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Rosenshine's ninth Principle of Instruction: Independent practice

Rosenshine’s ninth Principle of Instruction: Independent practice

5 min read
  • Rosenshine’s Principles

For his 9th principle, Rosenshine states that teachers should not only make independent practice a mandatory part of their lessons – they should monitor students’ practice as well. This is so the knowledge and skills that students acquire becomes automatic to them and memory recall is easier.

And the more students engage in independent practice, the more likely they are to become mature, independent learners that take responsibility for their learning.

In this blog series, the concept of independent practice has been touched upon in several of Rosenshine’s principles:

But what exactly does Rosenshine mean by this? Let’s take a closer look…

What does Rosenshine say?

Rosenshine takes the stance that the more a student practises, the better their learning gains will be.

It’s important that guided student practice and independent practice are not confused with one another. Guided practice is when teachers support students’ learning by providing models and using scaffolds until students feel confident and are successful in their attempts to complete a new task. Independent practice typically follows guided practice and is when all support is taken away so “overlearning” can occur.

“Overlearning” is when students practise a task again and again until they can complete it fluently and without errors. As a result, their newly acquired knowledge becomes so automatic that it doesn’t take up space in their working memory anymore, which makes them less likely to experience a cognitive overload. This enables students to focus on further developing a deeper understanding of new lesson content and successfully applying their newly-learned skill.

Rosenshine emphasises that the lesson content students practise independently should be the same as what they’re practising during guided practice. This is so students are fully prepared to engage with the material on their own and are less likely to practise making errors.

What does the research say?

But how much independent practice should students engage in? The reality is that there is no set number of hours students should do. The more overall hours students put in, the better their performance. However, independent practice should only be for short periods of time, well-spaced out on both a weekly and monthly basis.

One study looking at 7,451 teenagers from Spain found that the most effective students spent between 90 to 110 minutes a day on homework. However, the learning gains experienced after the one-hour period were so low, it did not justify the extra time. The study also showed that students who completed homework independently and without help from their parents performed 10% better in their exams than those students who did not.

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 encourage and successfully implement independent practice in the classroom?

Prioritise mastering a skill

Research shows that there are two types of motivation that students feel:

  • Mastery-orientation motivation
  • Ego-orientation motivation

The first describes students who enjoyed improving and developing their skills as they feel most successful when they’ve mastered a task. The second type of motivation is driven by the need to know where they rank against their peers, and those students feel most successful when they’ve done better than others.

However, students who have ego-orientation motivation tend to have lower levels of confidence, motivation and self-regulation, perform worse academically and have increased anxiety as a result of this constant comparison. Therefore, it’s important that students understand why they should set goals for themselves and not just to prove something to others. This way, they’ll be more inclined to work, even when no one is watching.

Avoid things such as class rankings and putting everyone’s grades on the board for the whole class to see. Encourage your students to reflect on how they can get better and what environment they perform best in. Not only will students focus on their own progress more, but it’ll be easier for them to pinpoint areas they may need to do further independent practice on.

Watch out for the Planning Fallacy

75% of students consider themselves procrastinators. For 50% of those students, procrastination has become such a norm that it’s problematic. Higher levels of procrastination are associated with low self-efficacy and has a detrimental effect on students’ academic performance. However, research suggests that for some students, procrastinating on a task may be unintentional. The reality is that students fall victim to the Planning Fallacy, which is when a person underestimates how long a task will take to complete.

Research shows that 70% of students reported finishing their assignment a lot later than what they had originally predicted. By underestimating how long a task will take, students don’t spend enough time engaging with the task on a deeper level, reducing the quality of their independent practice.

One way for teachers to help students overcome this is, when setting homework, they should provide a rough estimate of how long the task will take so students can set aside an adequate amount of time. Alternatively, teachers can set small but regular deadlines for students to independently practise the material they learnt in class. Not only will students perform better academically, they will also be able to engage with the task more effectively.

Set regular homework tasks

Although 57% of teachers and 84% of students consider homework a major source of stress, it’s a necessary evil that provides students with the opportunity to independently practise new skills and content. Research shows that students perform significantly better when they are set regular homework tasks by their teachers.

However, this doesn’t mean that teachers should overwhelm students with homework tasks that take hours to complete. In fact, when students hit the 1.5-hour to 2.5-hour mark, homework provides little benefit to their learning. Too much homework can also cause students to feel overwhelmed by the task, which consequently results in procrastination and less active learning. So, when setting homework, small but steady wins the race.

Focus on the why

Students need to realise why independent practice is important – otherwise, they’re not going to have that motivational edge. Getting students to think about the “why” forces them to think deeply about a topic. By self-reflecting and thinking curiously, students learn topics faster and have better memory recall as they understand the topics they’re learning a lot better.

Pushing your students to think critically about their learning also helps develop a sense of purpose. Research shows that students who were taught why completing a task was beneficial to them were more likely to put more effort into completing it, thanks to higher levels of intrinsic motivation. Encouraging self-reflection and goal setting amongst your students and connecting material to the real world are a few ways teachers can help their students develop a sense of purpose.

Final thoughts

Helping students become more confident in their ability to effectively engage in independent practice can be a challenge. However, students need to be able to successfully apply their knowledge without your guidance. By encouraging your students to think reflectively and constantly providing them with opportunities to practice what they’ve learnt, they will be better equipped to work independently. 

Stay tuned for the final part of this series which covers Rosenshine’s 10th Principle of Instruction and why it’s important to not only engage in daily reviews of knowledge but weekly and monthly reviews as well.

Read our complete guide to Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction…

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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