing new material. When reviewing, the success rate should be very high, perhaps 95% and student responses should be rapid, smooth and confident.” So this idea of success rate supports teachers in deciding when to move through the instructional core, particularly when to move from guided practice (when around 80% of student responses are correct) to independent practice (when around 95% of student responses are correct).  This 7th principle seems a bit obvious and not overly helpful in the 2012 pamphlet, but it gains practical use thanks to the 1986 paper.

These principles now serve as a foundation for our support for teaching and learning across our schools. There’s a couple of things about foundations – in the sense of a building’s foundations – that I think are useful here. One is that we don’t tinker with foundations once they’re in place. They’re built to last. The second is that foundations are designed to be built on. We hope that throughout United Learning our teachers will explore these principles and bring them to life in the context of their school, their subject and their pupils. Rosenshine closes his 1982 paper with this very point:

in sum


Periodisation: Learning from the Flying Finn

This post has been co-written with United Learning’s Head of Sport Shaun Dowling (@ShaunD10)

“Some do well in other races, some run fast times, but they cannot do well in the ultimate, the Olympics … The question is not why I run this way, but why so many cannot.”

These are the words of Lasse Viren, also known as the ‘Flying Finn’ as he tried to explain his knack of peaking at the right time – a knack that landed him four gold medals in long distance events at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.


Like our pupils, athletes have a long build-up to the events that matter, and like our teachers, it’s the job of coaches to break this build-up into smaller units to ensure that their athletes peak at the right time. It’s a process athletes call ‘periodisation’.

Amidst growing concern about the impact of high stakes tests on pupils’ mental health, perhaps we can learn from periodisation to support our pupils in playing the long game and peaking just in time for their public exams.

A definition of stress which will be familiar to many PE and psychology students and teachers is ‘the difference between the demands placed upon us and our perceived ability to cope with them’.  Public exams will certainly be demanding, but if the specification has been covered and the content learned thoroughly, then students can be in a position to approach the exams with confidence and optimism.

Attribution Theory describes the Locus of Causality: an individual’s perception of whether their success is within or outside of their control.  The timing, importance and difficulty of the public exam season clearly falls into the latter category. However, many of the stresses being placed upon KS4 students are ones which schools do control: extra lessons; compulsory revision sessions; regular high-stakes assessments; all in the pursuit of target grades which might be based on flimsy evidence … all, of course, with the very best intentions in mind.

However, an unintended consequence of all of this (as well as the additional workload for teachers) is what appears to the students to be a constant and unrelenting pressure.

Is there a solution?

“The starting place for your planning is adopting the belief that training must be a steady and gradual building process.” (Joe Friel, 2016. The Triathlete’s Training Bible. 4th edition. Velo Press)

Periodisation in sport involves athletes identifying the races/tournaments which they want to be at their best for.  If they trained and raced with the same intensity all year round they would risk:

  • fatigue
  • injury/illness and
  • stagnation/boredom.

Sound familiar?

So what would the 5 years of secondary education look like if we approached them as an athlete/coach would?

The literature on periodisation varies in the number and names of the periods which they break down the training plan into. In a linear periodization model they can be grouped into three broad headings:

  1. Base
  2. Build
  3. Pre-competition (leading in to the A race itself)

To support this, an athlete’s season is likely to be broken down into macro, meso and micro periods: four-week meso periods within the yearly macro period, with four one-week micro periods within each meso one.  A twelve week build phase, for example, may have three meso periods of four weeks, the fourth micro period of each being a recovery week.

Applying this principle of periodization to secondary education could look something like the simplified model below, with the exam period of Year 11 classified as the students’ ‘A Race’, their mocks exams as their ‘B Races’ and end of term tests as the ‘C Races’.

Within this model, the micro period idea of a weekly plan of what and when takes place is particularly helpful for revision timetables and avoiding clashes with scheduled revision sessions and other ‘life’ priorities.

Base period

KS3 = mastering the basics, focusing on core skills and preparing for the harder work to come. It should be a relatively stress-free and enjoyable period of time with opportunities to learn new things and explore wider opportunities, but it is also an opportunity to baseline and set goals. Target-setting using both quantitative data and qualitative information can be adjusted throughout the period, but there are no high-stakes assessments. This phase is designed to provide both a strong base for the build period to follow and to enhance enjoyment of the subject.

Build period

  • Build 1 – Autumn term Year 10: increasing demands from KS3 but managed in a way to protect health and avoid burn-out
  • C Test – low stakes indicator of progress towards goals
  • Build 2 – Spring term Year 10: potential for re-setting based on previous test (i.e. adjust training zones). Gradually increasing demands.
  • C Test – low stakes indicator of progress towards goals, including aspects of Build 1
  • Build 3 – Summer term Year 10: potential for re-setting based on previous test (i.e. adjust training zones). Gradually increasing demands.
  • C Test– low stakes indicator of progress towards goals, including aspects of Build 1 and 2
  • August = recovery period (re-charge in order to come back stronger)
  • Build 4 – Autumn term Year 11: final build stage leading into opportunities to practice preparations such as exam technique, revision techniques and nutrition prior to the ‘B’ exams
  • ‘B’ exams (mocks) – all work covered thus far and, on occasion, in conditions similar to the ‘A race’ exam season. This includes timings, density, environment, rules/expectations etc.


Spring Year 11: Increase in specificity and intensity as every effort is made to ensure that all knowledge has been learned thoroughly. Final preparations and a tighter focus on the micro periods to space out revision effectively and manage the other pressures on 16 year olds’ lives. As the exams draw nearer, prioritise time and manage ‘essential’ sessions so that students are fresh for them.

‘A’ race – exams!

May/June Year 11: Tapering for exams – shorter periods of high intensity revision sessions, the exams themselves, brief recovery, preparation for the next one. Make every effort to psychologically prepare too, getting the exams into perspective, teaching processes of positive self-talk, how to manage the “Chimp” and how to arrive in the exam hall full of confidence and looking forward to the challenge.

 This periodisation approach relies on honest and clear communication with pupils, with frequent reminders of which point they are at in the 5-year journey. We can’t expect pupils to step up in Key Stage 4 if we’ve pretended to them for three years that their KS3 exams are cliff-edge assessments. By sharing the 5-year journey with our pupils we are trusting them to respond appropriately to the demands of each phase. In doing so, we provide a sense of ownership and control, perhaps reducing the pressure on staff and leaders to throw everything at Y11 in the hope that some of it might stick.

Concerns that playing this long game would lead to a lack of urgency at KS3 should consider the current situation we see in many schools where there is a stark difference in the intensity of Y7 compared with Y11. Periodisation seeks to harness the urgency of Y11 and use this to provide purpose and focus throughout the secondary years, rather than unleash it in a sudden wave when students return from their summer break at the end of Y10.

There is an argument, of course, that just by adopting this periodization model nothing will change in terms of outcomes. There are so many variables that influence exam performance that this is just one more idea that the impact of which would be impossible to measure.

However, if schools adopting the periodisation mindset means that the pressure felt by students is indeed “steady and gradual”, then isn’t that worth a try? Is it not worth trying to alleviate the increasing mental health concerns by re-thinking how we approach the secondary phase of education, KS4 and the lead-in to the public exams? Not all athletes who periodise their training go on to become Olympic champions. But athletes who do tend to become better athletes than they would have been had they not adopted this approach to their training. And along the way they pick up fewer injuries, less fatigue and a reduced risk of burnout.

That has to be worth considering.

For articles on periodization see numerous online posts by Joe Friel and others or here: