How much review should standards, textbooks and high stakes tests optimise for?
In Barak Rosenshine’s guide to research based strategies all teachers should know, strategies #1 and #10 suggest that a week’s worth of instruction for a single subject should look like this:
Rosenshine provides robust evidence from three types of sources — a synthesis of decades of research on “how the mind acquires and uses information, the instructional procedures that are used by the most successful teachers, and the procedures invented by researchers to help students learn difficult tasks.”
Spending 30% of instructional time on review definitively beats no review. But is 30% enough?
Direct Instruction (one of the most empirically validated types of pedagogy) as well as other cognitive science research on the benefits of spacing — suggest that devoting 30% of instructional time to review is not nearly enough to ensure you teach every student to mastery and guarantee long term retention of what is taught. These research based principles suggest that the review::new material ratio should be the INVERSE of what Rosenshine suggests!
Not 30%, but 70% of time devoted to review.
The difference between these two versions of the review::new material ratio reflects a pervasive design flaw that pressures teachers to cover material — exposing students to it without ensuring all students actually master it.
More often than not, standards are overcrowded with too much material—more than can actually be mastered within a school year or retained in future years. Textbooks and high stakes testing follow suit. In order to invert Rosenshine’s review::new ratio, it requires a change to standards, textbooks and high stakes tests — a teacher can’t “just do it” on her own.
Furthermore, even if we could wave a magic wand to fix the assumed review::new material ratio, there is essential expertise required to design the review portion effectively. One takeaway from studying Direct Instruction programs and the theory behind them is — in order to design highly effective review, it shouldn’t just be simple repetitions of exactly the same old practices.
Designing effective review requires an almost excruciating eye for detail and a deep understanding of how knowledge and skills should be sequenced, woven into one another and communicated. This expertise is then leveraged to create review exercises that build in sophistication — allowing students to apply old material in new ways. The amount of time required to craft effective review that optimises for mastery is impractical for a typical teacher, so it can’t be left only to them.
This reform has to occur, robustly, among the designers of standards, textbooks and high stakes tests.
Seventy per cent of instructional time devoted to review.
On its face it may sound outrageous. It’s certainly not intuitive.
But in the context of a global learning crisis, it’s urgent that we consider the notion that teaching LESS new material (along with more carefully crafted review) could yield MORE, better learning.
By Sara Merlo, Manager of Learning Innovation at Bridge International Academies.