Saturday, September 09, 2006

Direct Instruction: Is It the Key to Improving Education?

In the blogging world, KDeRosa is to public education as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to Israel. He has absolutely nothing good to say about public schools and he has no sympathy for those of us who work in them. He is definitely no fan of this post and me. After one post that I wrote defending public schools, he wrote that I would make a good "useful idiot" in a communist state. Ouch!

KDeRosa's tirades against public schools are based on his contention that we are using faulty teaching methods, and he makes constant references to something called "Project Follow Through." At first, I didn't know what he was talking about. Maybe some of you are as ignorant as I was about this, so I'll give a quick summary from a link that I was directed to by reading California Live Wire.

Project Follow Through was established under President Johnson to examine various teaching methods to see which were the most effective. According the sources I've seen, Direct Instruction was clearly shown to be a superior method, while other teaching methods seemed to be ineffective. However, a report that was issued on the project basically said that all the teaching methods were fine, and that there really wasn't any difference between them when it came to effectiveness. This happened--if I understand correctly--due to pressure by university types because Direct Instruction did not fit the "progressive" theories being taught by their education schools. As a result, we all went our merry way. Colleges of education continued to teach the same methods they had been teaching, and those of us in K-12 education went on without any knowledge that there was a teaching method out there that just might be able to help us to our jobs much more effectively.

I am reluctant to jump to conclusions based on a couple of articles I've read, because maybe there's another side to this story that I'm unaware of. If there is, I honestly hope someone will enlighten me. But on the face of it, it is an understatement to call this an outrage. I think of the last twenty years in Minnesota and what the people who make educational policy here have put us through. We were given workshop after workshop on outcome-based-education, which was supposed to be the "wave of the future" in education, and then all of a sudden that movement collapsed. Then we went through our Profiles of Learning phase, with its emphasis on projects. We were all supposed to change the way we did just about everything in our classes, and then that movement collapsed. I spent about three years taking classes to earn a Masters, and I heard lots about cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and all that other progressive stuff. During all of that I never even heard Direct Instruction mentioned. (Neither was the name, E. D. Hirsch, or the term, cultural literacy.) If the articles I've read on Project Follow Through are at all true, and Direct Instruction performed that much better than the other methods, how in the world could this have happened?

This doesn't mean that I think that I've changed my belief that most of us "in the trenches" are doing a good job. I think, overall, we've been doing the best we can with what we've been given. In fact, when you consider some of the idiotic policies that have been thrust upon us, one could argue that we've done an outstanding job.) As I've said before, the kids I've seen who have come to school with a desire to get an education have consistently been successful. But if there's a teaching method out there that can help us be more effective for more kids--possibly much more effective--why aren't policy-makers and education schools telling us about it?

Once again, for those who are as ignorant as I was about this, I'll provide a little more information about Direct Instruction from this source that I was also directed to by California Live Wire.

The following techniques apply, whether teaching kindergarten or a corporate training session:
-Teachers must make clear, specific and measurable decisions about what they really want their students to learn. They must decide how learning is gong to be tested.
-There can be no instruction without cooperation. The only behavior you present to a disorderly class is: Show you are ready: "Voices off, eyes on me.". Reward those who are silent and attentive.
-Break down what you want students to learn into its component parts and teach the parts to mastery.
-Provide the answer before you ask the question. "Here is the answer. Now I'm going to ask the question. On signal, tell me the answer."
-Practice active group response at all times. Do not allow coasting or skating on other students' responses.
-Repeat Repeat Repeat. Restate Restate Restate. Retell Retell Retell.
-Have students answer verbally on your signal, and then on paper.
-Ask for full responses on tests: avoiding multiple choice and fill in the blank.
-Use examples and non-examples.
-Insist on correct spelling, neatness and consistent formatting.
-If it's worth teaching, teach to mastery.
-Firm and repeat answers until all students can actively answer without hesitation.
-Catch students doing the right thing and reward immediately. Always maintain a minimum 3:1 ratio of positive reinforcement to correction and punishment.
-Move quickly (slowing down does not help).
-Signal for answers clearly and consistently.
-Provide a specific time for questions. Do not allow "helpful questions" to take everyone else off task.
-Emphasize study skills, such as assignment calendars and writing down all assignments.
-To get more, or less, of what you want, count, graph and report your findings.
-Test understanding by asking specific questions of students you identify. "What year did Columbus discover America, Jack?" Don't ask generalized questions such as, "Do you understand?" or "Does everyone understand?"

