Questioning Rosenshine’s Principles

In search of the real Rosenshine

In the 4th September 2020 issue of the TES, Jessica Powell argues that Rosenshine’s principles are “poorly understood”. In the article, Powell describes her initial sense that the principles are “straightforward, uncontroversial” and a framework of approaches that most teachers are already doing. The danger, she suggests, is that the 10 principles become a quick-fix or checklist for senior managers.

Powell speaks to Tom Sherrington and Mark Esner (a teacher and TES columnist) who argue that Rosenshine permits teachers to teach in ways that seem intuitively right. Esner sees critics of Rosenshine as “radical constructionist… facilitators”!

She points out that Rosenshine avoided any “finality” about the principles and that they are for specific applications rather than universal teaching procedures applicable at all times and for all subjects.

Powell investigates why the widely-known American Educator article presents only 10 principles. She speaks to Susan Paik who explained that the original pamphlet was tightly commission’s and that Rosenshine wanted 17 but compromised with 10.

She goes on to consider whether the fact that the 10 principles are a digest causing “false certainty” about practices which are more nuanced. Rosenshine’s synthesis of others’ work leaves out a great detail of more complex arguments and data. There’s the danger that Rosenshine simplifies things.

Some educators fear “that the 10 principles have been consumed as fact, despite the caution of Rosenshine and the IAE editors, and that no one is digging deeper or exploring them in the detail required for them to be useful. What’s more, they are being used as a checklist for the totality of teaching when they were never intended as such.

Powell also considers ideological concerns: a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching that reinforces the factory model of traditional teaching. She cites Ian Beatty’s 2012 comment that the 10 principles “seem to make a frontal assault on a broad swath of ‘reformed’ teaching approaches'” (they promote the “drill and practice” model of instruction).

The article also implies that Rosenshine’s principles could suffer the same fate as Dweck’s mindsets and Hattie’s visible learning in the sense that complex theories and research become “mistranslated” when implemented in schools.