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Rosenshine’s Principle 3: Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students: Questions help students practice new information and connect new material to their prior learning.

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 3:
Ask a large number of questions and check responses of all students: Questions help students practice new information and connect new material to their prior learning.

“Research Findings:

Students need to practice new material. The teacher’s questions and student discussion are a major way of providing this necessary practice. The most successful teachers in these studies spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating and asking questions…”   (Rosenshine)

Daniel Willingham famously says, “Memory is the residue of thought”[1]. Questions ask students to engage in various cognitive processes, from simply retrieving and repeating something they just heard to applying one idea to another and analysing the connections between two bodies of thought. Either way, both require conscious mental effort and what we think about is what we store in long-term memory. Now more than ever, students need to be questioned by adults. The fast-food information diet that young people binge on allows no time for deep processing, and some argue that this could have long-term implications for the ability of our youth to operate within a democracy.

My mentor, Alison Playford, (the ‘Play’ in Playberry), would plead with those she trained to teach students with dyslexia students by saying, “You have to get them to think… dyslexia causes these kids to be in a fog, and we have to get them thinking again. We have to bring them out of the fog,” What my mentor was referring to was how so many students, used to being constantly cognitively overloaded, give up on thinking and allow content to just wash over them, not expecting to learn much.

Teacher questioning often and unapologetically asks students to stay switched on and with us, with the class, and it asks them to think. It invites them into a community of learners and lovingly holds them there. Anita Archer observes that when teachers ask students to respond, enormous gains are observed in student learning. Archer also mentions that inattention and disruptive behaviour decrease as student response rates increase. Teachers we work with who have introduced the questioning techniques and engagement norms within the EDI® framework have noticed student engagement improve overnight.

Rosenshine reminds us that questions aren’t just call and response. Students can be asked to:

  • Tell the answer to a neighbour (turn and talk, aka pair share).
  • Summarise the main idea in one or two sentences on paper or a personal mini whiteboard and share with a neighbour.
  • Write a number corresponding to a multiple-choice question on a card or mini-whiteboard and hold it up for others to see.
  • Raise a hand if they think they know an answer
  • Chorally respond with a sentence finisher answer when the teacher provides the sentence starter, e.g.,
    • Teacher: “A clap or a beat in a word that must have a vowel is a…”
    • Students: “syllable”
  • Give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to a question posed to the class by showing thumbs up or thumbs down

These approaches create engagement by maintaining high response rates and improve retention of taught content by asking students to think about the content. I suspect that with increased expectations to answer questions and respond, students feel more seen by teachers and peers, which has clear implications for their sense of belonging. Teachers we work with excitedly share with us how students previously in the fog have begun engaging in lessons where questions, norms, and different forms of student responses have been incorporated. Additionally, teachers are getting more real-time feedback about what students understand and retain through increased questioning and can be more responsive in their teaching. No matter which way you look at it, asking students a large number of questions is better for learning.

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.

[1] Daniel Willingham. is known for translating cognitive science research into practical applications for teachers. He has written extensively about the science of learning and memory, and this phrase encapsulates the idea that memory is created and strengthened through meaningful thinking and cognitive engagement with information rather than rote memorisation alone.

Rosenshine's 4th Principle coming soon!

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