EXAMPLE
All: Teacher and students touch the answer to be learned.
Teacher: "The answer to this question is, 1492."
Teacher: "When I signal I want you to answer, 1492."
Teacher: "The answer is 1492."
Teacher: "What year did Columbus discover America?"
Teacher: "Get ready." Watch the students to make sure all participate.
Teacher: Signal by pointing or snapping fingers.
All: "1492."
Teacher: "That's right, Columbus discovered America in 1492."
Teacher: Reward. "Good job saying 1492." Make eye contact with individuals. Smile.
Teacher: Next answer, or repeat until everyone is participating and firm.

I do have some questions of my own about this technique. If anyone has answers to them, please fire away in the comment section.

For starters, even though proponents claim that Direct Instruction can be used even in corporate training sessions, I have trouble seeing myself following a script like this for a high school class. It seems like it would be most appropriate for the lowest grades.

Also, another set of guidelines that I read said that Direct Instruction calls for kids to be tracked. Yet, everything I've read about tracking says that kids at the lowest track end up falling farther and farther behind.

Finally, that same set of guidelines said that disruptive behavior is not tolerated in Direct Instruction. In public schools, where kids have a right to an education, I think this would be easier said than done.

KDeRosa argues that Direct Instruction would increase test scores by thirty percent and SAT scores by 200 points. I am skeptical about that. Although he would view this statement as a cop-out, I don't think he fully appreciates the factors involved in education that teachers can't control--the influences of family, neighborhood, and friends, and the motivation of the student. Nevertheless, his lambasting of public schools has led me to learn about something that I didn't know much about before. Although I don't think any teaching method will make as big a difference as he believes, I'll take any improvement we can get. I think a lot of us should be taking a very good look at Direct Instruction.

19 Comments:

Blogger rory said...

Dennis, I am impressed. You might want to check out this website as well.

http://www.jefflindsay.com/EducData.shtml

I sum's everything up nicely and has some useful links.

I agree that Direct Instruction might be more effective in the younger grades, but I suspect that teachers of all levels could derive some benefit from using some of the concepts. In the military some of the same concepts are used when teaching courses.

Get their attention.
Tell them what you are going to tell them.
Tell them.
Tell them what you just told them.

It might sound overly simplified, but the military is able to take mostly average intelligent kids who are barely 18 or 19 years old and teach them to work on multi-million dollar equipment in difficult situations. The military devotes a great amount of resources to studying effective training techniques.

9/09/2006 7:13 PM  
Blogger rory said...

Also see this stuy by Carnegie Mellon: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/1998-02/CMU-CMRS-130298.php

From University of Oregon
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adiep/ft/151toc.htm
and http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adiep/prog.htm

I have been googling for the last 10 minutes looking for research against Direct Instruction, but frankly I could be wrong. I did find one on Constructivism.

http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/Constructivism_Kirschner_Sweller_Clark1.pdf

Also see

http://www.cast.org/publications/ncac/ncac_explicit.html

9/09/2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger rory said...

Sorry about my grammar and spelling in the above posts, I should of proofed it. Drank a few beers while watching Ohio State kick Texas ass.

9/09/2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Good post, Dennis, but a few clarifications are in order.

However, a report that was issued on the project basically said that all the teaching methods were fine, and that there really wasn't any difference between them when it came to effectiveness.

This would have been the House report paid for by the Ford Foundation. It served its purpose in that it buried the results but it has been thoroughly discredited. See for example A Constructive Look at Follow Through Results.

If there is, I honestly hope someone will enlighten me.

Of course, there is. There have been plenty of hit pieces and attempts at performing discrediting research over the years. For every negative study there are rebuttals. A quick google search should turn most of them up. Best thing to do is to read them and form your own opinions. You seem to have an open mind going in to this.

