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?"
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.
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.