Friday, February 16, 2007

What do you know about Direct Instruction?

During this school year, I've had my hands full simply trying to write a post or two a week, so I haven't been checking out other blogs nearly as often as I should. The other day, however, I went over and checked out Rory's Parentalcation, and he had a post dealing with one of his favorite subjects--Direct Instruction. When it comes to Direct Instruction, which, as its name indicates, is a method of educational instruction, I think it would be fair to call Rory a disciple of KDerosa of D-Ed Reckoning . If there is a blogger who pushes Direct Instruction harder than KDerosa, I don't know who it is. He is very articulate, he is harshly critical of American education, and he seems to believe that public elementary schools are guilty of gross negligence because so few of them use Direct Instruction. Last fall, after having been lambasted by him, I did some reading about Direct Instruction, and I have to admit that it sounded like it was very effective at getting kids to learn.

Neither KDerosa or Rory are teachers. They are both parents who have a very strong interest in education. I am somewhat mystified because I have rarely seen anything by any teachers about Direct Instruction--for or against. Last August, Ms. Teacher from California Livewire wrote a post about a Direct Instruction workshop she attended, and she sounded quite enthusiastic about it. I contacted her, and she told me that she would be doing a post about how it was actually going in practice. If she did, however, I never saw it, and I haven't seen anything from California Livewire since November.

As I indicated earlier, it is hard to find anyone who is more critical of American education than KDerosa, and much of his criticism is centered around his belief that we are using the wrong teaching methods, especially at the elementary level. I would love to hear from any elementary school teachers who know more about Direct Instruction than I do. I'd especially like to hear from teachers who have used Direct Instruction after using other methods. I would also love to hear from teachers or administrators who know why so few elementary schools use this method. It is a mystery to me why I've heard so much about Direct Instruction from parents, like KDerosa and Rory, and so little about it from teachers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was using direction instruction back in the late eighties and early nineties in special education. It requires organization and specific instruction and is highly effective.
I team taught with a H.S. Social Studies teacher in Geography and our special education students achieved remarkable progress. But I spent many evenings preparing the materials. Not many average teachers will do that for the money they are paid. Not many principals are familiar enough to award teachers for their extra efforts. Mine did. Ethel Capps Brigham City, Utah

2/16/2007 6:32 AM  
Blogger Dickey45 said...

I use it with my son and my son's therapist used it with him, then worked at a charter that used many SRA DI products and Core Knowledge. Both of us are big fans.

2/16/2007 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis, it's Liz from I Speak of Dreams. This is an excellent question.

I've reposted your question here at my blog: Attention k-6 Teachers, Dennis Fermoyle Wants To Know: What Do You Know About Direct Instruction?

I imagine I'll get some comments directly, rather than people clicking over to your blog.

2/16/2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Hi, Dennis

Here's my theory. The powers that be in education and schools of education are in ignore mode when it comes to DI. At first they tried criticising it and that didn't work so well because it has a large research base with thousands of students showing that it does work better than what the ed schools were peddling. So now they're resigned to just pretending it doesn't exist. There's only a few ed schools that teach it and to the extent that it is even mentioned elsewhere, it'll be associated with vague negative connotations to dissuade the curious. In effect, they are quietly poisoning the well with vague unsupported criticisms and indifference. This tact seems to have been effective since most teachers have either never heard of DI or think it is somehow harmful to children.

Non-educators haven't had this ed school indoctrination and perhaps are more willing to push past the propaganda and evaluate disfavored pedagogies on their merits.

At least that's the theory.

I use DI as my benchmark and counterexample. I read lots of arguments from educators claiming all sorts of things about what can and cannot be achieved in education. The DI research shows that most of this simply is wrong. Schools can achieve a lot more than they are at present.

I don't think that schools should be using DI necessarily, but they should be held acountable to DI-like peformance criteria. As far as I'm concerned, educators can use whatever methods they want to, but when student performance is far below what the research shows that it could be, the public has a right to criticize.

Here's a medical analogy. If cancer treatment A has a success rate of 90%, it's malpractice for a doctor to use treatment B which only has a 50% success rate. Why should education be any different?

2/16/2007 1:04 PM  
Blogger EHT said...

Many teachers are using DI and other methods their district dislikes. Teachers do it because they know it works. They just don't advertise they do it because their life would be made miserable by administrators.

