Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (POI) is a list of research-based strategies which teachers can apply in their practice. The list of 10 principles (whittled-down over time) could be considered ‘core skills’ for teachers. They’ll no doubt be familiar to CELTA/Dip grads, although Rosenshine’s POI itself might be new for you. Here are the principles (actually the longer list of 17, from Rosenshine 2010):
I’ve just read a book by @teacherhead (Tom Sherrington) on Rosenshine’s ‘Principles in Action’ (John Catt Publications). It’s a pretty good resource, the first half is Sherrington’s take on Rosenshine’s principles and how to apply them. The second part is the original pamphlet that outlines those principles.
Where do the principles come from?
The principles were derived from cognitive science research, application of that research in the form of support/scaffolding, and backed up by evidence from classroom observations.
The POI pamphlet mediates between research and practice (see the pamphlet here). The author clearly states each principle (giving us the what), then summarises findings from research and observations (providing the why), and offers suggested reading related to each principle.
Are Rosenshine’s principles sound?
The POI seems to be a widely praised resource, although that doesn’t make it immune to critique. I think it’s fair to say that some of Rosenshine’s recommended reading is a tad dubious. For example, one paper listed in support of the principle ‘Guide student practice’ is Kirschner et al (2006). While the paper rightly supports the need for guided practice, it was critiqued for failing to understand the nature of guidance in constructivist approaches.
Nevertheless, the pamphlet is highly accessible for teachers and the principles are no doubt relatable for most teachers (I’m not sure they are necessarily common sense, as Sherrington suggests). It provides a succinct list of evidence-based core skills, and is a really useful document for CPD.
What does Tom Sherrington add?
Sherrington offers further insight into how practitioners can apply these principles. He organizes the principles into four strands, which is certainly useful…
Sherrington notes some considerations regarding the value of the POI – they are context bound and their importance varies depending on the subject domain. Plus, they shouldn’t constitute a performative checklist of good practice. It’s reassuring this headteacher recognizes that practitioners shouldn’t take the principles as gospel. Jeez, imagine working in a school where observers are armed with a checklist of must-see skills demonstrated in the space of one hour, without much wiggle room for context, aims, etc… (readers who know my background should get that in-joke!).
Anyway, Sherrington’s practical suggestions are insightful and his style highly personable. His coverage of each principle reads a bit as a blog post. It wouldn’t surprise me if they originally were – not a criticism in any way as the author’s voice really comes through.
What could improve?
The practical suggestions the author shares are generally useful and there a couple of lists (related to questioning and reviewing) which are particularly good. There are couple of areas for development though.
Mainly, it’s the contradictions. In the conclusion the author shares some ‘improvement agendas’ which roughly focus on each strand of principles. Sherrington makes it clear that teachers and leaders should focus on one thing at a time, rather than aiming for improvements across multiple areas. This contradicts his earlier comment that there is likely crossover between the principles themselves, making it hard to focus on development in one particular area. If you are focusing on developing scaffolding techniques then you might well end up working on ways to support learners moving from guided/controlled practice to independent practice. There doesn’t seem a need to focus on developing individual strategies only, just an awareness that you can’t focus on everything at once.
Also, the author’s caveat that the POI may be more or less relevant in certain subject domains is somewhat contradicted by the way he addresses staging of practice. Sherrington stresses that ‘most subjects require a diet of activities and lesson types that varies over time’. Regardless, Sherrington then lists a ‘basic flow of many learning experiences’ in the section on independent practice which pretty much follows a PPP framework:
- Teacher explains
- T models
- T checks for understanding
- Ss engage in guided [read ‘controlled’ perhaps] practice, scaffolding as needed
- Support gradually withdrawn
- S engages in independent practice
- S becomes fluent
There is a danger that by suggesting this is a ‘basic flow of many learning experiences’, the author (as an experienced teacher) is suggesting it is preferable, and it is very much taken out of subject context.
Basically, I’m just not sure Sherrington should have listed any type of staging framework here. It’s potentially misleading for less experienced teachers, it contradicts his comments on variety, and from an ELT perspective it is certainly a questionable framework to have chosen. One misleading aspect of this model might be that ‘basic’ may be seen as synonymous with ‘essential’, and very important stages that are not listed here are seen as optional add-ons. For example, there is no mention of context building or accessing prior knowledge before the presentation stage.
Slightly meaningless tangent
I found it interesting to review these principles in relation to my practice as a materials developer (rather than teacher). I won’t bore you with all the details, but I looked back at some teacher notes/supps from a project I was working on and considered whether the content and staging might be considered ‘principled’ by Rosenshine’s standards…
This framework is from a CLIL Science book. Based on my interpretation of this, along with further notes explaining the rationale behind guided/structured/open-ended inquiry techniques, and the supps I’d created, I felt there was quite a lot of principled Rosenshine-ness. It was a reminder to consider coursebooks as a package though, rather than the student book itself. You just can’t get a clear idea of the approach without taking it all in.
Really boring bit, sorry!
The book (the Sherrington one!) overall
Rosenshine’s Principles in Action is a worthwhile read. Given half of it (Rosenshine’s 2010 paper) is available online I’d say it’s overpriced (a tenner). You’re actually paying for 50 pages of Tom Sherrington’s practical tips. They’re useful though, as is his awesome blog, and if you see the book on discount I’d say snap it up. The principles themselves, as attributed to Rosenshine that is, don’t seem to be covered in many ELT courses but the pamphlet is handy, an easy read and evidence-informed.