If the articles I've read on Project Follow Through are at all true, and Direct Instruction performed that much better than the other methods, how in the world could this have happened?

The profession of education is not yet a mature profession. Like doctors 150 years ago, they still refuse to follow the scientific method. Children suffer as a result.

As far as your summary of DI goes, I'd suggest reading Engelmann's Student-Program Alignment and Teaching to Mastery and Rubric for Identifying Authentic.

I've also posted an actual lesson from a DI 2nd grade reading lesson here.

I have trouble seeing myself following a script like this for a high school class.

Most of the scaffolding and structure is only used in the lower grades. Ideally, the structure is faded as soon as the students are ready. Let's not forget that many kids succeed in a traditional classroom in the later grades if they have been properly prepared. Some kids are so bright that they even learn in a wacky progressive classroom.

This is not to say that any classroom couldn't be improved by employing some of the mastery learning techniques developed in DI.

Also, another set of guidelines that I read said that Direct Instruction calls for kids to be tracked. Yet, everything I've read about tracking says that kids at the lowest track end up falling farther and farther behind.

Not tracked, but flexibly grouped according to ability. It is impossible to effectively tach a classroom in which the students have wildly differing abilities.

I suggest reading How should we group to achieve excellence with equity? for a more accurate summary of the "tracking" research.

Finally, that same set of guidelines said that disruptive behavior is not tolerated in Direct Instruction. In public schools, where kids have a right to an education, I think this would be easier said than done.

Disruptive behavior is managed in a DI classroom. This type of behavior is managed easier because when kids are actually learning they are more motivated and engaged and less disruptive. See Managing Classroom behavior.

KDeRosa argues that Direct Instruction would increase test scores by thirty percent[age points] and SAT scores by 200 points.

I'm not arguing that, I'm merely reporting what the 30 some odd research studies, involving thousands of kids, has shown. Student achievement can be increased by about a standard deviation using DI. Bear in mind that most of these studies were done in elementary schools.

Then you have the KIPP schools, which emply many DI techniques, if not DI per se, starting to get similar results in the middle school level.

I don't think he fully appreciates the factors involved in education that teachers can't control--the influences of family, neighborhood, and friends, and the motivation of the student.

I do appreciate them, they just aren't nearly as relevent as you think once you give kids good instruction.

I think a lot of us should be taking a very good look at Direct Instruction.

I use DI as an example of good instruction having an extensive research base, but I am not beholden to any instructional program. DI sets the benchmark for what can be accomplished in our schools. I don't care what methods schools use as long as they can meet or exceed the DI benchmark. What I don't understand is why anyone settles for anything less.

9/09/2006 10:08 PM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

In my state we are in transition from objectives to standards in social studies. Under the objectives students in third grade had to master around 12 different objectives. When they enter my room at fourth grade they are required to master around 56. Under our new standards its more or less the same. I could not get through the enormous amount of content without direct instruction techniques. While I don't run a script as DI suggests I follow many of the techniques such providing information regarding exactly what I need them to know and why they need to know it. I constantly spiral back and connect, connect, connect. Important information will be restated by me, restated by the kids, repeated, repeated, and repeated. Mnemonics help! Another thing that helps me is I have kids write constantly in class responding to opinion questions. I learn so much about what they really know and then can adjust accordingly.

Dennis, you know that I feel we have so much to overcome with the baggage many of our students bring to the classroom, however, I do know that consistency, stability, and order provide a learning environment that eventually the majority of those baggage kids respond to.

While I feel that pure DI can work best in the lower grades I think those of us in the middle and high grades could benefit in utilizing aspects of the program.

9/10/2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

KDeRosa, thank you for all the info. I hope this gets me off the "useful idiot" list for a little while. I know, however, that I will be back on it again.

Rory, I've responded to you over at your post and via email. If you are a USC fan and living in the Carolinas to boot, you must be a much happier person than those of us who are Gopher and Viking fans.

