In this final posting on the teaching and learning values of Barak Rosenshine, I shall be looking at his fifth and sixth principles of direct instruction.
The fifth principle is providing enough opportunity to engage in
independent practice. In regard to the teaching of literacy in the early years,
I believe that many programmes, such as Letters and Sounds for example, move
far too quickly through the material and fail to present it in short
enough steps or to offer anything like enough practice. This means that the
fifty percent of pupils who would normally be expected to succeed do; the rest
are often left behind.
Independent practice enables
pupils to improve their fluency and automaticity in skills, which in turn
enable them to gain access quickly and directly to information stored in
long-term memory. Constant practice in the context of reading also establishes
more firmly the correspondences between sounds and spellings of sounds. In this
way, ‘working memory is taxed minimally and students can devote more attention
to comprehension and application’ (1). As Stanovich long ago pointed out, ‘Lack
of exposure and practice on the part of the less skilled reader delays the
development of automaticity and speed at the word recognition level. Slow,
capacity-draining word-recognition processes require cognitive resources that
should be allocated to higher-level processes of text-integration and
Independent practice also
assists in elaborating and fine-tuning the learning, thus adding to and making
more sophisticated conceptual understanding. Teachers are also able to monitor
error rates and adjust their teaching accordingly.
The final principle advocated by Rosenshine is for teachers to hold a
weekly and monthly review. As is the case with daily review, this kind of
longer term review and re-assessment of previous learning greatly aids in
helping to 'reinstate and elaborate prior learning' (3), as well as reinforcing
and broadening 'connections within cognitive structure' (4).
What this brings us back to
is that expertise - and it is expertise we require to be able to read and write
fluently and accurately - is acquired gradually over time through a series of
carefully calibrated tasks that the learner is able to master sequentially. In
every field of learning, to perform domain-specific tasks to a high level of
expertise, the learner needs to spend time on activities which have been
specifically designed to improve performance. This, in the language of the
research, has been termed 'deliberate and extended practice' and has been
shown to lead to 'improvements in performance by an order of magnitude, along
with a huge range of interindividual differences' (5).
However, for all this to
happen, learners need expert tuition and that only comes from proper training
1 Rosenshine, B., ‘The Empirical Support for Direct Instruction’, in
Tobias, S. and Duffy, T.M. (eds), (2009), Constructivist Instruction, Abingdon,
Routledge (p. 207).
2 Stanovich, K.E. (2000), ‘Matthew Effects in Reading’, in Progress in Understanding Reading, The
Guilford Press, London.
3 Rosenshine, B., (p.207).
4 Ibid. (p.207).
5 Hunt, E., 'Expertise, Talent, and Social Encouragement,' in Ericsson, K. A. et al (Eds) (2006), The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, CUP.