Research – what works!

10 Research Based Principles of Instruction for Teachers

I recently read an American Educator article from 2012 by Barak Rosenshine that set out 10 principles of instruction informed by research, with subsequent suggestions for implementing them in the classroom. It was also one of the articles cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al and provided further elaboration on one of their six components of great teaching thought to have strong evidence of impact on student outcomes, i.e. quality of instruction.

Here’s Dan Brinton’s summary of the key messages from each of the 10 principles.

1: Begin with a short review of prior learning


Students in experimental classes where daily review was used had higher achievement scores. A 5-8 minute review of prior learning was said to strengthen connections between material learned and improve recall so that it became effortless and automatic, thus freeing up working memory.

Daily review could include, for example:

  • Homework
  • Previous material
  • Key vocabulary
  • Problems where there were errors
  • Further practise of knowledge, concepts and skills

2: Present new material in small amounts or steps


Working memory is small and can only cope with small chunks at a time. Too much information presented at once overloads it and can confuse students, who won’t be able to process it. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to processes that will allow students to work with confidence independently. More effective teachers in the study dealt with the limitation of working memory by presenting only small amounts of new material at a time.

3: Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students


Questions allow students to practise new material and connect new material to prior learning. They also help teachers to determine how well material has been learned and whether additional teaching is required. The most effective teachers asked students to explain the process they used and how they answered the question, as well as answering the question posed.

Strategies suggested for checking the responses of all students included asking students to:

  • Tell their answers to a partner
  • Write a short summary and share it with a partner
  • Write their answers on a mini-white board or similar, followed by “show me”
  • Raise their hands if they know the answer or agree with someone else

4: Provide models

chemical modelStudents require cognitive support to reduce the cognitive load on their working memory and help them to solve problems faster. Examples include:

  • Providing clearly laid out, step-by-step worked examples
  • Identifying and explaining the underlying principles of each step
  • Modelling the use of prompts
  • Working together with students on tasks
  • Providing partially completed problems

5: Guide student practice

guidanceNew material will quickly be forgotten without sufficient rehearsal. Rehearsal helps students to access information quickly and easily when required. Additional time needs to be spent by students summarising, rephrasing or elaborating on new material so that it can become:

  • Stored in long-term memory
  • Easily retrieved
  • Used for new learning and problem solving

The quality of storage relies on:

  • Student engagement with the material
  • Providing feedback to the students to correct errors and ensure misconceptions aren’t stored

The rehearsal process can be facilitated and enhanced by:

  • Questioning students
  • Asking students to summarise the main points
  • Supervising students during practice

In one study, the more successful teachers spent more time guiding practice, for example by working through initial problems at the board whilst explaining the reasons for each step or asking students to work out problems at the board and discuss their procedures. This also served as a way of providing multiple models for students to allow them to be better prepared for independent work.

6: Check for student understanding

thinking aloud

More effective teachers frequently checked for understanding. Checking for understanding identifies whether students are developing misconceptions as well as providing some of the processing required to move new learning into long-term memory.

The purpose of checking is twofold:

  1. Answering questions might cause students to elaborate and strengthen connections to prior learning in their long term-memory
  2. The answers provided by students alert the teacher to parts of the material that may need reteaching

A number of strategies can be used to check for understanding, e.g:

  • Questioning
  • Asking students to think aloud as they work
  • Asking students to defend a position to others

7: Obtain a high success rate

80percentWhen students learn new material, they construct meaning in their long-term memory. Errors can be made though, as they attempt to be logical in areas where their background knowledge may still be weak. It was suggested that the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement is approximately 80%. Furthermore, it was said that achieving a success rate of 80% showed that students were learning the material, whilst being suitably challenged. High success rates during guided practice led to higher success rates during independent work. If practice did not have a high success rate, there was a chance that errors were being practised and learned, which then become difficult to overcome. The development of misconceptions can be limited by breaking material down into small steps, providing guided practice and checking for understanding.

8: Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks

Building site scaffoldingScaffolds are temporary supports that help students to learn difficult tasks, which are gradually withdrawn with increasing competence. The use of scaffolds and models, aided by a master, helps students to serve their “cognitive apprenticeship” and learn strategies that allow them to become independent.

Scaffolds include:

  • Thinking aloud by the teacher to reveal the thought processes of an expert and provide mental labels during problem solving
  • Providing poor examples to correct, as well as expert models
  • Tools such as cue cards or checklists
  • Prompts such as “Who?” “Why?” and “How? that enable students to ask questions as they work
  • Box prompts to categorise and elaborate on the main ideas
  • A model of the completed task for students to compare their own work to

9: Require and monitor independent practice

practiceIndependent practice follows guided practice and involves students working alone and practising new material. Sufficient practice is necessary for students to become fluent and automatic. This avoids overcrowding working memory, and enables more attention to be devoted to comprehension and application.

Independent practice should involve the same material as guided practice, or with only slight variation. The research showed that optimal teacher-student contact time during supervision was 30 seconds or less, with longer explanations being required an indication that students were practising errors.