EHT, you have great practical advice, as usual. I, too, find myself doing some of the DI stuff, but it would have been nice to have gotten some more formal training in it. It seems like the high brows in those universities get their theories, and then it's "reality be damned." I'm not saying that some of the progressive stuff doesn't have any value. I use cooperative learning once or twice a week to supplement my more traditional methods, and I try to keep "multiple intelligences" in mind when I give extra credit projects. But you would think university education programs would have some discussion of methods that fall into the traditional mode.

By the way, I responded to your email last week, but I got a message that it wouldn't go through because your mailbox was full. I'm looking forward to Thursday!

9/10/2006 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz here, you can also read some good work on teaching the Persian Wars at the website of Professor Plum, EducationNation. The pages for Designing Instruction begin here.

Professor Plum's blog is here

9/10/2006 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz from I Speak of dreams

9/10/2006 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Laura said...

Thank you for posting an informed response to that guy (I only invoke subtle name-calling as his rhetorical "I'm not using rhetoric" language gets under my skin--see "I'm not arguing").

What frustrates me most about this whole argument is that it does nothing for me--KdeRosa has basically told me there's almost nothing that can be done for my 10th graders--they're too far gone.

And I do employ something like direct instruction in my Spanish classes, but then I have the problem that somewhere between the sounds leaving my mouth and the sounds coming out of theirs, the whole thing gets garbled. It's not as easy as saying "1492."

For English, I'm supposed to be teaching these kids how to form arguments and write organized paragraphs. What am I going to do, repeat organized paragraphs and have them spit out the same things?

At any rate, I appreciate your open-mindedness, and it does me good to hear "the other side" from people I trust, rather than people that raise my hackles. Thank you.

9/10/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Laura, thanks for a very nice comment. Teaching high school social studies, I'm in pretty much the same boat that you are. There are principles of DI that I can use, but I'd have to do a lot of tweaking.

I guess there is more than one purpose for blogging. One is to get your message out, and another is to learn something. I coached for 32 years, and anytime we could "steal" an idea from a rival we would. With all the pressure public schools are under, we can use any ideas that might help us. When I look at the information I've seen on Project Follow Through, it looks like Direct Instruction might do that. I don't know that for sure, because just about every hair-brained idea that has been thrown at us in the past by colleges and policy-makers has supposedly been based on "research." Nevertheless, it makes me angry at our colleges and policy makers that I had to learn about this from a hostile blogger.

9/10/2006 12:37 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Nevertheless, it makes me angry at our colleges and policy makers that I had to learn about this from a hostile blogger.

Hostile to bad teaching practices and the schools that employ them, whether they are public, charter, or private. No one gets a pass.

I am not hostile to public schools per se. Although, if history is any guide, it's highly unlikely that a monopoly, much less a government run one, will be able reform itself.

9/11/2006 6:45 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Laura, I knew you went away, but I didn't realize that you went away mad.

There's a lot that you can do, you just can't do it from your class-room trying to teach kids how to write coherently without having mastered the mechanics of grammar, spelling, and basic reading and English skills.

That shouldn't be surprising. It is a fool's errand.

9/11/2006 6:49 AM  
Anonymous Tracy W said...

I think you missed an important thing in your list of what DI is.

One is presenting new information by linking it to material the kids already know. Eg if the kids know where England is, and you want to teach a lesson about Sweden, start off with a globe showing England, and then trace from there to where Sweden is, so the kids see the connection between the two places.

This is based on experimental evidence that experts gain more knowledge from a presentation about their expert topic than novices.

This approach would definitely be appropriate for high school class.

9/13/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thanks, Tracy. I wish I'd have attended a workshop or two on this over the years in place of some of the other ones I went to.

9/13/2006 6:01 PM  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

If there is one thing we should have learned from research into how people learn over the past two decades, it is this: No one instructional method works for everybody.

To be effective to the entire class, we must provide the material in an appeal to those who learn by listening, those who learn by seeing, those who learn by doing, and those who have difficulty learning under almost any circumstances. Messages must be packaged for sound and sight, and ribboned and bowed to stimulate higher level thinking.