Off subject but......I have tagged you for a thinking blogger award. Visit my post to get the particulars. You, my dear friend, always make me think!

Tag! You are it!

2/16/2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...


My school uses DI for students in the special education program. It is highly effective with this group of students, so I really don't see why it wouldn't be effective with every student.

I will say that I have a special class that is essentially a special education DI class, and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of preparation. My students are all at different levels, so I am preparing a universal lesson, then I have to create separate assignments for each student to complete. I then have to break them into groups to work on parts of the assignments.
There are different assessments for each student, but they do seem to be learning and improving. That's the only reason I keep doing the work. I feel like if I had to do this every year, I'd burn out. It takes so much work and adaptation that it wears me out.

2/17/2007 5:18 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

My students are all at different levels, so I am preparing a universal lesson, then I have to create separate assignments for each student to complete.

That's the problem. The class is supposed to be homogeneous with respect to ability and level. You'd most likely get better performance with a lot less work for you if the admins set the class up properly for you.

2/17/2007 6:03 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank all of you for your comments, and EHT, thanks for your tag!!! I made the seven-hour journey from Warroad to Minneapolis right after school yesterday, so that's why I didn't respond to these comments earlier. What the heck--it looks like you're doing fine without me. I am a little surprised that there haven't been any comments that have been negative about DI, so far. Teachers who have used it say that it's a lot of work, but I wouldn't call that negative.

It looks like the people who have found success with DI have either been working with elementary or special education type kids. Should we be making more use of DI (or something like it) at the middle and high school levels?

I am no expert at DI, and right now, I'm feeling a little embarrassed to say that. From what I've read and seen so far, I'd have to say that KDerosa has a very strong point. I have to wonder why more schools aren't using DI and why the education schools aren't making it a major part of their curriculum. After having done the work to earn a Masters a few years ago, and never hearing about Direct Instruction once during that process, while having some other stuff thrown at me that was pure crap, this makes me a little angry.

2/17/2007 7:13 AM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

okay, now I feel guilty. I have a post brewing about Direct Instruction, but I haven't posted anything yet. I have legitimate excuses, er reasons, for not doing so. This year, I've taken on a lot (doing a two year Master's program in one year, for instance) along with teaching a new program and also trying to make sure that my husband and kids still love me at the end of the school year :)

In fact, I already have a working title over at California Livewire. Expect something from me sometime today. I promise!

2/17/2007 10:25 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

KDeRosa said...

My students are all at different levels, so I am preparing a universal lesson, then I have to create separate assignments for each student to complete.

That's the problem. The class is supposed to be homogeneous with respect to ability and level. You'd most likely get better performance with a lot less work for you if the admins set the class up properly for you.

When I first began teaching I remember mentioning that it would be awesome if our science classes were ability grouped - it would make it so much easier to target lessons and labs. The response I got, especially from special education teachers, was that the government frowns on that, especially when it comes to taking special ed kids and putting them into mainstream classes. As one of these teachers said to me, "well, if they're all at the same level, you're right back at a special ed class, aren't you?"

So, if I'm to understand this correctly, for DI to work the class must be at the same level. Yet at the same time, ability grouping is frowned upon big time.


2/17/2007 3:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ms. Teacher, no need to feel guilty. As I said at the beginning of this post, I've had all I can handle just writing a post or two per week during the school year. Most days, when I get home from school, the last thing I want to do is read or write about education. If I were trying to earn a Masters on top of that---forget it!

Mrs. Bluebird, like you I have always thought ability grouping would be a good idea, but like you I had been hearing for the least several years that grouping was a no-no. Nevertheless, I know that a lot of schools are doing that. When it comes to grouping, right now I'm a little confused.

2/18/2007 5:29 AM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

Okay, go check it out. I have something up at California Livewire (with a link cross-posted at my own site).

Also, about ability grouping and placement. What we have been told in regards to the REACH program that we can have ability grouping as long as kids have the option of testing out. Already, I have had two students test out of the program. I think the fear is that once students are placed in one group, that they will remain in that group.

Also, from what I've been told, is that our students in the REACH program, will only be able to remain in this program for two years. We can show that an intervention has taken place and now it's up to the student to do what is required of them in a "regular" placement. Again, it all comes down to not wanting to "track" and have kids stuck on the same track, despite their ability.

