Who is Barak Rosenshine?

Barack Rosenshine was an educational psychologist and professor of educational psychology at the College of Education at the University of Illinois. He originally began his career as a high school history teacher before gaining his PhD in Educational Psychology at Stanford University. Much of his research focused on distinguishing the characteristics of effective teaching by observing the relationship between teacher performance, direct tuition and student achievement.

Rosenshine’s theory combined his decades worth of research into cognitive science and classroom observation to enable teachers to develop a deeper understanding of:

  • How to effectively implement classroom strategies;
  • How to help students learn and remember new class material;
  • How much support teachers should be giving their students.

Rosenshine’s Principles are a much-needed bridge between the research and the classroom.

From this, he originally proposed 17 principles which he perceived as being key to effective teaching and learning. In 2012, he narrowed this list down to 10 key principles to provide teachers with greater clarity.

Useful resources

First Principle of Instruction: Have a daily review

For his first principle, Rosenshine emphasised the importance of beginning a lesson with a review of previous learning. By dedicating a short amount of time to review and evaluate previous learning, students should be able to make links between topics and have a stronger understanding of lesson content. In turn, students will perform better academically. Rosenshine proposed that teachers allocate 5-8 minutes of a lesson towards a daily review.

The research behind it

Research shows that students who regularly practise retrieval are more likely to remember lesson material better, even in stressful environments. Despite its effectiveness at transferring information to the long-term memory store, one study found that students did not understand the benefits of Retrieval Practice on memory. Rather, the students stated that practising retrieval allowed them to generate feedback or knowledge about the status of their learning.

Dedicating 5 minutes per lesson to retrieval practice can give your students’ learning a great boost.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Use pair work

Using pair work allows students to test and develop a greater understanding of each other’s opinion and knowledge on a topic. This can be beneficial as it allows students to develop different perspectives on how to approach complex tasks. Research shows that pair work is a great way to promote cognitive restructuring and enhance emotional, social and academic learning.

Use multiple-choice quizzes

Multiple-choice quizzes are a great way for students to practice retrieval when they’ve just learnt something new or complex. This is because they allow students to recognise the correct answer from a set of options rather than requiring them to know it instinctively. Consequently, students learn to recognise and differentiate relevant information from irrelevant information.

Use essay questions

Getting students to write a short response to an essay question from a past paper is another useful Retrieval Practice technique. Not only does it require students to test the depth of their understanding and perform some analysis, but it also gets students familiar with exam technique.

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Second Principle of Instruction: Present new material in small steps

Rosenshine’s second principle is all about tackling the main limitation of our working memory: it’s small. To ensure that teachers don’t overload their students’ cognitive load, Rosenshine suggested that information is presented in small, sequential steps so as not to overwhelm students. This also makes a complex task seem more manageable.

The research behind it

Teachers need to ensure that they present all information in a similar way. This is because receiving information from two or more sources can place a burden on students’ working memory. By having to constantly shift their attention between sources, students waste their energy and resources, which has a negative effect on their academic performance.

Our working memory can only hold 7 +/- 2 items of information at one time.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Use completion tasks

Teachers should usually use completion tasks when students are a little more confident with the topic but still need more practice, as it forces students to interact with the lesson material more closely. In essence, students need to use the information they’ve been provided to solve or complete the task.

Reduce the amount of information on your slides

Present too much information at once and students won’t know what to focus on. This is the basis of the Redundancy Effect. When putting your presentations together, it can be tempting to add a bunch of fancy diagrams, text and animations to keep students engaged but this can actually hinder their learning.

Use instructions

Teachers need to deconstruct the task they want students to complete so the students have a clear understanding of what to do and what is expected of them. Teachers should simplify tasks by breaking them down into step-by-step instructions.

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Third Principle of Instruction: Ask lots of good questions

As his third principle, Rosenshine states that questions are one of a teacher’s most powerful tools, that they should take advantage of in class more. Asking students questions is one of the easiest ways to help them practise retrieval in the classroom and cement their overall learning into their long-term memory.

The research behind it

One study found that when teachers followed instructional teaching with lots of questions, students performed better academically than those who were asked less, with the latter’s teachers only asking 9 questions throughout the entire lesson. This isn’t just any questions though – they should be a mixture of factual recall questions.

