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Teaching Functions 1
Barak Rosenshine and Robert Stevens
University of Illinois 2
Recent Experimental Studies
In recent years our understanding of successful teaching has increased
considerably. There have been numerous successful experimental studies in which teachers
have been trained to increase the academic achievement of their students. In these studies,
which have taken place in regular classrooms, one group of teachers received training in
specific instructional procedures and one group continued their regular teaching. In the
successful studies, the teachers implemented the training and their students had higher
achievement and/or higher academic engaged time than did students in the classrooms of
the untrained teachers. Particularly noteworthy studies include:
- Texas First Grade Reading Group Study (Anderson, Evertson, & Brophy, 1979, 1982);
- Missouri Mathematics Effectiveness Study (Good & Grouws, 1979) (for math in
- The Texas Elementary School Study (Evertson, Emmer, Clements, Sanford, Worsham, &
Williams, 1981; Emmer, Evertson, Sanford, & Clements, 1982);
- The Texas Junior High School Study (Emmer, Evertson, Sanford, Clements, &
Worsham, 1982; Emmer, Evertson, Sanford, & Clements, 1982);
- Organizing and Instructing High School Classes (Fitzpatrick, 1981, 1982);
- Exemplary Centers for Reading Instruction (ECRI) (Reid, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981) (for
reading in grades 1-5);
- Direct Instruction Follow Through Program (Becker, 1977).
The results of these studies are consistently positive and indicate that there are
specific instructional procedures which teachers can be trained to follow and which can lead
to increased achievement and student engagement in their classrooms.
Examples of Experimental Studies
An example of these experimental studies is the one conducted by Good and Grouws
in 1979. In their study, 40 fourth grade teachers were divided into two groups. One group,
of 21 teachers, received a 5-page manual which contained a system of sequential,
instructional steps for teaching mathematics. The teachers read the manual, received two
90 minute training sessions, and proceeded to implement the key instructional behaviors in
their teaching of mathematics. The control teachers did not receive the manual and were
told to continue to instruct in their own style. During the 4 months of the program all
teachers were observed six times.
1 . In M.C. WITTROCK (dir.), Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3e éd., New York, Macmillan, p. 376-391, 1986.
2 . The authors thank reviewers David Berliner (University of Arizona), Jere Brophy (IRT, Michigan State University),
and Richard Shavelson (UCLA).
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The results showed that the teachers in the treatment group implemented many of
the key instructional behaviors and, in many areas, behaved significantly differently from
those in the control group. For example, the treatment teachers conducted review, checked
homework, actively engaged students in seatwork, and made homework assignments
significantly more often than control teachers. The results also showed that the test scores
in mathematics for students of the treatment teachers increased significantly more than did
the scores for students of the control teachers.
Fitzpatrick (1982) conducted a similar study involving ninth grade algebra and
foreign language classes. Twenty teachers were divided into two groups, and the treatment
group received a manual explaining and giving teaching suggestions on 13 instructional
principles. The treatment group met twice to discuss the manual. The control teachers were
told to continue their regular teaching. All teachers were observed live times in one of their
The results showed that the treatment teachers implemented many of the principles
more frequently than did the control teachers. For instance, the treatment teachers were
rated higher in attending to inappropriate student behavior, maintaining the attention of all
students, providing immediate feedback and evaluation, having fewer interruptions, setting
clear expectations, and having a warm and supportive environment. In addition, overall
student engagement was higher in the classrooms of the treatment teachers.
The other studies cited above were similar to these two: they all provided in-service
teachers with manuals and training to implement the recommended instructional
procedures. The manuals and training materials for these programs could be used
effectively in both preservice and in-service teacher training. Four of the manuals are useful
for general instruction (Emmer et al., 1982; Evertson et al., 1982; Fitzpatrick, 1982; Good &
Grouws, 1979). The manual by Anderson, Evertson, and Brophy (1982) is oriented primarily
toward instruction in elementary reading groups, whereas the program developed by Reid
(1978-1981) and by Engelmann (Becker, 1977) included both general instructional methods
and highly specific procedures for the teaching of reading.
The purpose of this paper is to study those successful teacher training and student
achievement programs and identify the common teaching functions which they emphasize.
This information will be supplemented by correlational research whenever relevant.
In general, researchers have found that when effective teachers teach well structured
- Begin a lesson with a short review of previous, prerequisite learning.
- Begin a lesson with a short statement of goals.
- Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.
- Give clear and detailed instructions and explanations.
- Provide a high level of active practice for all students.
- Ask a large number of questions, check for student understanding, and obtain
responses from all students.
- Guide students during initial practice.
- Provide systematic feedback and corrections.
- Provide explicit instruction and practice for seatwork exercises and, where necessary,
monitor students during seatwork.
The major components in systematic teaching include teaching in small steps with student
practice after each step, guiding students during initial practice, and providing all students
with a high level of successful practice. Of course, all teachers use some of these behaviors
some of the time, but the most effective teachers use most of them almost all the time.
Use and Limits of Research
It would be a mistake to claim that the teaching procedures which have emerged
from this research apply to all subjects, and all learners, all the time. Rather, these
procedures are most applicable for the “well-structured” (Simon, 1973) parts of any content
area, and are least applicable to the “ill-structured” parts of any content area.
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Most Applicable Procedures
These explicit teaching procedures are most applicable in those areas where the
objective is to master a body of knowledge or learn a skill which can be taught in a step-by-
step manner. Thus, these procedures apply to the teaching of facts that students are
expected to master so that they can be used with new information in the future. Examples
include arithmetic facts, decoding procedures, vocabulary, musical notation, English
grammar, the factual parts of science and history, the vocabulary and grammar of foreign
languages, and the factual and explicit parts of electronics, cooking, and accounting.
Similarly, these procedures apply to the teaching of processes or skills that students
are expected to apply to new problems or situations. This includes mathematical
computation, blending sounds in decoding, map reading, the mechanics of writing personal
and business letters, English grammar, applying scientific laws, solving algebraic equations,
or tuning an automobile engine. In these cases, the student is taught a general rule which is
then applied to new situations.
These findings are least applicable for teaching in areas which are “ill-structured”,
that is, where the skills to be taught do not follow explicit steps, or areas which lack a
general skill which is applied repeatedly. Thus, the results of this research are less relevant
for teaching composition and writing of term papers, analysis of literature, problem solving
in specific content areas, discussion of social issues, or the development of unique or
Almost all content areas are composed of well-structured and ill-structured parts,
and explicit teaching can be used for teaching the well-structured parts. For example, when
teaching a foreign language, explicit teaching can be used to teach vocabulary and
grammar, but these procedures are less relevant for teaching fluency in conversation or
reading comprehension. In teaching literature, there is a place for explicit teaching in
teaching about the characters, setting, plot, and theme identification. But these procedures
are less relevant for teaching students to appreciate the story, evaluate the ideas, or critique
the style of writing.
New Developments in Explicit Instruction
As noted, explicit procedures are less applicable for those skills or processes where
there is no clearly defined procedure that is learned and applied in new situations. Until the
1980s, this was the case in teaching reading comprehension. Durkin (1978-1979) noted
that there is little explicit instruction when teaching reading comprehension. Rather, she
noted that teachers spend most of their time asking questions, and spend very little lime
giving explicit or direct instructions in helping students understand the meaning of a
paragraph or story. Indeed, she observed 24 fourth grade reading teachers for 5,000
minutes, and found that explicit comprehension instruction occurred less than 1% of the
time. Durkin (1981) also inspected elementary reading textbooks and found a similar lack of
Since 1975, investigators have developed explicit, direct procedures which have been
shown to aid students in reading comprehension and study skills. In reading
comprehension, these studies have involved training students in generative activities during
reading (Carnine, Kuder, Salvino, & Moore, 1983; Linden & Wittrock, 1981) and teaching
students strategies for comprehension skills (Carnine et al., 1983; Day, 1980; Patchings,
Kameenui, Colvin & Carnine, 1979; Raphael, 1980; Singer & Donlon, 1982). Each of these
studies yielded significant effects in improved reading comprehension. Similarly, studies
which train students in skills for studying texts (Dansereau, 1979; Larkin & Reif, 1976)
have yielded significant results.
