The Dangers of Rosenshine

In her latest post, Zoe Enser (@GreeboRunner) considers the dangers of turning educational research into a tick-sheet of non-negotiables.

I am a bit fan of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. His work, especially the 2012 pdf which is flying around everywhere, provides a clear and precise toolkit for effective teaching. It also provides a shared language, enabling practitioners can discuss their processes. Perhaps best of all, it is quickly accessible for those who may not have the time or inclination to trawl through the research on which his work was based in order to reconsider their practice.

However, something is beginning to sit a bit uncomfortably with me. Whilst I am happy to hear people talking about how they modelled in their lesson or used recap to link learning and check retention of inform, I’m less happy about hearing people talk about how they have used Rosenshine 1 or, even worse, R3, R4 or R5. This feels a bit reductive, well very reductive, and whilst I appreciate that people like a short cut, I am beginning to worry this is once again leading to a focus on the ‘what’ and not the ‘why’ (to steal a phrase from a better known Enser). We are potentially heading down the Bloom’s Taxonomy route.

If we want people to really develop their teaching, which undoubtedly we do it needs to be based on something a little deeper than a 10 points (or 17 point) visual representation. Posters on classroom walls are great reminders (thanks Oliv Cav) of what tools we have available to us in order to deliver great instruction but that only works if you know what you are being reminded about really looks like. There is little point in trying to focus on small steps (Rosenshine 2) unless you have an understanding of how you might do this. It isn’t just about breaking things down into their component parts, although that is a significant skill in itself, it is about an understanding of cognitive load theory, how we focus students on the main points, stripping away extraneous load, how we might use dual coding as a way to support our explanation and indeed what effective explanation is needed in order to introduce new material.

Without a doubt knowing we should introduce new material in small steps is a really good reminder to those, including myself in my worst moments in the past, who may have just thrown a bunch of information at students and then asked them to do something with it, without fully appreciating the time they needed to fully understand this information. This is also true of instructions; this is also new material for some and needs a careful stepped approach to enable students to grasp it.

As you can see there is quite a lot underpinning just one of Rosenshine’s principles and I have barely begun to scratch the surface. There are whole books to examine in order to do that real justice. Yet increasingly I hear ‘I’m doing small steps’ or ‘well done, in your observation I saw you using ‘small steps”. We are reaching again for the quick wins, and forgetting to really consider what underpins the ideas. We again are running the risk of losing the significance of what we are doing and diluting the theory down to something unrecognisable and unhelpful. Tick lists begin to appear, non-negotiables are mentioned, performance management conversations with phrases such as ‘well, I unfortunately didn’t see you using Rosenshine 4 in your lesson’ (which incidentally was a 50-minute mock exam paper) start to echo around the place, and teachers are back to jumping through hoops rather than just getting on, teaching well and discussing how we are doing it even better.

Like I said at the start, I really do like Rosenshine. I think for some people his 2012 paper, perhaps his most recognised work, was like a gateway drug luring them into the exciting and heady world of research and pedagogical discussions (yes, I know I am a geek). But for some it risks becoming either a stick to beat them with, a performance to put on or a checklist of a rigid idea of teaching.

By all means embrace Barak, but don’t think he has given us all the answers, I think if anything, he has given us a lot of questions to examine in relation to our own classrooms and contexts. Questions which won’t simply be answered by putting a chart on the wall.

Teach Like Nobody’s Watching: The Essential Guide to Effective and Efficient Teaching is available for pre-order now.

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2 thoughts on “The Dangers of Rosenshine

  1. Excellent blog. I think this checklist mentality has become so ingrained in many of our schools, that even if the research evidence says that checklists do not work, we still use them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree….sort of. While we want teachers to have flexible deep knowledge about different teaching strategies and to avoid tick box compliance to SLT non-negotiables there is a place for codification of teaching ‘moves’ or strategies so that teachers can talk about them and replicate them consistently. I am thinking of low-variation approaches to teaching such as those employed at Michaela which were influenced by Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. In his work effective teacher moves are identified and labelled so they can be practiced….eg questioning strategies such as ‘cold call,’ ‘no opt out’ along with a host of other techniques. Another example is Englemann’s Direct Instruction which involves scripted teaching moves, anathema to advocates of teacher autonomy, but demonstrably successful in raising teacher performance and student outcomes.

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