2/18/2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Tracking that results in an educational ghetto of low performers is what the law intended to do away with not the type of flexible grouping by student ability that usually results in superior performance.

See How should we group to achieve excellence with equity?

2/19/2007 10:17 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

fixed link

2/19/2007 10:18 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

"In two landmark cases, the courts found that ability grouping resulted in a disproportionate number of minority children being placed in lower track courses. In both cases the school districts using ability grouping had the burden to prove that the grouping practices did not contribute to the differences in performance found between legally protected minority groups and white children. In other words, because disproportionately more minority children were assigned to lower groups, the defending districts had to prove that the children in the lower groups were receiving instruction that was superior to what they would otherwise achieve without ability grouping."

This is the reason why you don't see more grouping by ability. Often the instruction that is going on in tracked classrooms is no better than that in mixed classrooms.

2/19/2007 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz I Speak of Dreams.

Joanne Jacobs has a post on Direct Instruction with many teacher-responders.

2/19/2007 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DI works, especially the programs by Zig Engelmann, and they work for all children. Struggling readers succeed and bright ones are challenged if students are appropiately grouped. Teachers don't always like to teach DI because it holds them to a high degree of repsonsibilty for students' learning. Even though there is a script to follow, teaching the progams takes expertise and it is not do what ever you "think" or "feel" works. It takes dedication and fidelity to the program. Teachers come in thinking that teaching is all about creativity and inovation, rather than about proven practice. I have taught DI, coached DI and firmly believe as a result of my experinces over the years that it is the best way to teach the skills needed for students to succeed and to be able to become independent learners.

2/19/2007 12:33 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

Teachers don't always like to teach DI because it holds them to a high degree of repsonsibilty for students' learning.

anonymous, I take issue with that statement because as a teacher, I've always taken a very high degree of responsibility for the leanring of all of my students. In my first year of teaching, I had a student who did a total of three assignments all year. I made numerous attempts to speak to his mom, offered him help at lunch time and at school, but not surprisingly he received an "F" in my class and was promoted to 7th grade.

Now, even 6 years later, I wonder what I could have done differently with this student. Any student who is not successful in my classroom with, I take responsibility for. I think one of the issues that I have with DI is the assumption that all students want to learn and it's the educational establishment holding them back.

The students in my DI program who want to be more successful in school are my stellar students. They are fully participating in the program and as a result have improved academically. I have one student this year who is being raised by an older sister because mom is incarcerated. This sister is 21 years old, works full-time and is going to school. As if that were not enough, she is not only responsible for my student, but for four other siblings as well.

This student is one of my biggest behavioral challenges simply because of his life circumstance which he has no control over. He has his good days (which I praise him for) and his bad days. He also misses a lot of school. He is failing school again. His failure has nothing to do with DI. Yet, as much as I enjoy DI and see its potential, until his life circumstance gets better, his education is simply not a priority to him.

2/19/2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger TurbineGuy said...

Well Dennis, you ignited a blogging frenzy. Congratulations :)

Have you read Zig's book yet?

Keep asking questions... the truth will set you free.

2/19/2007 3:42 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, Rory, but now you're putting ME on a guilt trip. I will read that book. I promise. Especially after all these responses.

Liz, thank you so much for sending so much traffic my way on this! I think you are probably responsible for the "blogging firestorm" that Rory is talking about. I was wondering where all those responses were coming from, and then I saw that you were helping me out over on your blog. Thanks!

Anonymous, thanks to you again for your comments. Ms. Teacher, you sound like one of my soul-mates. Believe me--I hear you!

2/19/2007 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I taught middle school in a suburb of San Francisco for a few years. We used DI to help kids in 7th grade become better readers. I used it for three years and saw great results in kids who were learning English, kids who were significantly behind their age levels and for kids who just needed some better reading habits. We used Corrective Reading, split the 7th graders into levels based on the starting testing. I am now starting Expressive Writing with high schoolers in a more well off suburb and am looking forward to getting some better writing out of them.

2/20/2007 9:05 AM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

kderosa, Apparently from the way my school has it set up, I have the wrong understanding of what DI is. We continue to track at my school, but even with tracking, there is such a profound difference in levels in some classes.

I'm going to have to look into this more before I comment again.