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For Whom is This Approach Most Relevant?
The small-step approach which emerges from the research is particularly useful
when teaching younger students, slower students, and students of all ages and abilities
during the first stages of instruction with unfamiliar material (Berliner, 1982). Similarly,
these ideas best apply when learning hierarchical material because subsequent learning
builds upon well-formed prior learning. These ideas would also apply when the material is
difficult, no matter how talented the learners.
In general, the amount of time spent in presentation, guided practice, and
independent practice varies with the age and maturity of the students and the difficulty of
the material. With younger students and/or difficult material, the presentation is fairly
short and more time is spent in guided practice and supervised independent practice. With
older, more mature, and faster students, and as the material becomes more familiar, more
time is spent in presenting new material and less time is spent in guided practice.
No single, common term to describe this teaching has emerged as yet. Rather, a
variety of terms are being used including direct instruction, systematic leaching, explicit in-
struction, active teaching, and effective teaching. All of these terms are useful for describing
the systematic, explicit, direct procedures which will be discussed in this chapter.
Information Processing and Instruction
Another approach to understanding classroom teaching is to look at the recent
research on human information processing. There is good correspondence between the
results of this research and the research on effective teaching. The information processing
results apply in three areas: the limits of our working memory, the importance of
elaboration and practice, and the importance of continuing practice until the students are
When teachers present new information, they should be concerned with not
presenting too much information at one time. Current information-processing theories
suggest that we are “limited-capacity processors”. That is, there are limits to the amount of
information learners can attend to and process effectively (Beck, 1978; Miller, 1956). When
too much information is presented at once, our working memory becomes swamped (James,
1890; Norman & Brokow, 1975). When this happens, we become confused, omit or skim
material, and are unable to complete the processing correctly (Tobias, 1982).
This suggests that when teaching new or difficult material, a teacher should proceed
in small steps and provide practice on one step before adding another. In this way, the
learner does not have to process too much at one time and can concentrate his/her
somewhat limited attention to processing manageable size pieces of information or skills.
In addition, a teacher can help students by reviewing relevant prior knowledge. Such
review may provide the student with a cognitive structure for encoding the new material and
thus require less processing resources than if the information were totally new (Spiro,
1981). Teachers provide this support by previewing lessons, telling students what they are
going to learn; by relating the new information to what students have previously learned;
and by providing organizers and outlines for the lesson.
A second finding is that we have to process new material in order to transfer it from
our working memory to our long-term memory. That is, we have to elaborate, review,
rehearse, summarize, or enhance the material (see Gagne, 1985). This suggests that a
teacher should provide active practice for all students. This practice is facilitated if the
teacher guides the necessary processing by asking questions, requiring students to
summarize ideas in their own words, helping students make connections between old and
new knowledge, having students tutor each other, supervising students as they practice new
steps in a skill, and providing feedback on their efforts.
A third point is that new learning is easier when prior learning is readily accessible
or automatic. In a large number of academic situations the student needs to apply and use
the knowledge or skills that have been previously learned. Retention and application of
previously learned knowledge and skills comes through overlearning, that is, practice
beyond the point where the student has to work to give the correct response. This results in
automatic processes which are rapidly executed and require little or no conscious attention.
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When prior learning is automatic, space is freed in our working memory, which can then be
used for comprehension, application, and problem solving (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Spiro,
1981; Wagner & Sternberg, 1984).
Reading is a good example of the importance of automatic recall. Readers who do not
decode automatically need to allocate much of their limited capacity to decoding and word
identification, and as a result, they have little capacity left for comprehending what is read
(LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Perfetti & Lesgold, 1979). However, when learners are fluent in
word recognition, they can then devote more processing capacity to comprehending the
passage. Similarly, Greeno (1978) noted that mathematical problem solving is improved
when the basic skills (addition, multiplication, etc.) are overlearned and become automatic,
thus freeing processing capacity.
The benefits of overlearning suggest that there is value in repeating and rehearsing
basic material that will be used in subsequent learning. In most fields, such basic material
can include facts, concepts, skills and procedures, and specialized vocabulary.
We might summarize the above by saying that when learning new material it is
important for the teacher to provide “instructional support” for the learner (Tobias, 1982).
When providing such support, a teacher would (a) break the material into small steps in
order to reduce confusion, (b) give the learner practice in each step before increasing
complexity by adding another step, (c) provide for elaboration and enhancement in order to
help the learner move the material from working memory into long term memory, and (d)
provide for additional practice and overlearning of basic material and skills so that the
learners are fluent and automatic in using them.
The research on information processing helps explain why students taught with
structured curricula generally do better than those taught with either more individualized or
discovery learning approaches. It also explains why young students who receive their
instruction from a teacher usually achieve more than those who are expected to learn new
material and skills on their own or from each other. When young students are expected to
learn on their own, particularly in the early stages, the students run the danger of not
attending to the right cues, or not processing important points, and of proceeding on to later
points before they have done sufficient elaboration and practice.
A General Model of Effective Instruction
Putting together ideas from a number of sources (including those mentioned on page 1), we
have developed a list of six fundamental instructional “functions” which appear below and,
in more detail, in Table 13.1.
1. Review, check previous day's work (and reteach, if necessary)
2. Present new content/skills
3. Guided student practice (and check for understanding)
4. Feedback and correctives (and reteach, if necessary)
5. Independent student practice
6. Weekly and monthly reviews.
A primary source for this list was the "key instructional behaviors" developed by
Good and Grouws (1979) as part of their experimental study in fourth grade mathematics.
Many of these functions appeared earlier as the elements of the “Lesson Design” developed
by Hunter (Hunter & Russell, 1981), and Hunter derived her list from the “components of
instruction” developed by Gagne (1970, p. 304). Interestingly, a series of steps titled “How to
Instruct” developed during World War II (War Manpower Commission, 1945) is very similar
to the work of Gagne, Hunter, and Good and Grouws.
This is not a hard and fast list. Rather, it is possible to enlarge, contract, and revise
it; but if is intended to serve as a model, and as a basis of discussion about the nature of
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1. Daily Review and Checking Homework
Checking homework (routines for students to check each other's papers)
Reteaching when necessary
Reviewing relevant past learning (may include questioning) Review prerequisite skills (if applicable)
Provide short statement of objectives
Provide overview and structuring
Proceed in small steps but at a rapid pace
Intersperse questions within the demonstration to check for understanding
Highlight main points
Provide sufficient illustrations and concrete examples Provide demonstrations and models
When necessary, give detailed and redundant instructions and examples
3. Guided Practice
Initial student practice takes place with teacher guidance
High frequency of questions and overt student practice (from teacher and/or materials)
Questions are directly relevant to the new content or skill
Teacher checks for understan ding (CFU) by evaluating student responses
During CFU teacher gives additional explanation, process feedback, or repeats explanation — where necessary
All students have a chance to respond and receive feedback; teacher insures that all students participate
Prompts are provided during guided practice (where appropriate)
Initial student practice is sufficient so that students can work independently
Guided practice continues until students are firm
Guided practice is continued (usually) until a success rate of 80% is achieved
4. Correctives and Feedback
Quick, firm, and correct responses can be followed by an other question or a short acknowledgment of correctness
(i.e., “That's right”).
Hesitant correct answers might be followed by process feedback (i.e., “Yes, Linda, that's right because...”).
