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Exploring Rosenshine as a Mastery Specialist

By Vicky Osborne (May 2020)

This year I have taken on a new role as a Teaching and Learning Lead. My main interest is Teaching for Mastery in secondary mathematics, and I have been very fortunate now to introduce a mastery approach into 4 different schools. In taking on the role I wanted to give serious consideration to staff wellbeing and workload. I think an enthusiasm for new teaching initiatives can cause an increase in workload for us teachers as we change our lessons and structures in order to meet new expectations.

In my new role, I was very keen to ensure that there were no “new” things this year. We have an emerging interest in Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction in our school, and of course I also have a keen interest in mastery. Where possible, I wanted these ideas to feel like one cohesive teaching approach for our maths teachers. As I looked at Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, I was struck by how the entire article, and later Tom Sherrington’s book, reminded me of first hearing about Teaching for Mastery.

Here are the five big ideas, and how they align most closely with Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction:


In Mastery: we can vary the concept students are learning, as well as the images and questions they are exposed to. Our aim is to ensure we are not causing superficial learning of a concept, by only presenting it in one way. We are also addressing any potential misconceptions, before or as they occur. Finally, by using careful design of questions, we can really draw attention to the crucial concept.

In Rosenshine: we can include our ideas about variation when we present ideas and concepts in Rosenshine’s principles of guided practice, modelling, independent practice, and, crucially, in reviews. The questions used need to be carefully thought through. If we present the same topic in exactly the same way each time students will not form a well-rounded long-term memory of a concept.

Mathematical thinking

In mastery: here we are concerned with our students’ ability to reason, apply knowledge, and behave like a mathematician. We expose our students to patterns, or open-ended questions so they can form conjectures and try to prove them.

In Rosenshine: Rosenshine recommends we ask questions. The more questions asked in lessons, the more opportunities students have to speak and reason like a mathematician. We should extend this into their guided practice, their review questions, and their independent practice, so that they also write like a mathematician.


In mastery: fluency is not just facts stored in long term memory. We are also concerned with how students can use what they know and apply it to new topics or problems. If we know these facts, can we apply them to a new situation, work out something new using what we knew before? We help our students to overlearn topics, we revisit them to aid recall, and intertwine topics in the scheme of work.

In Rosenshine: fluency really gets at the heart of Rosenshine, which is concerned greatly with long term memory and retrieval. Do students have their key facts at their fingertips? Can they confidently use what they know to work out what they don’t? We want to ensure our modelling, guided practice, independent practice and reviews use as many previous topics as possible in different contexts.

Representation and structure

In mastery: when I think of this big idea, I always immediately think of manipulatives and pictorial representations. These can greatly support our students in understanding a new concept. Remember the representation is supposed to expose the structure for our students, leading to an understanding of the concept.

In Rosenshine: Rosenshine is not subject-specific, and the use of physical manipulatives in the classroom is not going to apply to all subjects. When we are considering the principles of modelling, scaffolds for difficult tasks, and guided practice, we do want to support students to see the mathematics and visual representations within these. Ultimately our aim is to build strong mental schema for our students, rooted in secure models, to lead to the last of the five big ideas.


In mastery: coherence is a deep understanding which has come from all of the other big ideas, together, to form a rich mathematical education. We structure a lesson, and the sequence of lessons, so that students are carefully guided through the learning journey. Everything else comes together to support the learning in small steps, securing each one and linking it to other areas of mathematics.

In Rosenshine: Rosenshine’s principle of small steps teaching overlaps entirely here with the Teaching for Mastery approach which states “small steps are easier to take”. If we plan each small learning step with overlearning in mind, while also linking it to previous learning to enable our students to make connections, we are teaching for coherence too.

While it is clear there are some areas of mastery that extend Rosenshine for the maths specialist, the two teaching models sit aligned to enhance our teaching. We are not introducing anything new here, and I am hopeful that I will not hear the words “this year we are doing Rosenshine” in place of the words “this year we are doing mastery”. Rosenshine does not have the subject-specific detail that mastery provides and as we are all aiming to be good, effective teachers, both teaching approaches are entirely compatible.



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