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Rosenshine's sixth Principle of Instruction: Check understanding

Rosenshine’s sixth Principle of Instruction: Check for understanding

4 min read
  • Rosenshine’s Principles

One of the biggest challenges facing educators is ensuring that our students are learning what we are teaching them. And more to the point, how do we help ensure that any misconceptions that take root early don’t cement into their long-term memory? This is exactly the question that underpins Rosenshine’s sixth principle of instruction.

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

For his sixth principle, Rosenshine recommended that teachers regularly check for student understanding. By checking students’ understanding in the same sequential process that information should be taught, students are less error-prone in their learning and have a better fundamental understanding of the topic.

What does Rosenshine say?

Regularly assessing student understanding is closely linked to Rosenshine’s second principle about presenting information is small, sequential steps. As our working memory is so small, if students try to summarise too much information at once, their brain can suffer from something known as cognitive overload. Because of it, the learning process can slow down or even completely come to a stop, as the brain can no longer process all the information being presented at that one time.

The likelihood of this overload occurring is especially true if students don’t have a strong fundamental understanding of the topic. Therefore, checking their understanding at regular intervals ensures students aren’t rehearsing misconceptions or misunderstandings into their long-term memory.

Essentially, Rosenshine believes that checking for understanding serves two purposes:

  • Checking for understanding typically leads to students explaining their answer, which leads to students making connections to other lesson content and, ultimately, cementing this information into their long-term memory.
  • If they haven’t got the answer right, this is key information for teachers to know, as they can identify this as an area that needs to be revisited or retaught.

What does the research say?

Rosenshine found that the least effective teachers only asked 9 questions throughout the entire lesson, which resulted in more error-prone learning. In another study, teachers were asked to follow instructional teaching of new material with lots of questions. The main two types of questions were factual recall questions and process questions. The researchers found that the students who were asked more questions performed better academically than students who were asked less. This is because teachers could identify and address problem areas early on and nip them in the bud, so students didn’t store any errors in their long-term memory.

Help your staff understand the research behind Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, and how to apply them in the classroom.

Practical implications of Rosenshine’s sixth principle

Ask questions

Perhaps the simplest and easiest way to assess how much students know is by asking questions. Probing questions such as “why do you think that is?”, elaborative interrogation questions such as “why is this true?” and pre-questions are some great questioning strategies teachers can use to check for student understanding.

For younger students, teachers can ask them to summarise one fact they’ve learnt in the lesson as their “ticket” to leave the lesson. The topics that students either avoid or struggle to summarise could be areas you can address in your next session.

Ask students to summarise

Summarising information is another great way to see if students have fully grasped the points and concepts you’re teaching them, especially if it’s a complex process or topic. Asking students to paraphrase or summarise this information forces them to engage with the material more deeply and establish what the key information is and what information is ignored, resulting in better memory recall.

Harness the Testing Effect

Having low-stress daily, weekly and even monthly quizzes is a great way to monitor student progress — retrieval practice works best when the stakes are low. This is because the word “test” can strike fear into the hearts of even the best students. So, by using informal assessments, students can use these quizzes for what they’re meant for: to check the depth of their understanding. An alternative way to check students’ understanding is to do a short interactive activity for five to ten minutes which forces students to think about an answer to a problem.

Check students’ responses

Although this is more targeted at younger students, the best people to assess whether they’re confident with new material are the students themselves. When teaching new material, teachers can ask students to use hand signals or signs to indicate their level of confidence in their understanding. For example, using their fingers, students can rate their understanding on a scale of one to ten. Alternatively, students can use individual whiteboards and hold their answer up to the problem presented so teachers can assess individual understanding whilst doing whole class activities.

Final thoughts

By regularly checking students’ understanding, teachers can not only get a better understanding of what their students know, but how much they know and how well they know it. From this, teachers can determine what areas need to be revisited or retaught so the learning process can be enhanced.

This actually may make the sixth Principle of Instruction the most important one, as it enables you to implement the other nine effectively – read more about why that is here.

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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