Student errors indicate a need for more practice.
Monitor students for systematic errors.
Try to obtain a substantive response to each question.
Corrections can include sustaining feedback (i.e., simplifying the question, giving clues), explaining or reviewing
steps, giving process feedback, or reteaching the last steps.
Try to elicit an improved response when the first one is incorrect.
Guided practice and corrections continue until the teacher feels that the group can meet the objectives of the
Praise should be used in moderation, and specific praise is more effective than general praise.
5. Independent Practice (Seatwork)
Practice is directly relevant to skills/content taught
Practice to overlearning
Practice until responses are firm, quick, and automatic
Ninety-five percent correct rate during independent practice
Students alerted that seatwork will be checked
Student held accountable for seatwork
Actively supervise students, when possible
6. Weekly and Monthly Reviews
Systematic review of previously learned material
Include review in homework
Reteaching of material missed in tests
Note: With older, more mature learners, or learners with m ore knowledge of the subject, the following adjustments
can be made: (1) the size of the step in presentation can be larger (more material is presented at one time), (2)
there is less time spent on teacher-guided practice and (3) the amount of overt practice can be decreased,
replacing it with covert rehearsal, restating and reviewing.
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There is some difference in the amount of time teachers spend on these functions in
the upper and lower grades. In the lower grades the amount of material presented at any
one time is smaller, more time is spent in guided student practice (through teacher
questions and student answers), and more of the practice is overt. In the higher grades, the
time spent in presentation becomes longer, and more material is presented at one time. In
the higher grades the amount of overt practice is decreased and replaced with covert
rehearsal, restating, and reviewing.
Although all classrooms have these components, they are not always carried out
effectively. All classrooms have demonstrations, but frequently they are too short, there are
too few examples, and the examples are imprecise or unclear. All classrooms have guided
practice, but often it is infrequent or too brief, there are loo few questions and examples,
and too little checking for student understanding. All teachers also correct student errors,
but frequently the corrections are uninformative, consisting of only a single word or
sentence; reteaching in small steps occurs seldom; and there is insufficient systematic
guided practice to ensure error-free performance. All classrooms have independent practice,
too, but frequently too great a proportion of classroom time is allocated to independent
practice, especially without immediate feedback, and students are expected to learn too
much from worksheets. Frequently the teacher does not circulate to help students during
independent practice and does not reteach when necessary. All classrooms have review, but
frequently there is insufficient reteaching of material missed during review, and the review
and practice does not continue until student responses are rapid and firm.
Many of these specific teaching skills can be taught fairly easily to experienced
teachers. In numerous experimental studies (Anderson et al., 1979; Becker, 1977; Emmer et
al., 1982; Evertson et al., 1981; Good & Grouws, 1979) where one group of teachers received
training in these techniques and another group did not, investigators found that (a) the
trained teachers used more of these skills in their classrooms and (b) the students of the
trained teachers had higher achievement scores and/or engagement rates. For example,
Good and Grouws (1979) found that the trained teachers reviewed and assigned homework
more frequently than did the untrained teachers: Emmer et al. (1981) found that the trained
teachers were rated higher in describing objectives clearly, giving clear directions, and giving
Demonstration, Guided Practice, and Independent Practice
Three of these functions form the instructional core: demonstration, guided practice,
and independent practice. The first step is the demonstration of what is to be learned. This
is followed by guided student practice in which the teacher leads the students in practice,
provides prompts, checks for understanding, and provides corrections and repetition. When
students are firm in their initial learning, the teacher moves them to independent practice
where the students work with less guidance. The objective of the independent practice is to
provide sufficient practice so that students achieve overlearning (Brophy, 1982) and
demonstrate quickness and competence. A simple version of this core is used frequently in
the elementary grades when a teacher says: “I'll say it first, then you'll say it with me, and
then you'll say it by yourself”.
How would one teach two-digit multiplication (54 x 7) using these steps? The first
step would be teacher demonstration of the steps followed in solving these types of
problems. As part of the demonstration the teacher would model the use of the steps by
doing problems on a chalkboard (or an overhead). This is followed by guided practice in
which the students work two, three or more problems and the students are guided through
the rules with teacher prompts. The teacher circulates and checks for student
understanding as they do the problems. As the students become more proficient, the
prompts are diminished. The frequency of student errors during guided practice gives the
teacher an indication of whether any students need reteaching on the material. When a
student or subset of students make frequent errors, the teacher would review or reteach the
skill or process for those students or the entire class. When the students are firm in the
guided practice, and are making few errors, they are moved to independent practice where
they practice learning how to do the skill accurately and rapidly.
Sometimes the teacher may alternate quickly from brief demonstrations to guided
practice, and back, making the two steps seem as one. For example, when teaching a word
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list a teacher could demonstrate how to pronounce the first word, then conduct guided
practice, and continue this mixture of demonstration and practice. An integration of
demonstration and guided practice allows one to present information in small steps,
particularly when the information involves discrete pieces or steps. This would be followed
either by guided practice on all of the new skills (e.g., class reads all the words on the word
list) or independent practice on the new skills (e.g., students read the word list to the person
next to them).
The Excitement of Effective Instruction
When this type of instruction is done well, it is an exciting thing to watch. It is
exciting to watch the class or group move at a rapid pace and to watch all the students
giving the correct response rapidly and confidently. When this instruction is done well, the
demonstration part moves in small steps accompanied by checking Tor understanding. The
guided practice continues until all the students are responding firmly. (There is a great
difference between this firmness and the usual situation in which only half or three-fourths
of the students are responding confidently.) Watching all the students learning new material
and responding confidently can be quite exciting.
Across a number of studies and personal reports (Rosenshine & Stevens, 1984) there
is no evidence, at this time, that systematic instruction is taught in an overbearing manner
or that student attitudes toward school or self are affected adversely. Rather, such
classrooms have reasonable teacher warmth and lead to reasonably positive student
attitudes. These studies indicate that decent, humane, genuine interactions occur in many
classrooms which are highly structured and teacher-directed. The image of the formal
classroom as humorless, cold, and regimented was not found to be true. Today, teachers in
formal classrooms are warm, concerned, flexible, and allow freedom of movement. But they
are also task oriented and determined that children shall learn.
Let us turn, now, to a review of research in each of the six functions.
Daily Reviews and Checking Previous Work
There are two purposes for beginning a lesson with a short review: it provides
additional practice and overlearning for previously learned material, and it allows the
teacher to provide corrections and reteaching in areas where students are having difficulty.
Checking of homework is one form of review.
There are a number of ways in which this function — reviewing and reteaching when
necessary — can be carried out. Some suggestions include:
- Ask questions about concepts or skills taught in the previous lesson.
- Give a short quiz at the beginning of class on material from previous lessons or
- Have students correct each other's homework papers or quizzes.
- Have students meet in small groups (2 to 4 students per group) to review homework.
- Have students prepare questions about previous lessons or homework and ask them to
each other or have the teacher ask them to the class.
- Have students prepare a written summary of the previous lesson.
- Have students ask the teacher about problems on homework and the teacher reviews,
reteaches or provides additional practice.
The idea of beginning a lesson by checking the previous day's assignment appears in
the experimental study of Good and Grouws (1979) and is found again in the work of
Emmer et al. (1982). Each of these programs was designed for grades four to eight. In the
primary grades, such explicit checking and reteaching is part of the Distar program (Becker,
1977) and the ECRI program (Reid, 1978). In the Distar reading program, there is daily
review or new sounds and new words. In the ECRI program the teacher-led lesson always
contains choral reviews of the vocabulary words from previous and future stories.
