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  • Rosenshine (#2) was right! 'Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step'

Rosenshine (#2) was right! 'Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step'

New research provides support for Barak Rosenshine's second principle of instruction!

I just finished reading an excellent paper by Amadee Marchand Martella and colleagues, and overseen by Jeffrey Karpicke, that lends support to Rosenshine’s well known and loved second principle, ‘Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step’

The paper, entitled Investigating the intensity and integration of active learning and lecture ($), summarised two experiments in which participants learnt about the taxonomic associations of five organisms, which basically just means that they were learning things like: The Red Kangaroo belongs to the species Macropus rufus, very relevant knowledge in the biology class!

There were two basic modes of instruction used in the experiment that were mixed and matched in creative ways, lecture vs. active learning. The lecture was pretty standard, a clear explanation of all of the to-be-learnt content presented via video with an inset image of the lecturer to make it more engaging. The lectures also included pause points during which participants were encouraged to think about the correct answer to a question, prior to that answer being revealed.

The active learning was all done via drag-and-drop matching activities on a computer. An example is pictured below. Participants had to match all pairs correctly first time for a number of rounds to show they knew the content, prior to progressing to the next set of information.

Across two experiments, the researchers compared a number of combinations of lecture and active learning during a total of 18 minutes allocated to learning. They measured student learning on directly taught (verbatim) content and content that should have been inferred through the learning activities (inference). E.g., If you're taught that Red Kangaroo belongs to Macropus rufus, and that Macrous rufus belongs to Chordata, then you should be able to infer that Red Kangaroo belongs to Chordata.

In addition to measuring academic learning, they also measured students’ confidence in their learning (On a scale of 0%–100%, how well do you think you learned the phylum, order, and species name for the five organisms from this experiment?), and their enjoyment (On a scale of 0%–100%, how much did you enjoy the activity?)

In Experiment 1, pure lecture was compared to pure active learning. One half of participants watched an 18 minute lecture, then did the test, whilst the other did matching activities for 18 minutes, then did the test. Here are the results

  • pure lecture significantly outperformed pure active learning with approx. 60% vs. 40% on the overall test respectively

  • No significant difference in confidence (both about 60%) and

  • No significant difference in enjoyment ratings either (both around 50%),

The final point above is particularly interesting. As the authors reported:

although lecture is often criticized for being boring and for putting “kids to sleep” (Strauss, 2017, p. 1), participants who viewed the lecture did not rate it less favorably than their peers who viewed the active learning activity.

Martella et al., 2024 (pg. 8)

Contrary to some popular belief, lectures aren’t always more boring than doing activities!

But things really got interesting in Experiment 2. In Experiment 2, the researchers compared three conditions:

  1. Pure lecture: Lecture only

  2. Blocked: Lecture (9 mins) then Active learning (9 mins), and

  3. Interspersed: Lecture→ Active→ Lecture→ Active→ Lecture→ Active (3 mins for each portion)

These three conditions are pictured below:

This is particularly interesting because it compared three common variations that actually occur in classrooms around the world. Some teachers talk for a whole lesson, some talk for half the lesson then give students the second half to practice, and some teachers break instruction up into small chunks and allow students to consolidate their learning after each chunk.

Here were the findings:

To summarise, the most effective approach was to do what Rosenshine recommends, Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step!

Students also enjoyed the the two conditions that mixed lecture and active learning more (51%, 61%, 61% for lecture only, interspersed, and blocked respectively) and were more confident in their learning (62%, 77% and 71% for lecture only, interspersed, and blocked respectively).

I’m a long-time fan of Karpicke’s work and this is another fantastic paper to add to the collection. It’s always worth waiting for more research to come out to replicate findings like these, but this is an initial and very well designed study that provides support for a practice that those following Rosenshine’s work are no doubt doing already!

Announcements and Opportunities

Yesterday I visited the venue for our March 12th Steplab Instructional Coaching Intensive, Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School, and it’s fabulous!

I’m so excited for the big day which is going to take participants through how to be an effective coach from start to finish! Here are some quotes from participants who came along last year…

  • A brilliant day of learning. We love the ‘no fluff’ approach to highly effective coaching practices and are looking forward to implementing this model at Serpentine Primary School. - Steph Le Lievre, Serpentine Primary School

  • The evidence in this program unpacks the amazing impact instructional coaching can have on student learning. This is the most influential professional development I have experienced. - Jack Neil, St Monica’s

  • ... I immediately felt that my coaching conversations were going to become more clear, comfortable and impactful.- Andrew McLouglin, Challis Community Primary School

It would be great to see you there! Tickets selling fast : )

Find out more and book here.