Out of all ten of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, one is the most important. It is the principle that enables all the other ones to be implemented effectively. It is the foundation that dictates what information we present, when we present it, and how we do so. The fundamental principle we are referring to is Rosenshine’s sixth Principle of Instruction: Checking For Understanding.
Let’s take a closer look at how Checking For Understanding plays a key role in the other nine principles, and why it is so important.
First principle: Begin the lesson with a short review of previous learning
Rosenshine’s first principle suggests that you should spend the first 5 minutes of your lesson reviewing what students have learned in the previous one (we at InnerDrive don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that you can put a set optimal time on this, but it’s a good start).
The reason this principle is important is because our working memory is quite small – if we don’t review previously-learned information and consolidate it in our long-term memory, students are likely to forget it.
Checking For Understanding helps with daily reviews because it ensures that there are no misconceptions from previous learning. This is important as it strengthens students' memory of learned information, but also ensures that they can learn new information that builds on top of the previously-learned knowledge.
Find this graphic and many more in our latest book, Teaching & Learning Illuminated!
Second principle: Present new material in small steps
Rosenshine’s second principle suggests that you should present new material to students in small chunks. This is because being presented with too much information at once will lead to cognitive overload, which may lead to forgetting.
When students are learning material in small steps, Checking For Understanding helps ensure that the previous level has been mastered, before going on to the next one. It therefore helps us decide when to progress the difficulty or complexity of the task appropriately.
Third principle: Ask high quantity and quality questions
Using good questioning techniques can be a very effective way to get students to engage with the material (as well as accelerate their learning of it). There are many ways that they can do this, such as using Retrieval Practice and Elaborative Interrogation.
When asking students questions, Checking For Understanding allows you to identify which areas of knowledge students understand well, and which areas they may need to go over again. This will allow you to ask students high-quality questions that prompt retrieval of the information that students may need to learn.
Fourth principle: Provide models and worked examples
Providing models for students about new information allows them to make better connections and links between topics. It also helps them learn the thought process behind the answer (this will help them transfer their knowledge to new situations). This can take the form of thinking out loud or Worked Examples.
By Checking For Understanding, it helps you to identify which model may be most appropriate for the level of the learner. This is because experts think differently to novices. Essentially, it helps you select the best and most appropriate model to explain a concept or idea.
Fifth principle: Practise using new materials
Practising learned information through rehearsing, summarising, and applying the knowledge is the best way to consolidate student learning. This strengthens long-term memory of the learned information as using new materials to revise requires more cognitive effort.
Checking For Understanding helps us to check when students are ready to start practising with this new information. It allows us to deduce how well they have grasped the key concepts. This is key to helping them progress their learning.
Seventh principle: Obtaining a high success rate
Rosenshine suggests that teachers should be striving for a success rate of 80% from students – this of course can be tricky, with a class of students all being at different levels and stages of their learning journey. If the percentage is much lower, the task may be too hard, leading to demotivation. If the success rate is much higher, the task may be too easy, which can also lead to a loss of motivation.
Checking For Understanding is key here. By doing so, we are able to design the learning materials to find this Goldilocks Effect, and as such, pitch it just right. This means they still gain the benefit of confidence from having learnt the material, whilst also being challenged to stretch themselves.
Eighth principle: Provide scaffolding and support
Rosenshine proposes the temporary use of scaffolds in the classroom. This is where teaching assistance on tasks is gradually reduced as students become experts on a new skill or concept. This way, students feel more supported and grasp concepts a lot quicker. Rosenshine calls this process “cognitive apprenticeship”, because students learn effective strategies to become better learners.
Checking For Understanding allows us to gauge the temperature in the room in terms of student learning. This, similarly to the second and fourth principles (small steps and providing models, respectively), helps us know what to do next. It allows us to know when to remove the stabilisers and encourage them to ride solo.
Ninth principle: Require and monitor independent practice
For us to say students have really learnt something on a deep level, they will eventually have to develop their skills and demonstrate their knowledge independently. Practising a task over and over again can result in automaticity, where recalling information takes little effort and is basically automatic. This frees up cognitive load for learning more information.
Checking For Understanding means that we don’t rush to this principle too quickly. Only when students are working independently do we truly see how much they have learnt and understood. Asking students to learn independently before they have a good understanding of topics may be very overwhelming and could slow down the learning process.
Tenth principle: Engage students in weekly and monthly reviews
Rosenshine’s final Principle of Instruction recommends spacing out reviews of previously-learned information over the course of weeks or months. This combination of spacing and retrieval practice is a strategy called successive relearning, and is very effective for retaining information in the long-term memory.
Checking For Understanding helps ensure that the learning has stuck. It allows us to differentiate between “I have taught them it” and “they have learnt it”. If nothing changes in long-term memory, it is difficult to say that anything has been learnt. By checking their understanding, we see what information has been cemented and ingrained in their long-term memory.
Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction play a very important role in learning. And on reflection, we believe Checking For Understanding plays a very important role within each of the other nine principles. If we nail this principle, it provides us with a strong base for all the other ones to work effectively.