10: Engage students in weekly and monthly review

calendar reviewAs students rehearse and review information, connections between ideas in long-term memory are strengthened. The more information is reviewed, the stronger these connections become. This also makes it easier to learn new information, as prior knowledge becomes more readily available for use. It also frees up space in working memory, as knowledge is organised into larger, better-connected patterns.

Practical suggestions for implementation include:

  • Review the previous week’s work at the beginning of the following week
  • Review the previous month’s work at the beginning of every fourth week
  • Test following a review
  • Weekly quizzes

The full report by Barak Rosenshine: Principles of Instruction – Research based strategies that all teachers should know is available here.

Wellington – search for the rest!

Great Teaching: Informed wisdom in the heat of every day practice. #EducationFest 2016


Here are the slides from my talk at the Education Festival at Wellington.

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The thrust of my talk was sharing the process I’ve been on as a teacher and leader in my school, helping teachers (and myself) to develop the most appropriate knowledge and strategies – the informed wisdom – needed to make good decisions in the heat of everyday classroom practice.  This includes absorbing and distilling the learning from research and the array of expert voices.

Sometimes the gap between the theory and the reality can be intense.  We feel a bit like Jon Snow going into battle:

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I made reference to the following:

My ‘If there was no OfSTED’ tweet; written as a message to teachers to not look to external authorities for excuses; to take responsibility, shackles off.  If we think our own lessons are great on our own terms, the chances are we’re right. But if we don’t think our own lessons are great, no-one else is likely to either.  However, the challenge is to deliver great lessons based on informed wisdom – not simply our hunches and personal preferences.

Then, I explored various sources of wisdom:

Contemporary Ideas all my staff should know about. 

Keeping things in perspective; keeping the basics at the forefront – featuring my favourite Hitch Hiker’s Guide analogy.

The Sutton Trust What Makes Great Teaching? report.

The idea that there should be more emphasis on engaging with research and books about subject specific pedagogy; too much is generic when, in fact, many of our issues relate to teaching specific concepts in subjects.  For example, science teachers should engage with the thinking about practical work and when/how it supports conceptual understanding.

The Barak Rosenshine research summary as featured in this post on The Principles of Effective Teaching 

The need to keep data systems lean. 

The Trivium – parts 1 and 2.  The power of Know, Explore, Communicate as a framework for thinking about lessons as well as planning the curriculum. The point is to be deliberate in planning the sequence and relative emphasis of aspects of the curriculum, giving appropriate weight and value to knowledge, hands-on experience and deliberately constructed opportunities for rhetoric.

Mode A and Mode B teaching (a notion I have invented to make sense of this for myself) and the need for balance.  The 80%: 20% division is arbitrary – up for discussion. It’s my sense of what feels right.

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I then whizzed through some other areas of practice – the need to focus on a few specific strategies that we use all the time and do well.  Simple behaviour and questioning strategies are still the areas where I need to give feedback most often.  (Enter Bill Rogers once again.)

The final slide represents how it can feel sometimes – coming out on top after the struggle with the complexity of it all.  This is me after a double period with my wonderfully complicated Year 10s.  Don’t read too much into it!

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Once again, thanks to the Education Festival for inviting me and thanks to everyone who came along to the session.  It was a real honour to be speaking in the Wellington Chapel.


Feedback with no marking?

A Michaela Feedback Lesson – what can we take from this?

At Michaela, we have two exam sessions each year: in February and the end of June. Nonetheless, when completing a unit we do sometimes give pupils an assessment to see what they can do. Recently, our year 8s finished learning about Romantic Poetry. To really stretch them, we decided to give them a poem they had not seen before, and ask them to write on it. The responses were phenomenal, and you can read some below. But today, I want to focus on how we give feedback following such an assessment, using a specific example.

I visited Joe Kirby’s year 8 lesson, just at the moment he was testing them on the words they had misspelled. He tested them on the spellings (in the same way as I have written about previously here) and then went on to look at what else the pupils needed to do to improve their essays.

He began by looking at grammar, a key aspect of our English curriculum at Michaela. At Michaela, we focus on memory and automaticity, and we know pupils need to overlearn each aspect of writing in order to improve. If a couple of pupils are misusing the apostrophe, we know all pupils will benefit from overlearning this key ingredient of accuracy. Joe has written three sentences on the board which come from different pupils’ essays, and he asks them to write them correctly in the back of their books. He then goes over this as a whole class, leading pupils to articulate why each apostrophe is needed:



Following the focus on spelling and grammar, Joe goes into what not to do, using examples again lifted from the pupils’ essays, and helps them to see how to improve these by explaining from the front of the class:

Here are some more examples of ‘vague’ sentences, with Joe explaining what pupils need to do better:

He then goes on to explain what precision means, and gives concrete examples of how to be precise:



Joe then leads pupils through some of the most impressive insights from their essays. This was my favourite bit of the lesson, and something I tried with my own year 8 classes the following day. When reading their books, you put a tick in the margin of a sentence you found especially impressive, and note their name and a trigger word on your feedback sheet. You can then say, ‘Elena, can you read your sentence on alliteration?’ It is lovely to celebrate the impressive responses of pupils, while also helping others see what they ought to be writing about:

Following this, pupils read one of their classmate’s essays, again focusing on what precisely made it so effective:

Hosna example parag

After this, pupils re-wrote a paragraph in their books.