It’s not just about quantity, the quality of the questions matters too.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Ask pre-questions

Pre-questions are questions that you ask students before you teach them lesson material. Although this may seem like a redundant thing to do, research shows that students who were asked pre-questions remembered almost 50% more than students who weren’t.

Use wait times

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s not just what you ask, but when you ask the question that matters too. Teachers should ensure they’re providing students with enough time to retrieve the answer from their long-term memory. This serves two purposes:

  • Students are less likely to guess the answer;
  • Students are less likely to get overwhelmed and will attempt to answer the question.

Encourage self-questioning

Research shows that students who ask themselves metacognitive questions such as “How is this similar to a previous task?” or “How can I improve for next time?” whilst completing a task perform better academically. This is because it forces them to think deeply about the material they’ve just learnt, which benefits their long-term memory.

Rosenshine’s 6 suggested questions

Need a prompt? Here are 6 questions Rosenshine suggests you use to get your students to think more deeply about their learning and for you to gauge their level of understanding:

  • “What is the main idea of …?”
  • “What are the strengths and weaknesses of …?”
  • “How does this tie in with what we have learnt before?”
  • “Which one is the best … and why?”
  • “Do you agree or disagree with this statement: …?”
  • “What do you still not understand about …?”

What if students aren’t answering questions?

But, what if you’ve asked the best questions you could, and are still met with silence and blank faces? You can’t just pick someone every time, especially since participating in class has many benefits for students: it allows them to practise retrieval, develop metacognitive skills and even get better results. It can help you, too, by reducing your stress levels and nurturing a positive culture in your classroom.

Thankfully, Rosenshine thought about that too. He suggested 5 ways to get students to engage with questions in the classroom:

  • Tell an answer to a neighbour – This promotes peer work, which can in turn help students gain a new perspective and experiment more, but also develop teamwork and communication skills.
  • Summarise the answer in one or two sentences – This helps students engage more deeply with the material, and figure out the key information.
  • Write the answer down before sharing it – It gives them a bit more time to process and think about the question.
  • Raise your hand if you know the answer – This one is especially useful for quieter students, and can also help you gauge how many students know the material.
  • Raise your hand if you agree with an answer that someone else has shared – This will help create a more positive classroom culture, but also allow you to check students have been paying attention. As a bonus, this can help boost the confidence of the student who initially shared the answer.

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Fourth Principle of Instruction: Provide models

Rosenshine’s fourth principle states that when presenting new and complex material to students, teachers should model their thought process and show students what to do to reduce the likelihood of students getting confused and making mistakes. Modelling is a form of scaffolding, which Rosenshine explores in his eighth principle, as the visual examples help guide students’ learning.

The research behind it

Research shows that students whose teachers had modelled their thought processes in the classroom not only perform better academically, but are also more likely to stay on-task and not procrastinate when they get answers wrong.

Don’t just show what steps are needed to solve a problem, but also why they are necessary.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Model your thinking

Research shows that to successfully model a thought process, teachers need to ensure that their thoughts are organised. This way, they can clearly explain their thinking to students rather than confusing them further.

Use Elaborative Interrogation

Getting students to think about the “why” is a great way to ensure information is being transferred to their long-term memory. Questions such as “Why is this the case?” helps students make connections to prior knowledge.

Fifth Principle of Instruction: Guide student practice

As his fifth principle, Rosenshine recommended that teachers spend more time guiding student practice to give them the opportunity to further develop their understanding in an environment where they can seek help if they get stuck. This can be done through:

  • Rephrasing
  • Summarising
  • Evaluating
  • Elaborating
  • Applying newly-learnt knowledge
The research behind it

Research shows that the most effective teachers spend 57% of the lesson guiding student practice by modelling thought processes, addressing misunderstandings and asking questions before giving them independent work to complete. On the other hand, the least successful teachers only spent 11 minutes guiding student practice.

Learning something once is not enough – students have to keep rehearsing information.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Model tasks

Like in Rosenshine’s fourth principle, teachers can successfully guide student practice by showing students what they’re meant to be doing and in what order. This could be done by using completion tasks, thinking out loud or using Elaborative Interrogation.

Use worked examples

Providing students with some sort of structure, whether it’s a step-by-step guide on how to expand a complex quadratic equation or a writing frame on how to write a paragraph on the themes of a poem, is a great way to ensure students stay on the right track.