One would have thought that daily reviews and checking of homework were common
practice. Yet, in the Missouri Math program (Good & Grouws, 1979), where daily review was
included in the training manual given to the treatment teachers, they conducted review and
checked homework 80 percent of the time, but the control teachers did so only 50 percent of
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the time. Thus, a daily review is a teaching function that could be done more frequently in
Presentation of Material to be Learned
All teachers, of course, demonstrate new skills and materials. But recent research in
grades four to eight has shown that effective teachers of mathematics spend more time in
demonstration than do less effective teachers (Evertson et al., 1980b; Good & Grouws, 1979;
Stallings, Needles, & Stayrook, 1979). The most effective mathematics teachers spent about
23 minutes per day in lecture, demonstration and discussion, whereas the least effective
teachers spent only 11 minutes (Evertson et al., 1980b).
Good, Grouws, and Ebmeier (1983) reviewed four classroom-based experimental
studies in mathematics which varied the amount of time spent on teacher-led development
(development includes both presentation and teacher-guided practice) and the amount of
time devoted to independent student practice. Although the results were not significant in
all cases, there were a number of significant results and a consistent trend favoring
spending at least 50 percent of the time on demonstration and guided practice.
When additional time is spent on demonstration and guided practice the teachers
provide redundant explanations, give many examples and provide sufficient instruction so
that the students can do the seatwork with minimal difficulty. These teachers also check the
students' understanding of the presentation by asking questions (guided practice). When
students make frequent errors, it is a sign of an inadequate presentation and reteaching is
What does one do in an effective demonstration? Summarizing ideas from the
research review of Brophy (1980), the experimental study by Emmer et al., (1982) and the
studies on teacher clarity by Kennedy, Bush, Cruickshank and Haefele, (1978) and Lard and
Smith (1979), we developed the suggestions listed in Table 13.2. These are grouped under
four headings: clarity of goals and main points; step-by-step presentations; specific and
concrete procedures; and checking for understanding.
Aspects of Clear Presentations
1. Clarity of goals and main points
a. State the goals or objectives of the presentation.
b. Focus on one thought (point, direction) at a time.
c. Avoid digressions.
d. Avoid ambiguous phrases and pronouns.
2. Step-by-step presentations
a. Present the material in small steps.
b. Organize and present the material so that one point is mastered before the next point is
c. Give explicit, step-by-step directions (when possible).
d. Present an outline when the material is complex.
3. Specific and concrete procedures
a. Model the skill or process (when appropriate).
b. Give detailed and redundant explanations for difficult points.
c. Provide students with concrete and varied examples.
4. Checking for students' understanding
a. Be sure that students understand one point before proceeding to the next point.
b. Ask the students questions to monitor their comprehension of what has been presented.
c. Have students summarize the main points in their own words.
d. Reteach the parts of the presentation that the students have difficulty comprehending,
either by further teacher explanation or by students tutoring other students.
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Beyond these general suggestions for improving teachers' techniques during the
presentation of new material a number of questions remain. For example: How does one
organize new material so that it can be learned most effectively? What are the
characteristics of an effective demonstration? How many examples, and what kind, should
teachers use? Is there a most effective way for sequencing examples? How much information
should be presented at one time (i.e., how small or large should the instructional steps be)?
At present there is little conclusive research on these questions, and determining the
answers to them represents the next step in research on the function of presenting new
The quality and design of the instructional materials used can have an impact on the
effectiveness of the presentation phase of teaching. Research on instructional materials is
currently proceeding in two general areas, task analysis and instructional design (Resnick,
1976). Perhaps some of the questions presented above will be answered by this research
(e.g., how many; what kind; and what sequence of examples). However, while there are
presently many models for instructional design, these models vary, and a general model of
effective instructional design has not yet been developed.
Although demonstration is a major part of instruction in areas such as mathematics,
English grammar, science, and foreign language, there are some areas where, unfortunately,
demonstration is used infrequently. As noted earlier, it is seldom used when teaching
reading comprehension or higher-level cognitive thinking. Durkin (1978-1979) noted that
there is seldom a demonstration phase in reading comprehension. As discussed previously,
recent research has begun to define and explicate specific comprehension skills. Thus,
current research is attempting to provide teachers with demonstration procedures in
Similarly, although teachers are exhorted to ask higher-level cognitive questions (i.e.,
questions which require application, analysis, and synthesis), they seldom demonstrate how
to answer such questions (nor are they taught how to provide this demonstration). Again,
this may be due, at least in part, to the fact that we are only beginning to understand the
cognitive processes that underlie these skills (particularly in the area of reading
comprehension). Until recently, then, teachers have been limited to teaching these
complicated skills without knowing how to provide explicit demonstrations.
In summary, it is important for teachers to state the goals of the lesson, provide
students with explicit, step-by-step demonstrations of the new material, use many
examples, and check to see that all the students understand the material before proceeding
to the next point.
Guided Student Practice
In the successful experimental studies, demonstration is followed by guided student
practice. In all of the studies, to date, this guided practice is conducted by the teacher. The
purpose of guided practice is to:
- Guide initial practice
- Correct errors
- Reteach, if necessary
- Provide sufficient practice so that students can work independently
In one form of guided practice, the teacher asks questions and initially provides
prompts or guides the students in responding, and gives them feedback and corrective help
when (hey make errors. The questions provide the students an opportunity to practice the
new skills in a controlled environment where mistakes can be corrected. In guided practice
it seems preferable that students work no more than one question or problem at a time
before getting feedback. This assures that students' errors will not go uncorrected. The
guided practice continues until the students are confident and firm in their responses, at
which time they are ready to begin independent practice.
Throughout the guided practice — from the initial, hesitant responses to the
confident and firm responses — the teacher questions allow the teacher to check for
understanding, that is, the student answers tell the teacher whether the students are ready
to proceed to the next step, or whether additional practice and/or reteaching is necessary.
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Of course, all teachers spend time in guided practice. However, the more effective
teachers devote more time to it. That is, they spend more time asking questions, correcting
errors, repeating the new material, and working problems with teacher guidance than do the
less effective teachers.
The form of guided practice is modified to fit the material being taught. When a
process is being taught, as in long division or multiplication with carrying, the guided
practice frequently consists of problems worked under the teacher's supervision, and the
teacher restating the steps as the students proceed (i.e., providing what Good & Grouws
 called process feedback). Teachers frequently have some students doing the math
problems at the board, thus providing models for the entire class.
When facts are being taught—as in historical facts, scientific facts, and number
facts--then there is less process feedback and more questions and answers during guided
In summary, the guided practice function is usually led by the teacher who:
- Asks a large number of questions
- Guides students in practicing the new material, initially using prompts to lead students
to the correct response and later reducing them when students are responding correctly
- Checks for student understanding
- Provides feedback
- Corrects errors
- Reteaches when necessary
- Provides for a large number of successful repetitions
Four topics in guided practice are considered below: frequent practice, high
percentage of correct answers, checking for understanding, and organizing and conducting
The Importance of Frequent Practice
Both correlational and experimental studies have shown that a high frequency of
teacher-directed questions and student answers are important for instruction in basic
arithmetic and reading skills in the primary grades. Stallings and Kaskowitz (1974)
identified a pattern of “factual question-student response-teacher feedback” as the most
functional for student achievement. Similar results favoring guided practice through teacher
questions were obtained by Stallings, Gory, Fairweather and Needles (1977), Stallings,
Needles and Stayrook (1979), Soar (1973) and Coker, Lorentz and Coker (1980). The
significant correlational results in these studies means that although all teachers asked
some questions, the effective teachers asked many while the less effective teachers asked
Similar results on the importance of a high frequency of questions have been
obtained in mathematics in grades six to eight. In a correlational study of junior high school
mathematics instruction (Evertson, Anderson, Anderson & Brophy, 1980a) the most
effective teachers asked an average of 24 questions during the 50-minute mathematics
period, whereas the least effective teachers asked an average of only 8.6 questions. For each
group the majority of questions were factual, but the most effective teachers asked more
process questions (i.e., “Explain how you got that answer”). The most effective teachers
averaged six process questions per math period, whereas least effective teachers averaged
only one or two.
Two experimental studies (Anderson et al., 1979; Good & Grouws, 1979) used guided
practice as part of the experimental treatment. In each study the teachers who received the
additional training were taught to follow the presentation of new material with guided
practice. It consisted of questions asked by the teacher and supervised exercises. In both
studies, teachers in the trained group asked more questions and had more guided practice
than did the control teachers who continued their normal teaching. Also, in both studies,
students in the experimental groups had higher achievement than the students of teachers
in the control groups.
The critical variable appears to be a high percentage of student responses. Beck
(1978) found a positive correlation between the number of times a word appeared in a
reading program for the first grade students and the speed with which the students
recognized the word, indicating that the more the students practiced the word the better it
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was learned. Elementary students need a good deal of practice and the frequency of teacher
questions is one indicator that such practice is taking place. This is also important for
adults. Kulik and Kulik (1979) found that students in college classes which gave weekly
quizzes had final examination scores that were higher than the scores of students in classes
that had only one or two quizzes during the term. Presumably, the added gain came from
the additional practice associated with the weekly quizzes. This suggests that additional
practice is also helpful for college students.
High Percentage of Correct Answers
The frequency of teacher questions is not the only important factor, because the
percentage of correct student responses also plays a role in successful learning. The
importance of a high percentage of rapid (“automatic”), correct responses is a relatively new
idea resulting from recent research (Samuels, 1981). Although there are no scientific
guidelines as to exactly what the percentage of correct answers should be, a reasonable
recommendation at the present time (suggested by Brophy, 1980) is an 80% success rate
when practicing new material. When reviewing, the success rate should be very high,
perhaps 95% and student responses should be rapid, smooth and confident.
How can a teacher reduce the student error rate during practice exercises? The
following suggestions derive from the research presented above.
1. Break down the instruction into smaller steps. Give the students instruction and
practice to mastery on each step before proceeding to the next step.
2. Provide the students with very explicit demonstrations of the skills, whenever
3. Intersperse the demonstration with questions in order to maintain students'
attention and to check for student understanding.
4. Provide the students with teacher-monitored practice prior to seatwork activity
so that the teacher can correct errors before they become part of the students' repertoire.
5. With especially confusing material, provide precorrections by advising the
students about particularly confusing areas.
6. Provide sufficient independent practice, both in length and in number of
exercises, to enable students to master skills to the point of overlearning (with additional
exercises for the slower students).
7. Reteach material when necessary.
The research results support the value of frequent correct responses given rapidly
and automatically. One of the major findings of the BTES study (Fisher et al., 1978) was
that high percentage of correct answers (both during guided practice and independent
practice) was positively correlated with achievement gain. Similarly, Anderson et al., (1979)
found that the percent of academic interactions where the student gave the correct answer
was positively related (r = .49) to achievement gain.
More specific information can be obtained from studies which compared the most
effective and least effective classrooms. For example, in the study by Anderson et al., 1979,
the mean percentage of correct answers during reading groups was 73% in the treatment
teachers' classrooms but only 66% in the control classrooms. Gerstein, Carnine, and
Williams (1981) found that teachers using the Distar program who obtained high reading
achievement from their students had student accuracy rates near 90% whereas those with
lower class achievement had accuracy rates of less than 75%. In a correlational study in
fourth grade the more effective math teachers had a success rate of 82% whereas the least
effective had a success rate of 76% (Good & Grouws, 1977). However, this result was not
replicated in a study of junior high school math (Evertson et al., 1980a). Therefore, a high
frequency of correct responses for all students appears to be very important in the
Of the variables mentioned above, there are two which seem most important. The
effective programs and the effective teachers (a) teach new material in small steps so that
the possibility for errors is lessened, and (b) practice until over-learning occurs (that is, they
continue practice beyond the point where the children are accurate). For example, in the
ECRI programs (Reid, 1980), there is daily review of new words in the stories that have been
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or will be read. Students repeat these words until they can say them at the rate of one per
second. In the Distar program (Becker, 1977), the new words in every story are repeated by
the reading group until all students are accurate and quick. In the instructions to teachers
in their experimental study on primary reading groups, Anderson et al., (1979) stressed the
importance of overlearning and of making sure that each student “is checked, receives
feedback, and achieves mastery”. All of the above procedures, which facilitate obtaining a
high success rate, can be used with any reading series.
Checking for Understanding
Guided student practice also includes teacher “checking for understanding”. This
refers to frequent assessments of whether all the students understand either the content or
skill being taught, or the steps in a process (such as two-digit multiplication). This
instructional function appears in the teacher training materials developed for the Missouri
Mathematics Effectiveness Project (Good & Grouws, 1979) and in the manual “Organizing
and Managing the Junior High Classroom” (Emmer et al., 1981).
It is best that checking for understanding take place frequently so that teachers can
provide corrections and reteach when necessary. Some methods for conducting checking for
- Prepare a large number of oral questions beforehand
- Ask many brief questions on main points, supplementary points, and on the process
- Call on students whose hands aren't raised in addition to those who volunteer
- Ask students to summarize the rule or process in their own words
- Have all students write the answers (on paper or chalkboard) while the teacher
- Have all students write the answers and check them with a neighbor (frequently used
with older students)
- At the end of a lecture/discussion (especially with older students) write the main points
on the board and have the class meet in groups and summarize the main points to each
The wrong way to check for understanding is to ask only a few questions, call on
volunteers to hear their (usually correct) answers, and then assume that all of the class
either understands or has now learned from hearing the volunteers' responses. Another
error is to ask "are there any questions?" and, if there aren't any, assume that everybody
understands. Another error (particularly with older children) is to assume that it is not
necessary to check for understanding, and that simply repeating the points will be
Organizing and Conducting Practice
A number of studies have provided some information on the issues of organizing and
conducting practice. Topics include: random vs. ordered turns, accepting call-outs, and
choral versus individual responding.
First in a correlational study (Brophy & Evertson, 1976) and then in an experimental
study (Anderson et al., 1979) it was found that in primary grade reading groups it was
better for student achievement if the teacher called on students in ordered
turns. Such ordered turns were used when reading new words and when reading a story out
loud. The authors say that ordered turns insure that all students have opportunities to
practice and participate, and that they simplify group management by eliminating
handwaving and other student attempts to be called on by the teacher.
Anderson et al. (1982) note that although the principle of ordered turns works well in
small groups, it would be inappropriate to use this principle with whole class instruction in
most situations. They suggest that when a teacher is working with a whole class it is usually
more efficient to select certain students to respond to questions or to call on volunteers than
to attempt systematic turns.
In both studies, student call-outs were usually negatively related to achievement
gain among higher achieving students. However, for the lower achieving students in these
studies, call-outs were positively related to achievement. This supports Brophy and
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Evertson's (1976) conclusion that call-outs may be desirable with students that may be
alienated or fearful of responding. However, due to the lack of other studies in this area,
these results are tentative.
One technique for obtaining a high frequency of responses in a minimum amount of
time is through group choral response (see Becker, 1977). This technique is particularly
useful when students are learning materials which need to be overlearned, such as
decoding, word lists, and number facts.
A research study by McKenzie (1979) provides some evidence of the usefulness of
group response. His study showed that students in teacher-led practice had significantly
higher engagement rates when there was group response than they did during individual
response. McKenzie reasoned that group responding gives each student more response
opportunities than are possible with individual responses. Thus group or choral responding
provides a way for teachers to achieve greater student attention during guided practice, as
well as more practice on the new skills for each student.
Two successful programs, Distar (Becker, 1977) and ECRI (Reid, 1978-1982), make
extensive use of choral responding in primary grade reading groups. In these programs,
choral responses are initiated by a specific signal from the teacher so that the entire group
will respond at the same time (much like a conductor and an orchestra). There is a danger
that the slower students may delay their responses a fraction of a second and thus echo the
faster students or not respond at all if the teacher does not instruct the class in how to
respond in unison. Thus, choral responses without a signal and without a unified response
have been associated with lower student achievement gain (Brophy & Evertson, 1976).
Becker (1977) argued that choral responding to a signal (a) allows the teacher to
monitor the learning of all students effectively and quickly; (b) allows the teacher to correct
the entire group when an error is made, thereby diminishing the potential embarrassment of
the individual students who make them; and (c) makes the drill more like a game because of
the whole group participation. The Oregon Direct Instruction Model suggests that teachers
use a mixture of both choral responses and individual turns during the guided practice
phase, with choral responding occurring about 70% of the time. The individual turns allow
for testing of specific children. If the slower children in the group are “firm” (i.e., respond
quickly and confidently) when questioned individually, the teacher moves the lesson
forward; however, if they remain slow and hesitant during individual turns, this is a signal
that the children need more practice. In this case it would also be argued that because the
hesitant children are in a small group with others of the same ability, it is likely that the
other children in the group could also benefit from the additional practice.
Group responding, in unison and to a signal, is also used successfully in the ECR1
program. In ECRI it is used for learning new words and for reviewing lists of up to 100 old
words. With this training, students learn to read the list of new words at a speed of one
word per second.
Choral responding works best in small groups—where the teacher can monitor the
responses of individual students. Monitoring is also facilitated by seating slower students
close to the teacher. In primary grade mathematics, for example, choral responses can also
be used with the whole class to review number facts such as multiplication tables. In short,
choral responses can be an effective way to conduct guided practice.
Feedback and Correctives
Another major teaching function involves responding to student answers and
correcting student errors. During guided practice, checking for understanding, and review,
how should a teacher respond to student answers?
Simplifying a bit, four types of student responses can be identified:
- Correct, quick and firm
- Correct, but hesitant
- Incorrect, but a “careless” error
- Incorrect, suggesting lack of knowledge of facts or a process
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Correct, Quick, and Firm
When a student response is correct, quick, and firm (usually occurring in the later
stages of initial learning or in a review), then the research suggests that the teacher should
simply ask a new question, thereby maintaining the momentum of the practice. There is
also value in short statements of acknowledgement (c.g., “right”) which do not disturb the
momentum of the lesson.
Correct, but Hesitant
This often occurs during the initial stages of learning, that is, during guided practice,
checking for understanding, or during a review of relatively new material. If students are
correct but unsure of themselves, it is suggested that teachers provide short statements of
feedback such as “correct” or “very good”. It is also suggested that the teacher provide
moderate amounts of process feedback, that is, re-explain the steps used to arrive at the
correct answer (Anderson et al., 1979; Good & Grouws, 1979). Such feedback may not only
help the student who is still learning the steps in the process, but may also help others who
need this information to understand why the answer was correct.
Incorrect but Careless
When a student makes a careless error during review, drill, or reading, teachers
should simply correct the student and move on.
Incorrect, Due to Lack of Knowledge of the Facts or the Process
Student errors made during the early stages of learning new material often indicate
that the student is not firm in the facts or process being taught. The teacher has two
options for remedying this problem:
1. Provide the students with prompts or hints to lead them to the correct answer
2. Reteach the material to the students who do not understand
Generally, the most effective approach during teacher-led practice is to try to guide
the student to the correct answer by using hints, prompts or simpler questions. However,
this is useful only when these individual contacts remain brief (e.g., 30 seconds or less).
Contacts of longer duration are detrimental because the teacher loses the attention of the
rest of the students. If a student cannot be guided to the correct answer through a brief
contact, it is necessary to reteach the material to that student. Usually this reteaching
occurs while the rest of the class is doing independent seatwork, or at some other time of
the day (e.g., during recess, art, group activities or before or after school).
Both of these approaches to error correction — that is, prompting and reteaching —
have been used successfully in experimental research and in effective instructional
programs. Asking simpler questions or giving hints or prompts were successful when the
contacts were brief in duration (Anderson et al., 1979; Stallings & Kaskowitz, 1974).
Reteaching the material to the students who made errors is recommended by a number of
programs (Becker, 1977; Good & Grouws, 1979; Reid, 1980). Good and Grouws (1979)
instruct teachers to reteach when the error rate is high during a lesson. Reteaching,
particularly during the initial stages of learning new material, is recommended by Becker
(1977) and by Reid (1980). Each of these programs provide specific correction procedures for
the student to use. The Distar program specifics not only correction procedures but also
additional teaching to strengthen the student in any area of weakness.
When students are being instructed in ability groups (such as small groups in
reading) and one or more students are making errors, it is usually beneficial to reteach the
entire group (Becker, 1977; Reid, 1980). Since the students in the group are of similar
ability, it is very likely that many of them are having similar difficulties. Thus a re-
explanation of the material to the entire ability group will be useful to all of the students in
When the initial presentation is given to the whole class, correcting errors by
reteaching is more problematic. In most cases only a small portion of the students need
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reteaching, but finding the time for it and managing the other students during this remedial
instruction is a problem. One method used by teachers is to reteach the entire lesson to
students needing it during independent seatwork (Arlin & Webster, 1983). However, these
students still need to engage in independent practice because it supplies the necessary
repetitions to enable them to master the material. Another alternative is to provide remedial
instruction to slower students (or students who have been absent) during recess, lunch, art,
music, physical education, or before or after school. While these options may be useful on a
short-term basis, they may not be satisfactory on a daily basis.
Another option for correcting errors that occur during whole class instruction is
through peer tutoring (or reteaching within teams, Slavin, 1981). In this case faster students
are selected as tutors and re-explain the material to students who have been making errors.
Observations in Mastery Learning classrooms have recorded evidence of the usefulness of
this technique (Arlin & Webster, 1983). Not only do the slower students get the reteaching
they need, but the tutors also get useful practice explaining the process or skills in their
own words (Webb, 1980). However, these peer tutoring techniques are probably most
effective with older students, and primary grade teachers usually are faced with the problem
of finding time to reteach the material to the slower students themselves.
In summary, whether one uses hints, prompts, or reteaching the material, the
important point is that errors should not go uncorrected. In most cases, if a student makes
an error, it is inappropriate to simply give the student the answer and then move on. It is
also important that errors be detected and corrected early in a teaching sequence. If early
errors are uncorrected they can become extremely difficult to correct later and systematic
errors (or misrules) can interfere with subsequent learning.
In their review on effective college teaching, Kulik and Kulik (1979) found that
instruction was more effective when (a) students received immediate feedback on their
examinations, and (b) students had to do further study and take another test when their
quiz scores did not reach a set criterion. Both points seem relevant to this discussion:
students learn better with feedback given as immediately as possible; and errors should be
corrected before they become systematic.
Once students are exhibiting some proficiency on the new concepts or skills (as
observed in correct responses at least 80% of the time in guided practice), they are ready to
begin practicing on their own. Independent practice gives the students the repetitions they
need to (a) integrate the new information or skills with previous knowledge or skills, and (b)
become automatic in their use of the skills. What is merely demonstrated is likely to be
forgotten if the student doesn't have the opportunity to practice overlearning. This
independent activity should give the students enough practice that they become firm in their
understanding and use of the new concepts or skills.
During independent practice the students usually go through two stages: unitization
and automaticity (Samuels, 1981). During unitization the students are putting the skills
together. They make few errors, but they are also slow and require a lot of energy to
complete the task. After a good deal of practice, students reach the “automatic” stage where
they are successful and rapid, and no longer have to “think through” each step. For
example, when students are learning two-digit multiplication, they are in the unitization
phase when they are hesitantly working the first few problems. When they have worked a
sufficient number of problems correctly, and are confident, firm, and automatic in the skill,
they are in the automaticity phase. The students' responses become more automatic
because they have practiced the skills to the point of overlearning.
The important part of independent practice is that the students get enough
successful practice to ensure overlearning which can be observed when their responses are
automatic (i.e., quick and firm). Overlearning is particularly important for hierarchical
materials such as mathematics and elementary reading. Unless there is overlearning to the
point of automaticity, it is unlikely that the material will be retained (Brophy, 1980).
Furthermore, hierarchical material requires the application of previously learned skills to
subsequent new skills. The advantage of automaticity is that students who master the
material can then concentrate their attention on learning new skills or applying the skills to
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new situations. For example, automaticity of decoding skills frees the students' attention for
comprehension, just as automaticity of computation frees the students' attention for
mathematical problem solving.
Managing Students During Seatwork
The most common context in which independent practice takes place is in individual
seatwork. Students in grades one through seven spend more time working alone on
seatwork than on any other activity (approximately 50 to 75% of their time) (Evertson et al.,
1980a; Fisher et al., 1978; Stallings et al., 1977; Stallings & Kaskowitz, 1974). However,
students are less engaged during seatwork than when they are in groups receiving
instruction from the teacher. Therefore, it is important for teachers to learn how to maintain
student engagement during seatwork.
Students' engagement during seatwork is affected by (a) the degree to which they are
adequately prepared to do the seatwork exercises, and (b) the management of seatwork ac-
tivity (keeping the students on task during seatwork). Fortunately, there are instructional
procedures which can help increase student engagement during seatwork, including:
- The teacher spends more time in demonstration (explanation, discussion) and guided
- The teacher makes sure students are ready to work alone, by achieving a correct
response rate of 80% or higher during guided practice
- The seatwork activity follows directly after guided practice
- The seatwork exercises are directly relevant to the demonstration and guided practice
- The teacher guides the students through the first few seatwork problems
There is ample support for these instructional procedures, both in research and in
successful programs. Evertson et al. (1980b) found that teachers in junior high
mathematics whose classes were more engaged during the seatwork prepared students for it
during demonstration and guided practice. The most effective teachers spent 24 minutes (in
a 50-minute period) in demonstration and guided practice, whereas the least effective
teachers spent only 10 minutes on these same activities. Similarly, Fisher et al. (1978)
found that teachers who had more questions and answers during group work had more
engagement during seatwork. That is, another way to increase engagement during seatwork
is to have more teacher-led practice during group work so that the students can be more
successful during seatwork. Successful teachers also had the students work as a group on
the first few seatwork problems before releasing them for individual seatwork (Anderson et
al., 1979). The guided practice of Hunter and Russell (1981) and of Good and Grouws (1979)
are additional examples of the importance of teacher-led guided practice before seatwork.
Another finding by Fisher et al. (1978) was that when teachers had to give a good
deal of explanation during seatwork, student error rates were higher. Having to re-explain to
many students during seatwork suggests that the initial explanation was not sufficient or
that there was not sufficient practice and corrections before seatwork began. The students
were not adequately prepared to work on their own. Evertson et al.'s (1980b) finding that
long contacts during seatwork were negatively related to achievement suggests a replication
of this negative correlation.
Another effective procedure for better preparing students for seatwork activity, and
hence for improving their engagement during seatwork, is to break the instruction into
smaller segments and have two or three segments of instruction and seatwork during a
single period. In this way, the teacher provides an explanation (as in two-digit
multiplication), then supervises and helps the students as they work a problem, then
provides an explanation of the next step, and then supervises the students as they work the
next problem. This procedure seems particularly effective for difficult material and/or slower
students. This practice was advocated in the manual for teachers in the successful Junior
High School Management Study (Emmer et al., 1982) and characterized successful teachers
of lower achieving students in junior high math classes (Evertson, 1982).
In summary, although seatwork activities take place in all classrooms, the
successful teachers spend a good deal more time than do average teachers in demonstrating
what is being taught and in leading the students in guided practice. Students who are
adequately prepared during the teacher-led activities are then more able to succeed during
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the seatwork. In contrast, the less successful teachers spent less time in demonstration and
guided practice and relied more on self-paced, “individualized” materials, where students
spent more time working alone. A second way of improving student engagement during
seatwork is to effectively manage the activity. Some useful management procedures are
- The teacher circulates among the students during seatwork, providing feedback, asking
questions, and giving short explanations.
- When the teacher is instructing a small group and the rest of the class is working on
seatwork, the teacher arranges the seats so s/he can face both the small group and the
students working independently.
- The teacher establishes a set routine to be used during all seatwork activities which
prescribes what students will do during seatwork, how they will get extra help when needed,
and what they will do upon completion of the seatwork activity.
Fisher et al. (1978) found that when students have contacts with the teacher (or
another adult) during seatwork their engagement rate increases by about 10%. Teachers
moving around and interacting with students during seatwork is also an illustration of the
“active teaching” which was successful in the experimental study of Good and Grouws
(1979). The advantage of a teacher circulating and monitoring during seatwork led Good and
Grouws (1979) to advocate teaching the class as a whole for fourth to eighth g rade math.
Such whole class teaching permits the teacher to actively circulate and interact with all
students during seatwork.
How long should these contacts be? The research suggests that they should be
relatively short, averaging 30 seconds or less (Evertson et al., 1980b; Scott & Bushell, 1974).
Longer contacts appear to pose two difficulties: (a) the need for a long contact suggests that
the initial explanation was not clearly understood, and (b) the more time a teacher spends
with one student, the less time there is to monitor and help other students.
In elementary grades the teacher frequently instructs students in an ability group
(e.g., reading groups) while the rest of the students are doing independent seatwork. The
most effective way for teachers to monitor the seatwork activity during small group
instruction is to arrange the seats so they can monitor both groups at the same time
(Brophy & Evertson, 1976). In this way the students in the small group have their backs to
the other students, and thus are not distracted. The teacher can also monitor the
independently working students with periodic glances, thus improving students'
engagement during seatwork.
Because teachers are frequently engaged in other activities while students are doing
their seatwork (c.g., reteaching or small-group instruction), it is beneficial for the teacher to
have a previously established routine for the students to follow during seatwork activity
(Brophy, 1983). This routine should prescribe how the students are to conduct themselves
during seatwork, including what activities they are to do during this time, what they are to
do after they complete their exercises, and how they are to get extra help if necessary. For
example, the routine might specify that:
- Students who have completed the exercises are to turn them in and work on other
assignments or do free reading or enrichment exercises.
- Students are to check their exercises with prearranged “buddies”.
- Students who need help are to approach the teacher between, not during, small-group
- Students who need help may quietly ask preassigned peer tutors.
Teachers should instruct students in the various aspects of these seatwork routines
at the beginning of the year, and see that they are followed throughout the year. The
advantage of such routines is that they can minimize the need for teacher monitoring of the
seatwork activity while they are engaged in small group instruction.
In summary, successful independent practice requires both adequate preparation of
the students, and effective teacher management of the activity. Neither preparation nor
management alone is sufficient.
Other Ways of Accomplishing the Independent Practice Function
As explained previously, the goal of independent practice is to provide practice to the
point of overlearning and automaticity. Seatwork is the usual setting in which this function
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occurs, but there are three other ways in which independent practice can take place:
teacher-led practice, independent practice with a routine of specific procedures, and student
cooperative practice in groups.
