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Rosenshine’s Principle 6: Check for student understanding: Checking for student understanding at each point can help students learn the material with fewer errors.

Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction are at the heart of how we teach in Playberry Laser. These principles have gained momentum, prompting us all to consider whether our teaching is compatible with human cognitive architecture. In this blog series I will unpack each of Rosenshine's ten principles.

What are Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction?

Picture of Bill Hansberry

Bill Hansberry

Co-Director Playberry Laser

Barak Rosenshine, an American educational psychologist, developed Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. His principles are based on empirical research and observations of effective teaching practices. These principles aim to provide teachers with a framework for effective instructional strategies. Rosenshine began work in the 1970s and 1980s, conducting studies and synthesising research findings on effective teaching methods. His work culminated in identifying principles that he observed to be present in successful classrooms.

Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction have gained momentum, prompting us all to consider whether our teaching is compatible with human cognitive architecture. Their common sense and simplicity strike anyone who reads them. Rosenshine’s Principles provide a clear roadmap for improving students’ retention and application of what we teach them.

Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction reflect fundamental elements that have stood the test of time and are rooted in the foundations of successful teaching practices. For me, Rosenshine’s principles are highly congruent with the methodologies for teaching individuals with dyslexia developed by Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham in the 1920s. The enduring nature of these effective teaching principles underscores that regardless of educational advancements and evolving methodologies, certain fundamental elements of excellent instruction remain constant.

Over this series of posts, I will lay out each of Roshenshine’s ten principles as outlined in an article Rosenshine wrote for American Educator in the Spring of 2012 and elaborate slightly on each of these, bringing some of my thoughts and insights to them, particularly in how they relate to how many of us in the evidence-informed teaching of literacy space have relearned to teach structured literacy lessons and how this explicit and routine heavy teaching has successfully spilt into other curriculum areas.  I want to show how we’ve been adhering to these principles of instruction all along.

Principle 6: Check for student understanding: Checking for student understanding at each point can help students learn the material with fewer errors.

“Research Findings

The more effective teachers frequently checked to see if all the students were learning the new material. These checks provided some of the processing needed to move new learning into long-term memory. These checks also let teachers know if students were developing misconceptions… (Rosenshine)

 

More effective teachers stop more often to check that students understand the learning. They do this by asking questions, asking for verbal summaries from students, obtaining ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ responses and drawing on a range of other approaches that ask students to retrieve and feed back their understanding. Being questioned makes students think (remember my mentor Alison) and elaborate on what they’ve learned, speeding its integration into long-term memory. Remember my example of creating a path in a foggy, grassy paddock in principle 5? When teachers check for understanding, they make students activate the pathways to the new information, thus making those retrieval pathways stronger.

“Memory is the residue of thought” (Thanks again, Daniel Willingham).

Less effective teachers might ask the class, “…any questions?” which has the predictable result of students clamming up. Adults do the same thing, by the way. In studies, teachers who asked the “Any questions?” question assumed that silence meant students understood the content. We’ve all been guilty of this! Effective teachers, however, question in ways that ask students to summarise main ideas or think aloud. This way, gaps in understanding or misconceptions become visible to teachers and correction or immediate re-teaching can follow.

Rosenshine found that teaching that ensures high rates of student success was a hallmark of effective teachers because it encouraged routines that taught new material in small steps and, at each step, checked for understanding. When it became apparent that several students had not understood or had misconceptions, the material would be immediately retaught to the entire class.

This cycle has been operationalised nicely in the TAPPLE framework, which forms a component of the EDI™ approach to instruction. It’s essential to add that in the studies Rosenshine referred to, highly effective teachers, through their high rate of questioning, elicited responses from many students, thus constantly gaining a large sample to gauge the effectiveness of their teaching. This no-stone-left unturned cycle of teaching, checking for understanding (CFU) and, when necessary, re-teaching raised student success and created more motivation in students. The risk of not checking for understanding often enough is that students are more likely to practice and learn errors, which take additional time to be unlearned.

One concern some teachers have about checking for understanding (CFU) is that it takes time, and some students could become bored and distracted while all this checking is going on. In classrooms where teachers are efficient checkers for understanding, CFU routines are highly engaging and fast-paced and create high levels of student accountability. This means that students are generally more vigilant, knowing they may be called on at any time to respond.

Some teachers comment that checks for understanding can cause students to become anxious and that they will be embarrassed if they are called on to respond and they are unable to do so. Good CFU routines are never about embarrassing or catching students who’ve stopped paying attention. The TAPPLE routine (mentioned earlier) requires that any CFU question be put to the entire group before a student is selected (randomly) to be asked to respond. Although CFU routines are rigorous and can show that a student has nodded off, the routine simply involves asking a student who couldn’t respond: “Can I come back to you?” and moving to a second student. EDI recommends that the first student be asked to repeat the second student’s (correct) response. Dignified but still high on accountability.

Playberry Laser T1-2 is a teacher-supportive multisensory literacy resource for primary teachers to support their teaching in line with research. We’ve taken the planning and resource design load to free teachers to focus on building content knowledge and sharpening their delivery in line with Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction.

Reference: 

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. [online] American Educator, American Educator, pp.12–39. Available at: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf.

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