My guess is that kids today are a lot more capable at processing information than kids in the past -- they have broader "bandwidth," if you will. If we don't deliver a lot of information, with repetition, with flash and other interest-binding agents built in, the kids tend to tune out and seek other messages.

But, please, repeat after me: No teaching method is a panacea. No teaching method is a panacea. One more time: No teaching method is a panacea.

What is not a panacea?

And, since direct instruction is a teaching method, is it a panacea?

9/13/2006 10:46 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Ed Darrell is a microcosm of what's wrong in education.

First he gives us a pithy slogan (educrats like slogans since you don't have to think when you recite a slogan) and then proceeds to misinterpret even the small kernel of truth it contains.

While, it may be true that not all programs work for all kids, it is also true that some programs work with a great many kids (DI) and some (most of the rest) that hardly work with any at all. Moreover, most programs no matter how ineffective they are tend to work with the same small set of high performers. Ed's slogan is designed to obfuscate that inconvenient fact and imply that there exists instructional programs that work with discrete subsets of students and by using different programs with different subsets we can weave a coherent educational system.

This, unfortunately, is not reality. What we have is many programs that work with the same few high performing kids and almost no programs that work with the remainder.

This is one reason why slogans do not make coherent education policy.

Next he spouts the "different ways of learning" line which is not only dubious as an educational fact, but, more importantly, there is no instructional program that has proven to be effective in raising student achievement by focusing on these supposed "differences."

Then he says we need to stimulate "higher level thinking" whatever that is. Again, there is no evidence that programs that focus on teaching higher order thinking are in any way effective in raising student achievment. There is no golden road to learning, Ed. It takes a lot of hard work learning basic skills to automaticity so that those skills can be used in acquiring more advanced skills. There is plenty of evidence that this is accurate.

There is also no evidence that kids today have "higher bandwidth" than kids in the past. Kids tune out when they are not learning, just as they've always done. They tune in when they are learning. Cheap theatrics don't necessarily help kids learn.

There may be no educational panaceas out there, but there are programs that work much better than others. It is moronic to believe that there is any valid reason for adopting less effective programs over more effective programs.

9/14/2006 6:05 AM  
Anonymous Tracy W said...

To be effective to the entire class, we must provide the material in an appeal to those who learn by listening, those who learn by seeing, those who learn by doing, and those who have difficulty learning under almost any circumstances.

What is your evidence for claiming that kids are best taught in different learning styles - as opposed to learning best if they are taught in the learning style appropriate to the material? Eg, in my life I learnt riding a bike and driving car by doing, poetry and Shakespeare by reading out loud (either by myself or by a teacher), I learnt to speak Spanish by saying it, art history by viewing paintings, mathematics by doing, etc. I don't know how anyone could learn to ride a bike without actually doing that, or how one could listen to a Rembrandt painting, or how one could literally do a poem, or how one could learn to understand a foreign language being spoken in a visual way.

And out of curiousity, how would you teach what happens in a nuclear chain reaction in a way designed to appeal to kids who only learn by doing?

9/14/2006 9:10 PM  
Blogger Brad Hoge said...

Just a couple of comments to stir the pot. As a college science teacher, it is obvious that my best students are not the ones with the most content knowledge, but the ones with the best thinking skills. I can go a lot farther and a lot faster with students who remember no facts whatsoever but who can think criticly and probabalistically. Therefore, simply from this standpoint, I would ask K-12 educators to focus on thinking skills as preperation for college. You might be able to move this argument back each stage of education, too, but it begs difficult questions. When can "thinking skills" be taught, and how much content knowledge must these skills be applied to to become relevent?

One of the slippery problems we have here is how we define student success. Mastery of content knowledge is easier to assess than thinking skills, but ultimately aren't as indicitive of "literacy". I'm not excusing the ignorance of most of Jay Leno's foils, but knowing how to learn encourages content aquisition. So which comes first?

Direct instruction has its place, and it definately produces measurable results, but is that enough? I hope that we can achieve more in K-12 education than content mastery, so I would still encourage a range of teaching methods within and across disciplines, for all students.

9/20/2006 9:28 AM  
Blogger sinuse jill said...

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4/14/2015 2:24 AM  

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