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Supporting pupils to help retain information learnt in lessons

Mr Cuthbert, Head of Religious Studies and Lay Chaplain at Bethany School, explains how Rosenshine’ Principals and Theories help to better retain and recall data taught in lessons.

When I was training to teach, the end of lesson plenary was vital to check the understanding of pupils, and, more importantly, as a way to show progress had been made in the lesson. This end of lesson plenary was soon usurped by short activities each followed by a mini-plenary to ensure learning had taken place. This was certainly a move forward and ensured pupil understanding before moving on. However, although it meant pupil understanding in the lesson, it did not guarantee that knowledge was retained after the lesson.

07-june_human-connectomeThis was often negated by revision sessions, where important information that had been covered and needed to be used for exams would be revisited in a single lesson, with knowledge turned into mind maps, flash cards or various other revision activities.

This worked and enabled pupils to achieve. However, what if there was a middle ground – a way to check learning constantly, which in turn, would help revision? To enable pupils to reflect on previous learning before moving on, so that topics were not only fresher, but mastered, enabling pupils to really know their stuff, giving them hooks to hang new knowledge onto, and making revision a continuous process rather than an end of topic lesson preparing for an assessment.

And this is when I was introduced to the work of Rosenshine. In his research he observed approaches and strategies that were common to the most successful teachers. For this he used three sources:

  1. Cognitive science research
  2. Direct observation of ‘master teachers’
  3. Research on cognitive supports and scaffolds

Rosenshines-Principles-of-InstructionThis work then enabled him to identify 17 ‘instructional procedures’ – actions the most successful teachers put into practice to enable learning to occur:

  1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  2. Present new material in small steps with pupil practice after each step.
  3. Limit the amount of material pupils receive at one time.
  4. Give clear and detailed instructions and explanations.
  5. Ask a large number of questions and check for understanding.
  6. Provide a high level of active practice for all pupils.
  7. Guide pupils as they begin to practice.
  8. Think aloud and model steps.
  9. Provide models of worked-out problems.
  10. Ask pupils to explain what they had learned.
  11. Check the responses of all pupils.
  12. Provide systematic feedback and corrections.
  13. Use more time to provide explanations.
  14. Provide many examples.
  15. Re-teach material when necessary.
  16. Prepare pupils for independent practice.
  17. Monitor pupils when they begin independent practice.

Rosenshine then formulated 10 key principles, which he claimed underpin effective lessons:

  1. Daily review.
  2. Present new material using small steps.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Provide models.
  5. Guide pupil practice.
  6. Check for pupil understanding.
  7. Obtain a high success rate.
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
  9. Independent practice.
  10. Weekly and monthly review.

From this, I have picked out – thanks to my colleagues at St Greg’s – a focus on daily, weekly, and monthly review. This has many benefits, but mainly it increases connections between the material learned, and it enables the brain to focus on the problem solving and creativity. The longer- term benefit of review is that by recalling recently learned material it embeds it into the long-term memory. It also trains the brain to recall information from the depths months later. This is vital as it allows the brain to make hooks so that new material can be attached to the prior knowledge. This means that this information is more likely to be retained, and again, means that space is left in the brain for developing skills. The amount of new information pupils come across each day is phenomenal, so if there are ways to connect new learning, the more likely pupils are to remember it, rather than being forgotten as another piece of useless information. In this sense, daily, weekly and monthly reviews limit the amount of cognitive overload and increase the chances of the pupils remembering new information and being able to use it to complete meaningful tasks.

In his book, ‘Rosenshine’s Principles in Action’, Tom Sherrington wrote ‘the more one rehearses and reviews information, the stronger the interconnections between the materials become. Review also helps pupils develop their knowledge into patterns and helps them acquire the ability to recall past learning automatically’.

So, what does this look like in RS lessons? Well, this is still a work in process. Initially I started this with year 11’s, where they would be given exam style questions based on last year’s work. They would be given a set of questions, given prep to prepare the answers, and then given time to write these responses under timed conditions in lessons. It would also look like quick exam style questions, encouraging the pupils to recall prior knowledge. This has also looked like mind maps, with different topics with which they would start in one colour with what they could recall, then review these ideas and add information as they recapped with notes and books. As we move onto the exam countdown, pupils are given topics to revise and then as a starter to the following lesson they are given 10 minutes to answer two exam style questions. Now that we have covered plenty of the course, this will be a key focus with year 10 lessons too.

In Key Stage Three, this has looked more like starter quizzes, mainly on forms, to ensure that key topics and ideas have been retained. Where this has not been done, information has been recovered and gaps in knowledge filled. Pupils have fed back their responses and been given time to make corrections before moving on. The advantage of forms is that when incorrect answers are given, pupils can review their quiz and see which questions they have got wrong and remind themselves of the correct responses. In the first half-term, key stage 3 pupils were all given the task of writing a review paragraph or two to recap their learning from the previous half term, with a word bank of key terms that they had to include to ensure they had covered all elements of the course, aiming at ensuring that knowledge from the term was retained.

Review is not the sole Rosenshine principle to be used. In Key Stage 4 there has been opportunity to look at what AQA deem to be full mark responses (principle 4). Scaffolds (principle 8) have been in place for the longer written tasks, especially as we have re-introduced the PEEL tasks. And obviously, principle 3 fits perfectly into Bethany’s Virtue of Learning, with question (which, naturally links well to principle 6).

The focus on review has been picked particularly to help pupils stay on top of their learning, trying to limit cognitive overload and help them to develop skills to train their brain to recall information effectively. As we move to the end of year examinations, my hope would be that the pupils are confident with the material we have looked at this year, that they are growing in the ability to recall prior knowledge well and that, by recalling knowledge on a regular basis, the process of revision for exams will be easier and the recall of knowledge in the actual exams is second nature.


This will be an on-going process as we move into the new School year and will be coupled with more extended writing so that pupils will be able to use this knowledge to explain their responses to various tasks, showing understanding of content but also a mastery of it to enable them to respond to a variety of stimuli effectively. Review will continue to be a central part of the RS curriculum, as Sherrington said ‘material that is not adequately practised and reviewed is easily forgotten’.

Simon Cuthbert 
Head of Religious Studies