The power of “yet”

During this stage of learning, students are going to make mistakes and sometimes struggle; this will be the first time they’re applying their newly-acquired knowledge. Therefore, it’s important to motivate students who may be finding the task difficult so they reframe their “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this yet”. This way, students get into the mindset of positive self-questioning strategies such as “What is an alternative method I could use?”, then using this strategy to solve a problem.

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Sixth Principle of Instruction: Check for student understanding

For his sixth principle, Rosenshine emphasised the importance of regularly assessing students’ understanding to nip any misconceptions or misunderstandings in the bud, so they don’t underpin future learning and result in errors. Checking for understanding allows teachers to determine whether they need more time to reteach information, and to assess the depth of students’ understandings. It may also be the most important of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, as getting it right will help you implement the other nine Principles effectively – we explained why here.

The research behind it

If students don’t have a strong fundamental understanding of a topic, they’re more likely to experience a cognitive overload. Therefore, checking students’ understanding in the same sequential process that information should be taught gives students a better fundamental understanding of the topic. Research shows that the more questions a teacher asks, the better students’ academic performance is; errored learning was less likely to be stored in their long-term memory.

If students have a poor foundational understanding, their future learning is going to be full of errors.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Ask students to summarise

Paraphrasing or summarising information forces students to determine what information is relevant and what information is irrelevant. This can benefit their memory.

Check students’ responses

Teachers should regularly check in with students to gauge how confident they feel about the topic. This could be done by having students hold up their answer to a question on individual whiteboards with a thumbs up or down to assess individual understanding and confidence in group settings, for example.

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Seventh Principle of Instruction: Obtain a high success rate

For his seventh principle, Rosenshine suggests that teachers should have high success rates from their students in the classroom. Specifically, teachers should be striving for an 80% success rate; this means students’ understanding is being challenged, but not to the point that they’re not learning anything. This gives students both confidence in their ability and motivation to work.

The research behind it

In his classroom observations, Rosenshine found that the least effective maths teachers had a classroom success rate of 73% whilst the most effective fourth-grade math teachers had a success rate of 82%. However, it’s important to note that this 80% isn’t an exact figure, but rather a benchmark for teachers to use as a guide.

Research even shows that the Golem Effect (which states that the lower your expectations of someone, the worse they will tend to perform) caused students to perform 23% worse on tasks than those who had been given high expectations.

The link between success and motivation works both ways.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Have students acknowledge their successes

Students who acknowledge their successes are more likely to be self-aware of their progress and how far they’ve come. This can serve as a motivational tool that encourages students to push themselves academically.

It’s about balance

It’s a simple case of the Goldilocks Effect: if students’ average success rate is too high, teachers should ensure tasks are more challenging, but if the success rate is too low, teachers should spend more time re-teaching and supporting students.

Have high expectations

Having high expectations is referred to as the Pygmalion Effect, which has emphasised the importance of believing in your students. Students are more likely to rise to high expectations than low expectations.

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Eighth Principle of Instruction: Provide scaffolding for difficult tasks

Rosenshine’s eighth principle states that teachers should act as temporary scaffolds, so students get the necessary amount of support they need to become confident and successful learners. Scaffolding is when you gradually remove your support as students become more and more confident that they can successfully complete a task without errors. Providing this style of support enables students to not only learn effective strategies, but also grasp complex concepts faster.

The research behind it

Research shows that students who received help whilst completing a new and difficult task performed significantly better when they were asked to complete a similar task on their own. However, teachers should ensure they’re giving the right amount of support. Too much and students will be spoon-fed – too little will cause students to struggle.

According to Vygotsky, all learning takes place in the Zone of Proximal Development.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Model task completion

Showing students what they need to do to successfully complete a task means they are less likely to make common errors or have any misunderstandings about what they’re meant to do.

Use checklists or structure

Providing students with checklists or writing frames whilst they complete a task means they can refer back to it when they get stuck or want to make sure they’ve done everything they’re supposed to.

Ask probing questions

Probing questions are questions that require more detail from students and are usually used to clarify a point or follow-up on an answer a student has already provided to assess the depth of their understandings. Questions such as “Can you explain what you mean by X?” or “What do you think would happen to X if Y happened?” will encourage students to think critically.

