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Rosenshine's first Principle of Instruction: Review previous learning

Rosenshine’s first Principle of Instruction: Review previous learning

5 min read
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Rosenshine’s Principles

Over the last years, Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction have been circulating through educational fields. They provide a much-needed link between research and the classroom. As a result, teachers are now provided with a reliable research-based understanding of instructional practice.

We addressed all 10 principles in a previous blog, which marks the beginning of our series taking a closer look at each of them. Today, we’re diving into the first principle…

What is Rosenshine’s first principle of instruction?

Rosenshine’s first principle states that it is good to begin by reviewing previous learning. Although starting a lesson with the learning objectives and why the lesson will be useful can have its benefits, the importance of reviewing previously learnt material should be emphasised. Why is this the case?

What does Rosenshine say?

Rosenshine suggests that dedicating a short period each lesson to reviewing and evaluating previous academic performance will help students perform better academically. The principle essentially relates to the concept of working memory. As our cognitive load is quite small, if we don’t review previous learning, then the effort of trying to remember old information will get in the way of learning new information.

By devoting time (some have suggested five to eight minutes at the start of a lesson) to review and evaluate previous learning, students will ultimately perform better. This is because they will develop a more in-depth understanding of syllabus material, make connections between topics, and enhance their critical thinking skills.

Why reviewing previously learnt material matters

Rosenshine generated a list of other possible activities to do within this principle. These include but are not limited to:

  • Correcting homework
  • Reviewing concept or skills utilised in the previous homework
  • Asking students where they struggled
  • Reviewing the material where errors were made
  • Reviewing material that needs overlearning (i.e. newly acquired skills or information)

Doing these sort of tasks ensures that there is a firm foundation for future learning to occur.

What the research says

Reviewing knowledge stems from the learning strategy of retrieval practice. This is simply the act of generating answers to questions, requiring students to recall previously learnt information. Research suggests that asking students to consistently recall and reflect on topics that they have learned throughout the year by reviewing understanding has several benefits:

  • It helps them make connections between new and old knowledge;
  • It increases the likelihood of knowledge being transferred into their long-term memory (which also makes it easier to learn new things);
  • It provides a foundation for future learning if it prompts feedback;
  • It is reliable under pressure (which makes it easier to remember information in exam conditions).
Help your staff understand the research behind Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, and how to apply them in the classroom.

Practical implications in the classroom

So how can you implement this principle into the classroom? Luckily, Rosenshine’s teaching strategies are clear and simple…

Ask questions

Students aren’t the only ones who should be asking questions – teachers should be asking them too. Asking questions about previous material is a great way for students to practice retrieval and cement their learning. Not only do questions show which students engaged with the previous lesson, but they also reveal whether students have understood what you’re trying to teach them.

Therefore, a combination of rhetorical, open and closed questions allows students to practice factual recall, fill in the gaps in their learning, and critically think about the topic at hand.

Use pair work

Having students review previous lesson content by using pair or group work is a great way to enhance self-awareness of understanding.

Spending five minutes at the beginning of a lesson recapping material to their peers allows students to learn better as asking questions about each other’s opinion and understanding about a topic allows them to develop different perspectives about said topic. Research shows this promotes cognitive restructuring, enhancing academic, social, and emotional learning as a result.

Another use of pair work is to change your students into teachers. When students are expected to teach syllabus content to someone else in the class,  evidence suggests they remember more of the material and perform better on subsequent tests. Therefore, split your students into pairs and ask them to teach each other material from the previous lesson. Then have each student state whether they learnt anything new from the discussion (this allows you to nip any misconceptions or misunderstandings in the bud).

Low-stress quizzes and games

It’s important that retrieval practice and formal assessments are not to be confused with one another. Whilst a daily pop quiz in the form of a previous exam paper or multiple-choice question is an effective way for students to review their learning, retrieval practice works best when the stakes are low. So instead of having daily quizzes that contribute to grades, portray the quiz as a tool for students to monitor their progress.

The word “test” is a loaded one in education and can strike fear in the hearts of students. As a result, students start to panic or even shut down rather than focus on what’s important: whether they understand a topic or need more help.

An alternative way to review understanding is to get students to do a short interactive game or activity for five to ten minutes which forces them to think about an answer. It’ll also keep students focused throughout the lesson as they’re more motivated to learn.

Final thoughts

As a teacher, you often aim to develop independent students through your teaching. However, teaching strategies that effectively aid learning are some of the hardest to perfect as they are crucial to academic performance and it can be difficult to find ones that work well.

Retrieval practice is perhaps the most effective revision strategy a student can utilise so you must encourage it within your classroom. Having a short review at the beginning of the lesson is a great way to ensure that students have acquired the relevant knowledge and their memory of the content is sufficient. The main purpose of having a daily review is to develop greater fluency and automaticity in what they’re trying to learn.

Want to learn more about each principle and how to use them in the classroom? We offer CPD workshops – click on the links below to find out more about:

Read the whole Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction blog series…

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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