a response to the chapter in Kirschner, P. A., & Hendrick, C. (2020). How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice. Routledge
Reading this chapter made me wonder if the reason (at least partly) I am so unimpressed by a lot of what the book is saying might be subject related. Examples are sparse, but when he gives them they tend to be maths, chess, or I think there was one about history.
The recommended article is the one by Rosenshine and he has referred to it before at which point I read it. It is perhaps the most readable thing he has recommended, but it only deals in general approaches, not examples of classroom practice.Rosenshine has 10 principles of instruction almost all of which are laudable:
1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
Recycling is always good – scope for mini games or tests
2. Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.
To a large extent yes, though the tricky bit here is how small is useful without making it unhelpfully easy and of course that is the bit they don’t help you decide about.
3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all the students.
This one I’m not so sure about. Checking understanding is important and questions might help with that, but so could getting them to do other things. But check the responses of all the students is odd. How ? In a big class ? With questions ? If you ask an open question then they all hear both question and answer, so you would need 30 different questions to check a concept with (which sounds unfeasible) and it would take ages. But if you get them working in groups with questions you don’t know who said what.
He suggests students noting down answers and holding up cards or teachers eliciting choral responses, neither of which sounds like a particularly effective check.
4. Provide models.
Always a good plan.
5. Guide student practice.
OK they will need some support and scaffolding. Though again finding the sweet spot between guiding and doing it for them is again the hard part and the part that Rosenshine does not explore.
6.Check for student understanding.
OK but then what were all the questions for in number three if not this ?
7. Obtain a high success rate.
He says an 80% success rate is most effective, but I’m not clear if he means 80% of the class must be able to do something before you move on or if students must be able to work with 80% of the material. A high success rate is always going to be attractive, but measuring it might be complex.
8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
How is this not just 5 again ?
9. Require and monitor independent practice.
10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.
Again, sensible, but could it not be combined with 1 ?
So to my mind we have six useful if somewhat general principles: review, keep steps manageable, provide models, check understanding, scaffold practice and require lots of independent practice.
As with other things in other chapters, part of you is thinking ‘but of course, who wouldn’t’ ? But his further reading includes some blogs, one of which has a teacher observer saying he watches lessons at times where the teacher tells the students something and then assumes that is ‘done’ and should not have to be covered again. And to give him his due, I’ve occasionally run into that attitude myself.
Clicking through a couple of links in the blogpost they recommend took me to a post called the number one problem in teaching and the blogger is talking about the mistake of not checking that everyone has understood (only that somebody has). There is a pretty big gap though between assuming one right answer means you can move on and ensuring that every member of a group has understood completely and one of the commenters points out that in a class with a mixed ability profile that means either differentiating everything or holding a lot of students back a lot of the time.
But another comment on that same post comes from a fairly acerbic ELT blogger who I’ve quite often read – Jeff Jordan – who says
You seem to start from the – false – assumption that learning English as an L2 is a predominantly a matter of explicit learning about the language. Yet the evidence from research into instructed SLA gives massive support to the claim that concentrating on activities which help implicit knowledge (by developing the learners’ ability to make meaning in the L2, through exposure to comprehensible input, participation in discourse, and implicit or explicit feedback) leads to far greater gains in interlanguage development than concentrating on explicit learning.
And the original blogger – Tom Sherrington – comments only ‘I really don’t know what this refers to’. I do though. Jordan is saying you shouldn’t be teaching language students about language, such as what grammatical elements are called or a list or rules about when to use the passive tense. You should be getting them to use it. When they use it they will discover whether it works or not and change their beliefs about it accordingly. Why does Sherrington not understand this comment at all ? That’s what makes me think teaching language might be qualitatively different from teaching other subjects in one way. When you do maths at a school level you aren’t expressing your own meanings, just showing you know and understand principles which were thought up by others. Even with some of the trendier approaches to history in schools where source work is part of learning, it is only a very small part. But in language if you can grasp some basic concepts you then use it to express what you want (and even to a degree in the way that you want). You only get to make new meanings in most subjects if you are operating at a doctoral level. OK within language you are not inventing new language, but you can express yourself through it in ways you cannot in physics or geography. Does that make it ‘different’ in terms of how it can or should be taught / learnt ?
Rosenshine, B. V. (2012, Spring). Principles Of Instruction. Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. American Educator, 36 (1), 12–19. Available From Www.Aft.Org/Sites/Default/Files/Periodicals/Rosenshine.Pdf.