Just how important and powerful is practicing?
For his fifth principle, Rosenshine stated that the most successful teachers are those that spend as much time as possible guiding student practice. It’s not enough for students to learn something once before completing tasks independently; they have to keep rehearsing this information if they want it to be stored in their long-term memory. And teachers are in charge of guiding this process.
Before we continue, if you haven’t read any of our previous blogs on Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, you can find them all here.
What does Rosenshine say?
Rosenshine states that teachers need to be spending more time cultivating a classroom environment that provides students with the opportunity to practise retrieval with the material they’re learning. The more students can practise rehearsal, the easier it becomes to retrieve this information from their long-term memory when they need it.
Students need enough time to practise retrieval, ask questions, and get the help they need to further develop their understanding. This allows them to make connections between their new learning and old knowledge as they’re forced to think more deeply about how this new material fits into the bigger picture.
It’s important that teachers don’t rush this process, as the less time students spent practising the material, the less they’re going to be able to do with it. Practising with the new material may include:
- Apply this new knowledge
It is imperative that teachers guide this practice, in order to reduce the likelihood of students practising errors and rehearsing incorrect information. Essentially, Rosenshine’s fifth principle revolves around the idea of “use it or lose it”.
What does the research say?
In one study, Rosenshine observed that the more successful maths teachers that had higher classroom success rates spent, on average, 23 minutes of a 40-minute lesson (57%) guiding student practice before giving them tasks to complete individually. This was done by demonstrating how to complete worked examples, asking questions, regularly checking for student understanding, addressing common misconceptions and ensuring sufficient instruction was given.
On the other hand, the least successful maths teachers only spent 11 minutes presenting and explaining lesson content before students were instructed to complete worksheets that applied this newly acquired knowledge independently. These teachers also, on average, only asked 9 questions throughout the entire 40-minute lesson so student understanding was not comprehensibly checked. Students in these classes were not confident with the material and made so many errors when completing the worksheet that the teacher had to reteach the new material.
Practical implications in the classroom
- Ask questions: Questions are a great way to check for understanding. Students can ask themselves pre-questions which has been shown to improve academic performance by up 50% in certain situations. Alternatively, students can engage in elaborative interrogation such as asking ‘why is this true?’ which enables them to make connections to prior knowledge.
- Use worked examples: Worked examples help guide students’ independent practice by demonstrating how they can correctly apply recently learnt material in a step-by-step, easy to follow manner.
- Summarise information clearly: By being clear and concise, students are in a better position to replicate the task, develop their skills and understanding and avoid confusion or learning any misconceptions.
- Model tasks: If you describe which steps you’re taking to complete a task and why you’re taking those steps, students are able to understand the topic easier. Some ways you can be a model is to think out loud, ask probing questions, or use completion tasks.
This concept links with Rosenshine’s second Principle of Instruction, which is about presenting new material in small sequential steps and only moving onto the next step once mastery has been achieved, with this fifth principle focusing on how to help students achieve this mastery. Students need their learning to be supported, otherwise they’re going to make errors. That’s why guiding their practice is so important.
For a more in-depth review of Rosenshine’s principles and how to apply them in the classroom, check out our online CPD workshop on Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction.