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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ashbee

Booklets, Rosenshine, Teach Like A Champion, and Knowledge-Rich Curriculum

Booklets are a brilliant tool in delivering an ambitious, knowledge-rich curriculum. While a curriculum can never be reduced to booklets, it can be highly codified in them and in doing so is much more likely to be consistently enacted in lessons. The subject of planning with booklets has often been misunderstood: it is necessary for teachers to plan for lessons delivered with booklets, and planning consists of three strands. For two of these strands, Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction provide a useful structure as a starting point, but caution is advised. Any generic model will eventually fall foul of subject specialism if applied unthinkingly; instead of mandating rigid structures to all teachers of all subjects we should proceed with questions and trust, ultimately, in what the subject tells us is appropriate.

Let us first briefly outline the benefits of booklets. The booklet model can provide:

A minimum guarantee – If your department uses booklets to codify curriculum as far as possible, then you are immediately lifting the minimum guarantee in several key areas. The content itself is no longer left to individual teachers’ interpretations of a section of the spec, what they think will or won’t engage that particular group, or what was free on TES when they were planning on Sunday night. Subject leaders are empowered to really lead their subject and assure excellence in the substance of what is taught to every single child under their curricular care. This goes not only for the substance of planned content, but also the questions that students will spend time on in their lessons – if memory is the residue of thought then there are better and worse questions to make students think hard and think well – those questions can be assured in booklets. Why leave these things to chance when they can be guaranteed?

A hornet slayer – Scrabbling around for resources and wrestling with the photocopier are neither elegant nor effective uses of teachers’ time. Booklets virtually eliminate all need for these hornets, and free up teacher time for useful things, like practising their explanations and routines, expanding their subject knowledge, and sleeping and exercising. Well-rested and healthy, happy staff are the best staff.

A lesson-slicker – Lessons taught with booklets can be slicker than slick – everything is handed out or got out together, routines are embedded, the format is standardised. All those minutes can be used for learning instead of faffing around with sheets, glue sticks, mats, and god knows what else.

A class reader – How much time in a typical week do students spend reading academic text? If you use booklets you are likely adding hours to this figure, which for many children would otherwise probably be zero. You can bring them into the world of reading for knowledge – just like that. What greater gift is there? And as we know, once phonics has been mastered, the amount and quality of text that is regularly read is the single most important factor in developing a child’s reading ability – and we have the power to make this a reality, just through choosing this model.

A discussion point for professional development – The department is the cultural unit of curriculum in a school: the conversations between subject specialists, regarding the material to be taught to our students, can be transformational in the quality of the curriculum and teaching that children receive, particularly if these conversations are part of the everyday habitus of a thinking department. A written or drawn explanation, exemplar or problem in a booklet is an incredibly fertile starting point for such discussion. To be able to point to a page in a booklet and discuss it with colleagues is to be able to participate in strong, subject specific CPD and to build a culture of curriculum within the subject team: this is a wonderful thing and should be treasured.

Planning teaching with booklets

It can be tempting to think that booklets mean that all the planning has been done for you – but this is far from the truth. While it is almost certainly true that an unplanned lesson with a good booklet is better than an unplanned lesson without a booklet, effective teaching requires planning, and this planning has three strands: subject knowledge, lesson substance, and lesson action.

Planning for teaching with booklets 1: Subject knowledge

Excellent teaching is built on the foundation of excellent teacher subject knowledge. A well-planned teacher knows the content to be taught inside-out, understands all the hardest parts, has a rich understanding of the applications of this knowledge beyond the domain of the lesson, and can draw up on many ways of explaining and modelling in order to make sense to the student. Planning to gain this knowledge can begin with reading the content in the booklet and asking oneself if one understands it and is able to answer all of the questions. If any of it does not make sense or is a struggle to do well, the responsibility is on that teacher to ask a member of their team or the wider subject community, to help them understand it better. There is absolutely no shame in this and the best teachers are those who do this regularly. You need to think through the sorts of questions the students might ask you about and make sure you can answer them – you might not choose to answer them in the moment – but this should be because you feel it would be detrimental to the lesson productivity and not because you don’t know the answer! Of course there will always be some questions which even the most knowledgeable and well prepared teacher will not be able to answer – but these will be few and far between for those teachers.

Beyond the booklet and peer discussions, teachers develop subject knowledge through reading books, blogs, and journal articles, studying accredited qualifications, and engaging with the subject community through Twitter and conferences. In addition to all the cultural benefits of participating in the community in this way, the depth and meaning that is given to lessons by teachers with this level of knowledge cannot be underestimated. This CPD is essential and it must be built and developed if it is not already in place.

