Barack Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of direct instruction’ – 2

Moving on from yesterday’s posting, Rosenshine’s third principle focuses on establishing connections between what is currently being learnt and what has been learnt before. In conjunction with reformulating, summarising, elaborating and so on, constantly making connections with prior learning has been shown to aid later retrieval greatly.

Carefully scaffolded presentations, followed by plenty of opportunity to practise and to correct errors, enable the new learning to become more firmly established in long-term memory. Again, the evidence suggests strongly that more effective teachers spend more time on ‘guided practice, more time asking questions, more time checking for understanding, more time correcting errors, and more time having students work out problems with teacher guidance’.

I think the key thing here is practice but practice of a specific kind: what is most desirable is that, rather in the manner of a rolling wave, what is currently being introduced as new learning is presented in small steps, which simultaneously enfolds within itself that which has already been taught previously. In such a way, the continuity and coherence of learning are maintained.

The fourth principlelooks more closely at error correction and feedback. This is of course a very important area because sorting out pupils’ misunderstandings and mistakes is vital in making sure that they are not internalised and stored in long-term memory. Building into the learning programme carefully structured error corrections gives vital feedback to the teacher about what has and hasn’t been learnt, what might need to be re-taught, whether the material needs to be further broken down into smaller steps. Of course, teachers need to be aware of the kinds of errors pupils are likely to make within any domain and be ready to correct them directly and unambiguously.

Error correction and feedback should form a central part of every lesson. For example, I know that Singaporean maths advocates recommend choosing each day, say, five or six different pupils in a class of twenty-five to thirty to participate actively in the lesson or to answer questions about what is being taught. This approach is likely to bring out flaws in pupils’ conceptual understanding, their deficiencies in a particular skill area, and their lack of procedural or factual knowledge. In this sense, errors offer learning opportunities. In this way too, the teacher is able to check that what is being taught is being learnt. It also enables the teacher to make adjustments to what is being presented or to re-teach.

1) Rosenshine, B., ‘The Empirical Support for Direct Instruction’, in Tobias, S. and Duffy, T.M. (eds), (2009), Constructivist Instruction: Success or Failure?, Abingdon, Routledge (p. 205).