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Ninth Principle of Instruction: Require and monitor independent practice

Rosenshine’s ninth principle suggests that teachers need to ensure that students are engaging in independent practice and monitoring this practice until students become confident, independent learners. This involves practising a task again and again on their own (also referred to as “overlearning”) so it doesn’t take up as much space in their working memory. Therefore, students can turn their attention to processing new lesson content into their long-term memory.

The research behind it

Research found that the most effective students spend between 90 and 110 minutes a day on homework. The study also found that students who completed homework independently and without help performed 10% better on their exams.

Evidence suggests that curiosity primes the brain for learning which helps students better learn information.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Set regular homework tasks

Research shows that students who are set regular homework tasks by their teachers perform better academically than students who aren’t. However, teachers should be careful not to set too much: after the 1-hour mark, homework provides so little benefit it does not justify the extra time.

Focus on the “why?”

Teachers should encourage students to think about the “why” behind factual information; not only does it force them to think more deeply about a topic, it also requires them to build upon and apply their previous learning. By getting into the habit of questioning information, students are more likely to become curious learners and think critically about information.

Beware the Planning Fallacy

The Planning Fallacy is our tendency to underestimate how long it will take us to complete a task. Research which asked students to estimate how long an assignment would take them shows that 70% of students completed theirs significantly later than they thought they would, taking on average 55 days compared to the predicted 34 days. Teachers should set regular deadlines and encourage students to build in some contingency time so they can make the most of their independent practice rather than rushing to complete the task.

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Tenth Principle of Instruction: Engage students in weekly and monthly review

Rosenshine’s 10th principle is an extension of his first principle and emphasises the importance of encouraging students to engage in weekly and monthly reviews of their newly-acquired knowledge. This is because regularly reviewing knowledge enhances students’ learning by:

  • Making connections between their old and new learning;
  • Freeing up space in their working memory;
  • Ensuring students have a strong factual foundation to base future learning on;
  • Enhancing memory recall.

The research behind it

The reason why Rosenshine’s 10th principle is so effective is because it utilises the concept of successive relearning. This is when students space out their revision at regular intervals over a certain timeline until they have mastered the skill they’re trying to accomplish. For example, continuously analysing the themes of poems until they can automatically do it correctly and without errors even if they’ve never read the poem before.

Research shows that students who regularly completed low-stakes quizzes (which didn’t contribute towards their grade) over a year and a half achieved a grade higher than those who hadn’t completed low-stake quizzes on the lesson content they had been quizzed on.

The more often students’ learning is assessed, the better it is for their academic achievement.

Applying this principle to your classroom

Ask questions

Teachers should ask students questions so they can practice retrieval and engage with lesson material more deeply. Pre-questions, wait times, elaborative interrogation and cold-calling are some examples of effective questioning strategies in the classroom.

Use flashcards

Flashcards are a great revision tool for students of all ages to review previously learnt information and revise for exams. In one study, 92% of students reported that flashcards helped them learn and 72% of students reported feeling less nervous about their upcoming exams. Teachers should encourage students to make their own, either through pen and paper or online, or create their own set of flashcards for their students to use.

Do weekly and monthly quizzes

Low-stress weekly and monthly quizzes are a great way to monitor student progress as retrieval practice works best when the stakes are low.

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What are the learning strategies behind Rosenshine’s principles?

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval Practice is one of the most effective revision strategies a student can use. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘the Testing Effect’ as it forces students to retrieve information from either their working or long-term memory to generate an answer to a question. This not only helps to create stronger memory traces by connecting old and new learning, but it also increases the likelihood of information being transferred and stored in their long-term memory. Retrieval Practice can come in all shapes and sizes but usually comprises of students completing multiple-choice tests, past papers, testing themselves using flashcards or even answering questions aloud in class.

Growth Mindset

A theory first proposed by Dr Carol Dweck, a Growth Mindset refers to the belief that you can improve performance, intelligence and ability. It is the opposite of a fixed mindset, which is the belief that talents and intelligence are set in stone.

An abundance of research has highlighted that our minds are constantly adapting and can be easily trained to do things better. For example, research shows that the regions of the cerebral cortex that process signals from the inner ear actually shrink in ballet dancers the more they practice to help them not get dizzy, which consequently makes them better dancers.