Planning for teaching with booklets 2: Lesson substance + lesson action = Ratio

Probably the most significant concept in effective teaching is that of Ratio, described by Doug Lemov in Teach Like A Champion, and explained brilliantly by Adam Boxer here. To put it rather inelegantly, Ratio is about ensuring the maximum number of students spend the maximum amount of lesson time thinking about material optimally chosen to develop the learning. An excellent goal, but often quite hard to plan for, since it’s a concept rather than a component. Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction can be a valuable guide in identifying these components: The pieces of input and practice that make up a lot of teaching in high-Ratio lessons. While it is useful to use these principles as a starting point for planning, it is vital to see them as one of several starting points for thinking, rather than a set of mantras that apply always and everywhere. Many parts of curriculum are holistic and rich in their wholeness, and a thoughtless breaking up of a narrative in history or an analysis in art could destroy the meaning for students. This is not to say that students should be inundated with information or given large composite tasks without explicit teaching and mastery of the components – it is to say we must listen to our subject and ask if each part works as pieces or as a whole, and how to best deliver it to students in order to build their understanding.

While Rosenshine’s principles can be seen in many (though not all) good booklets, effective teacher planning should consider what further application of these principles ought (and ought not) to be implemented for a particular group. Many of these components will need a teacher to consider the substance of the planning, for example “what exactly will the questions be?”. In addition to this substance, it is important to consider the actions that will happen in the lesson to make sure the substance is implemented effectively. For example, how will this question be asked? Verbally? Written? How will students respond? Hands up? Cold Call? Mini-whiteboards?

The combination of well-planned substance and action of a lesson results in a high ratio: all students spending a large proportion of their time in the lesson thinking, and thinking about good quality, well-chosen material. Of course many of these things become more internalised as teachers develop experience, but I would argue that they are all things that benefit from thought, planning, reflection and feedback. In planning with a booklet, working through each of Rosenshine’s principles, considering substance and action for the particular group you are going to be teaching, is a strong structure for any teacher, while maintaining the caveats above.

Below is a table with some considerations for substance and action for each of Rosenshine’s 17 principles:

A teacher using a booklet with their class must, in their planning, ask not what this class need to do for this booklet, but what they as the teacher need to do in order for the booklet to be maximally effective for the group in front of them.  It may be that a class will need additional examples, or a process broken into smaller steps. They may need pre-teaching of vocabulary. They may even need an alternative text, appropriate to their reading age. It’s vitally important to be candid about this. It is a national scandal that faulty teaching ideas and low expectations, combined with trends away from reading in the home, have resulted in so many children joining secondary school unable to read adequately. Such a travesty requires a whole-school strategy of intensive intervention, and a wider changes nationally in order to tackle the problem at source. But you are teaching the children in front of you and they are relying on you to give them appropriate material. It’s not “ambitious” to give them a text where they understand one in ten of the words – it’s just unfair and a waste of time. We mustn’t accept problems with reading as the status quo, but we must tackle them at the appropriate scale, and make lessons accessible to everyone in the meantime. That’s accessible, not easy. The work in a lesson should be challenging but it should be achievable for a hardworking student with a pacey, well-planned lesson – and it is the job of the teacher to ensure that this is what they get.

Planning for teaching with booklets isn’t only about this kind of “scaffolding” – you might well have a very able class who would benefit from leaving out some tasks, moving more quickly through components without having to practise each independently, and spending time on other tasks which may already be in the booklet or may need planning in addition. You might, in your planning for any class, spot a piece of prerequisite knowledge that you know this class has struggled with before, so that you want to plan in some explicit work around this concept before approaching the main material of the lesson.

So many of the actions we do in lessons could be improved by thinking about them and planning for them. The role of gesture, voice, and expression cannot be underestimated in building engagement and interest with a class. The techniques used for communicating with a class and taking data in from them, the push-and-pull of teaching if you like, utterly define the success of a lesson, since teaching is a transaction between one expert and thirty novices: to wit, the communication is not intrinsically straightforward and structures such as those from TLAC are utterly transformative in bringing order to near-chaos in the information pool of the classroom.

And as with all these things, our curriculum must lead. If the nature of the subject is telling you that a pedagogical technique won’t work here, then listen to that voice. It’s healthy to question that voice, as with any voice, because we all have biases and must work hard to guard against them. But ultimately it is subjects that have their own internal logic, rules, structures and characters, and we have to leave space in our planning to reflect these unique and wonderful things. Components and principles are useful but they are ultimately, and necessarily, generic and reductive and thus can never capture the whole-ness of the subject disciplines. The substance and actions of our lessons will often benefit from Rosenshine’s principles but this will not always hold true. As always, it is the knowledge that is king.

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