The Sutton Trust’s paper, ‘what makes great teaching?’ identifies quality of instruction as one of the components that has the greatest impact on pupil outcomes. Effective instruction enables teachers to deal with the limitations of working memory and ensures that pupils spend more time thinking about content, making it more likely that learning will occur.
Rosenshine’s paper; ‘research based strategies that all teachers should know’ is receiving growing admiration. His ten principles of instruction provide a clear guide to evidence-informed teaching and schools are adopting these to provide their teachers with an insight into effective instruction.
To an extent, all teachers may argue that these principles are, and have always been, evident in their practice. However, there needs to be clarity on the most effective way to apply these principles so that they achieve the desired outcome. The ten principles themselves are simple but doing them well in the classroom is complex. Here is what I believe needs greater consideration to ensure that principles of instruction achieve the desired effect in the classroom:
1. What does each principle look like when it is and is not being used effectively?
2. Are the principles discussed at a subject level? Can teachers use them to gain a shared understanding of what great teaching looks like in their subject?
3. It’s more than simply using the principles, it is giving careful consideration to when they are employed in a teaching sequence. For example: how are the principles being used to help pupils progress from being dependent on the teacher for knowledge to being independent?
4. Do teachers understand the complexities of learning? Having an understanding of the learning process will improve teachers’ instruction. For example:
· How might daily review be used to reactivate prior knowledge before introducing new material?
· How can the principles be used to help teachers deal with the limitations of working memory?
· How might a knowledge of cognitive load theory improve a teacher’s ability to present new material in small steps?
· Can questioning be used to help identify and address misconceptions?
· How is guided practice used to help ensure a high success rate before pupils progress to independent practice?
· Which principles might be used to ensure pupils are secure in a topic/concept before progressing?
· Can practice be used to help pupils learn key concepts to automaticity?
5. Teaching needs to be considered in the context of the curriculum. How does instruction help contribute to continually building on prior knowledge, revisiting key ideas and explicitly making connections between topics so that pupils develop meaningful schemas?
6. Although pupils may experience the same lesson, they might learn completely different things. When planning the curriculum do we consider the unique set of experiences and level of prior knowledge pupils bring with them to lessons?
- Our own intuitions as to how we learn and how we should teach are not always correct. What processes are in place to challenge teachers’ understanding and therefore their practice of effective instruction?
We need to ensure that the principles of instruction do not just become the next big thing or a quick win. I feel that there is a danger that some schools will introduce a whole school approach which is overly simplified and, as a result, these principles will be shoehorned into lessons without any real understanding of how to implement them effectively.
Leaders need to provide an infrastructure that enables teachers to carefully consider the complexities of applying the principles of instruction. Can leaders support the successful adoption of the principles of instruction by:
- Providing time for professional dialogue and collaboration to ensure that the effective instruction can be explored at a subject level?
- Ensuring that developmental processes are in place to improve the quality of instruction. For example: Do post-lesson observation conversations involve the observer asking a series of questions to encourage the teacher to reflect, on how the design and delivery of the lesson contributes to securely embedding knowledge?
- Designing professional learning opportunities, which engages teachers with the principles, allows them to develop their classroom practice and monitors the impact on pupils’ learning?
Rosenshine’s principles of instruction provide a fantastic opportunity for teachers to engage with research to inform their practice. However, do not just stick the poster up in the staffroom or use them as a set of criteria to observe lessons. Please, give it the time and dedication it deserves.