In the elementary grades, independent practice is often teacher-led. For example, if a
teacher is leading a review of word lists, letter sounds, or number facts this activity can be
called independent practice if the children are at a high success level and do not require
prompts from the teacher.
In her study of successful teachers of lower achieving, junior high English classes,
Evertson (1982) found that the teacher who had the highest engagement rate did not have
long seatwork activities. Instead, the teacher used short presentations followed by long
periods of repeated questions where the participation of all students was expected, the
questions were narrow and direct, and there was a high degree of student success. This
teacher led practice provided the practice to mastery that the students needed.
INDEPENDENT PRACTICE WITH ROUTINES
The ECRI program (Reid, 1978-1982), on the other hand, obtains high engagement
by organizing routines to be followed when practicing each story. During independent
practice all students work independently on a story for which they are trying to achieve
“mastery”. To achieve mastery a student has to:
- Read all new words in the story at a rate of one per second or faster;
- Spell all new words without error;
- Read any selection in the story at a predetermined rate; and
- Answer comprehension questions on the story.
During independent study students proceed through a checklist of tasks relevant to these
skills. They use a stop watch or the clock to time themselves. When they are ready, students
give a spelling test to each other, check each other for accuracy and speed of the word list,
and/or check each other for accuracy and speed on the reading selection.
There are noteworthy advantages to these ECRI procedures. First, this series of tasks
can be readily followed by the students, because they are repeated with each story.
Therefore, the teacher is not faced with the typical problem of having to prepare students for
a different kind of worksheet each day. Second, the tasks are designed to insure that all
students receive sufficient practice and obtain automaticity. Third, the student interaction
provides a social dimension to this task, for it allows a student to get help from another
student, and yet, keeps them focused on the academic task. Many of these ECRI procedures
could be incorporated into existing programs. In particular, teachers might consider using
the repeated reading until the students are reading rapidly and the student cooperative
STUDENT COOPERATIVE PRACTICE
Researchers have also developed procedures for students to help each other during
seatwork (Johnson & Johnson, 1975; Sharan, 1980; Slavin, 1980a, 1980b, 1981). In some
cases the students in the groups prepare a common product, such as the answer to a drill
sheet (Johnson & Johnson, 1975), and in other situations the students study cooperatively
in order to prepare for competition which takes place after the seatwork (Slavin, 1980a).
Research using these procedures usually shows that students who do seatwork under these
conditions achieve more than students who are in regular settings. Observational data
indicates that students are also more engaged in these settings than are similar students in
conventional settings (Johnson & Johnson, in press; Slavin, 1978, 1980b; Zeigler, 1981).
Presumably, the advantages of these cooperative settings come from the social value of
working in groups, and the cognitive value gained from explaining the material to someone
and/or having the material explained to you. Another advantage of the common worksheet
and the competition is that they keep the group focused on the academic task and diminish
the possibility that there will be social conversation.
The purpose of independent practice is to provide the students with sufficient practice so
that they can do the work automatically. This is usually done by having students work
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individually at seatwork. Suggestions from the research for improving student engagement
during seatwork are:
1. Give clear instruction—explanations, questions, and feedback—and sufficient practice
before the students begin their seatwork. Having to provide lengthy explanations during
seatwork is troublesome for the teacher and for the student.
2. Circulate during seatwork, actively explaining, observing, asking questions, and giving
3. Have short contacts with individual students (i.e., 30 seconds or less).
4. For difficult material in whole class instruction, have a number of segments of
instruction and seatwork during a single period.
5. Arrange seats to facilitate monitoring the students (e.g., face both small group and
independently working students).
6. Establish a routine to use during seatwork activity which prescribes what students will
do, how they will get help and what they will do when they have completed the exercises.
Although the most common organization of independent practice is seatwork with each
child working alone, three other forms of organization have been successful:
1. Teacher-led student practice, as in repetition drills and question and answer sessions,
2. A routine of student activities to be followed during seat-work where the student works
both alone and with another student, and
3. Procedures for cooperation within groups and competition between groups during
Weekly and Monthly Reviews
The learning of new material is also enhanced by weekly and monthly reviews. Many
of the recent instructional programs include periodic reviews and also provide for reteaching
in areas in which the students are weak. In the Missouri Math Study (Good & Grouws,
1979) teachers were asked to review the previous week's work every Monday, and to conduct
a monthly review every fourth Monday. The review provides additional teacher checking for
student understanding, insures that the necessary prior skills are adequately learned, and
is also a check on the teacher's pace. Good and Grouws recommend that the teacher
proceed at a fairly rapid pace (to increase student interest). They also suggest that if a
teacher is going too fast, it will be apparent in the weekly review, because students will
make many errors.
Periodic reviews and recycling of instruction when there are student errors have been
part of the Distar program since 1968. Extensive review is also built into the ECR1 program
in that slower students are reviewing new words for three weeks before they encounter the
words in a story in their reader. This kind of massed learning followed by spaced reviews is
also part of Hunter's program on increasing teaching effectiveness (Hunter & Russell, 1981).
Many of the programs cited on the first page also contain suggestions for managing
transitions between activities, setting rules and consequences, alerting students during
independent work and holding them accountable, giving students routines to follow when
they need help but the teacher is busy, and other management functions.
The developers of these programs understand that instruction cannot be effective if
the students are not well managed. However, that topic is beyond the scope of this paper.
For a more detailed discussion see Brophy (1983).
This chapter has discussed a number of teaching functions: review of previous
learning; demonstration of new materials; guided practice and checking for understanding;
feedback and corrections; independent practice; and periodic review. While writing this
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chapter, we were impressed with the fact that many different people, working independently,
came up with fairly similar solutions to the problems involved in effective classroom
instruction. The fact that independent researchers have reached similar conclusions and
have collected student achievement data which supports their positions serves to validate
each individual research study.
One advantage of this chapter is that it provides a general overview of the major
functions of systematic teaching. What is missing, however, is the specific detail which is
contained in the training manuals and materials developed by each of the investigators. We
would hope that all teachers and teachers' trainers have a chance to study and discuss
those training manuals.
The functions identified and explained in this paper are quite similar to those used
by the most effective teachers. Most teachers already perform some of them, but the specific
programs elaborate on how to perform all of these functions and provide more routines,
procedures, and modifications than an individual teacher working alone could have
developed. These programs make teachers aware of the six instructional functions, bring the
set of skills to a conscious level, and enable teachers to develop strategies for consistent,
systematic implementation (Bennett, 1982).
Now that we can describe the major teaching functions, we can ask whether there
are a variety of ways in which they can be fulfilled. We have already seen that the
independent practice function can be met in three ways; students working alone, teacher
leading the practice, and students helping each other. (There are even a variety of ways for
students to help each other.)
We have just begun to explore this issue of the variety of ways of meeting each
function, and at present no conclusions can be drawn regarding their relative merit. It may
be that each function can be met three ways: by the teacher, by a student working with
other students, and by a student working alone — using written materials or a computer.
Right now, however, not all functions can be met in all three ways — and we are limited in
our choices by the constraints of working with 25 students in a classroom, the age and
maturity of the students, the lack of efficient “courseware” for the student to use when
working alone, and the lack of imaginative routines which will keep students on task and
diminish the time lost when they move from activity to activity. For example, although the
idea of students working together during independent practice always existed “in theory”,
such working together was also associated with off task behavior and socializing. We needed
the routines developed by Slavin (1981), Johnson and Johnson (1975) and Reid (1981)
before we could be confident that students would work together during independent practice
and still be on task. Similarly, although “checking for understanding” could “theoretically”
be handled by students working with materials or by students working with other students,
at present we do not have effective routines for enabling this to happen in the elementary
In conclusion, now that we can list the major functions or components which are
necessary for systematic instruction, we can turn to exploring different ways in which these
functions can be effectively fulfilled.
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