Students who have a Growth Mindset and a more optimistic approach to learning:

Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive Load Theory emphasises that our working memory is actually quite small, so can only hold a limited amount of information at one time. Evidence suggests that our working memory can only hold 7 +/- 2 items at one time. As a result, if students are presented with too much information at one time, they experience something known as a cognitive overload. When this occurs, information processing starts going at a slower pace and may even stop altogether, halting learning. To stop this overload from occurring, teachers should present complex information in small quantities so as not to overwhelm students.

Metacognition

Metacognition is often defined as “thinking about thinking”. It refers to a person’s ability to identify, reflect on and critically analyse their current thought processes as well as select helpful strategies that may be more appropriate to overcome challenges more effectively. In essence, it’s about having enough self-awareness to effectively monitor, reflect and analyse their performance before, during and after a task.

It is their roots in research that set Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction apart in education.

Spacing

Spacing is another effective learning strategy that consists in learning little and often, at regular intervals rather than trying to cram all studying into a single day. One study found that students who had spaced out their revision, on average, performed 33% better on the final test than students who had crammed. The reason why it’s so effective is that leaving time between revision sessions provides students with the opportunity to forget previously learnt material and relearn it, resulting in better memory recall in the long term.

Interleaving

Unlike Spacing, which is about the time between knowledge reviews, Interleaving is about what students choose to cover during their study sessions. Specifically, Interleaving involves mixing up the topics you choose to study within a given subject instead of focusing on the same thing for hours at a time (which is known as “blocking”).

Research has shown just how effective this technique is: it benefits students’ learning by requiring them to make links between different topics and access previous knowledge, leading to better memory recall. One study found that students who interleaved their studying performed 7% better on an exam than students who had used blocking.

Resilience

Resilience refers to a person’s ability to cope and persevere through unexpected or difficult circumstances. People who can overcome these challenges and barriers are in a better position to deal with setbacks in the future by developing effective coping mechanisms to handle any stress or frustration felt. Students with high resilience are more likely to stay positive, learn from their mistakes and seek feedback on how to do better this time.

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FAQ

Should I be using all 10 of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction?

Rosenshine’s Principles should not be seen as a checklist or a lesson plan but rather a guide. Often, teachers feel like they have to include all 10 principles in every single one of their lessons. The reality is, you won’t need or won’t have time for all the principles at one time. Select the principles that make sense based on the objective or content of a lesson.

Is one of Rosenshine’s Principles more important than the others?

Again, this depends on the focus of your lesson. From an objective standpoint, the short answer is no. However, some lessons and subjects may require a more instructional focus so using modelling, scaffolding and guiding practice will be more relevant. Other lessons may require more independent practice and checking for understanding more regularly. It’s up to you to decide what elements of Rosenshine’s principles will complement your lessons the most.

Are Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction the same as Cognitive Science?

No, although the two are interlinked. The difference is that Cognitive Science gives us the theories, while Rosenshine’s Principles offer guidelines and suggests what that theory looks like in practice.

Are Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction more important than the curriculum?

No, they go hand in hand. The key is to find the balance between the two where one serves the other.

Do Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction apply to primary schools?

Absolutely. The Principles offer best practices for teaching regardless of the students or subjects, and are particularly useful for teaching new knowledge and tasks, which is a big proponent of primary education.

What does Rosenshine mean by an 80% success rate?

The 80% success rate that Rosenshine encourages teachers to meet is the percentage of answers or work their students, on average, get right each lesson. Of course, there will be some variation between high achievers and those who may struggle a bit more. Don’t focus too much on this number, but rather on the importance of high expectations.

How often should I be using formal assessments?

That’s really up to you. Some teachers get a bit confused by whether informal assessments like weekly and monthly reviews should be replacing formal assessments like end-of-topic tests. However, the reality is that you need both.

Further reading

If you want to learn more about Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction and how to use them in your classroom, you may be interested in our CPD workshops. We offer:

We have published a wide range of blogs that encompass the science behind Rosenshine’s principles – here are a few of our favourites to get you started:

For further reading, we recommend:

We can help you apply Rosenshine's 10 Principles of Instruction throughout your school, with our evidence-informed Teacher CPD workshops.

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