The above approach is simple, and requires no marking. The teacher reads the essays, noting down examples of great work and ‘non-examples’, or examples of what not to do. The teacher then structures the feedback in a clear way, for us beginning with accuracy, moving on to ‘non-examples,’ and finishing with exemplars.

Here are some further examples of the pupils’ writing. Remember, this was analysis of John Keats’ ‘This Living Hand,’ a poem they had never encountered before. Some sophisticated insights they have written include:

‘Keats keeps the poem following free verse and no rhyme scheme to perhaps inform readers that the possibilities and powers of the ambiguities, hidden meanings and unknown capabilities are not so easily understood and that the power is so strong that it breaks all form of rhythm and pattern.’

‘This poem could be about the relationship between the poet and poem and the emotion it gives the reader. Keats could be saying that poetry is capable of inflicting an outburst of emotion, which is recollected in “tranquillity.”’

‘At the beginning of the poem, “now warm and capable” is used combining life and death imagery to describe the transience of life in the present.’

‘The poet does not refer to an actual living hand in his poem, instead it is used to symbolise the poem itself, personifying it. He does this to illustrate that life may be transient however this poem shall be transcendent, otherwise “haunt” our “days” and “chill” our “dreaming nights.”’

Keisi parag


Maryam parag

Teachmeet – a good example

Last Thursday we hosted our fifth annual TeachMeet.  We were delighted to welcome Tim Brighouse as our key note speaker – his wit and wisdom got the event off to a brilliant start


Tim’s key messages:


Teachers really matter – they make a difference to young people, day in and day out.


The variation in terms of the difference teachers make is much greater within schools, than it is between different schools.  So we need to be focusing our efforts on developing all of our teachers, with a view to reducing any variation in teacher quality within our schools.


This data suggests that a large number of teachers are reluctant to change, in order to be more efficient.  Leaders need to grow a culture within their schools, where teachers feel safe to try new things and there is the opportunity to learn new teaching strategies.  That said, it’s easy to understand why teachers with a track record of success will be reluctant to change what works for them – so don’t try to make them.


Does this describe your school?  If not, why not?  What are you going to do to grow a culture like this in your school?


Use this to plan the changes you are going to make in your school – with a particular focus on the changes that are low effort and high impact i.e. changes that can be easily put into place, but will make a significant difference to the professional growth, quality of teaching and therefore the progress of students in your school.

Tim finished by encouraging all of us to download this powerpoint, print off the quotes and put them on the wall in our staffroom.

The Presentations

tm16tharbyPresentations can be downloaded, using the links below.

  1. Andy Tharby, DHS5 habits to create and sustain a culture of practice’
  2. Martha Boyne and Emily Clements, The Angmering School New teachers: don’t just survive, thrive!”
  3. Pauline Gaston, Oathall CC  Warm Welcomes, Engaging Exits
  4. James Walton, Hazelwood School, “The power of Yeti learning
  5. Matt Perks, University of Southampton “Venn and the art of categorisation maintenance
  6. Mike Allen, Chamberlayne College  “15 Minute Forum – The Marginal Gains Approach To CPD
  7. Martyn Simmonds, DHS  “The importance of Thinking Hard’


During the interval the ‘Proto Restaurant Group’ served up a magnificent paella.  Colleagues gave a donation to the ‘Love your hospital’ charity.


  1. Emma Modder, Rydon Community College “Using Office Mix to film lessons to use in class, homework and flipped learning”
  2. Jason Ramasami, Sion School “Felix baumgartner’s Jump”
  3. David Rogers, Patcham High School, ‘Great geography teachers change the world’
  4. Ben Crockett, DHS “Case Study Diagrams: Knowledge Retention
  5. Chris Misselbrook, Shoreham Academy “STEP questioning model – Improve students’ verbal and written responses
  6. James Gardner, Gildredge House,  “Starting from Scratch, or How to Reinvent Your Department Without Getting Sacked.”
  7. Jack Griffiths, Durrington High School ‘How can we get students to be better at evaluating their work?’

Graham Newell closed the evening, talking about the importance of teacher efficacy i.e. teachers’ confidence in their ability to improve student learning.  This grows when teachers  take control of their own professional development, reflect on their own practice, try things out in the classroom and then see the fruits of their efforts, when their students achieve well. How are teachers doing this?

  • Attending teachmeets.
  •  Engaging with colleagues from around the world on twitter and through blogs.
  • Watching their peers and themselves teach, with the use of IRIS – and then talking about it…lots!