2/21/2007 4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OT, but I wasn't sure how to get this to your attention otherwise:

Steve Jobs jumps in on the education debate. If anyone other than politicians can save us, it's billionaire computer moguls!

2/21/2007 1:10 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, Ian! Great article, and one I think I'll be coming back to.

2/21/2007 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the subject of DI, label me a skeptic. It sounds great, until you get into some of the implications. Sure, my students could memorize and recite (regurgitate) the five statements in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, but would they be able to tell me why the document was important? Or how about my Language Arts classes, where individual creativity is the raison d'être for the program. When it comes down to it, I don't really care how my students fare on some standardized test, as long as they can demonstrate to me that they've learned the material in the manner most appropriate to them. Maybe because I'm in a high school, but I expect more flexibility, not less in learning/teaching methods for students entering adulthood.

2/22/2007 6:16 AM  
Blogger Independent George said...

But Ian - how exactly is one to tell you why the Declaration is important, if one is unable to read it?

That's the false dichotomy of fundamentals vs. "higher-order thinking" - they're called fundamentals because you can't do anything unless you've mastered them. I would imagine that's just as true in your Language Arts class.

2/22/2007 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair enough - I said my interpretation was coloured by my high school position. I expect that the students have got a handle on the basics before they even get to me, and by and large, they do.

2/22/2007 11:51 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ian, you sound a lot like me. The responses I've gotten on DI have all come from teachers at elementary, middle school, special ed., or people trying to teach some sort of basic skills. My assumption is that it is not something used for high school American History or Language Arts. (I could be wrong on that, and if I am, somebody let me know.) In any case, I assume that you, like me, have never had any training in it and haven't used it.

I know that when I first started reading KDerosa's posts and comments on DI, I thought, "Yah, right! Another miraculous teaching technique." But if the reading I had already done hadn't opened my eyes, the comments on this post, and the other ones that piggybacked on it certainly have. When I did this post, I didn't know if I'd get more than two or three responses. But if I'd have known how many people were going to respond, I'd have expected that at least a few of them would have come from people who had tried DI and been disappointed with it. But there has not been one of those. Not one!!! Everyone who has used it and responded says it works. Every one! The worst thing anyone said about it was that it was a lot of work because of the preparation. I find that rather amazing. Don't you?

2/22/2007 3:10 PM  
Blogger Independent George said...

Ian - I think we're in agreement. I remember being in the exact same boat as you in HS. By 9th grade, I was sick of spelling tests and grammar rules, and just wanted to read books and debate them. It's a little different in math/science (where explicit instruction continues to be useful up to the graduate level), but, even then, the best part of upper-level math & science are proofs and and setting stuff on fi- er, labwork. Yeah, labwork.

I'm a firm believer in the socratic method; I just think that its effectiveness depends largely on the base knowledge of the students. It's like anything in life - the fun stuff comes after you've mastered the boring stuff. (I had originally penned a bawdy analogy, but decided this really wasn't the time or the place).

2/22/2007 4:38 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Dennis, all the commercially available DI programs are available from SRA. See here.

They are mostly K-6 programs.

Basically there's a reading program, a math program, a writing/grammar program, and a spelling program. They also have a language program for lower performers.

There's also a history program for middle school kids, not available through SRA.

An new algebra program is coming out in May.

There are some remedial reading programs for middle and high school kids.

There once were some laserdisk sccience programs for high school kids.

There are no other high school programs available. The thought is that kids who are instructed right in k-6 can succeed in more traditionally taught classes. Which is not to say that high school teachers couldn't benefit from using some of the DI techniques.

2/23/2007 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should say that DI is effective in heterogenous and homogenous settings. Soviet schools and higher ed institutions used DI as ONLY instructional mode for many years (unfortunately they are falling into student-centered mode now...) and it was EFFECTIVE. I got 10 years of grade school in Ukraine - and in 10 years we have learned more (and better)then kids here in 13 (I count K grade). There were no remedial classes or tutoring not in school nor in college.
I use DI when I teach my 8th grade advanced program Bio and 7th grade Physics. I started (as a School of Ed graduate) with "discovery learning or whatever it was they teach in ed school. Did't work. The concepts were not learned or learne incorrectly , I wasted time... So I recalled how my teachers in soviet school tought me - and it was drastic improvement in understanding and retention of information, application skills etc. So I finally TEACH now.
Of course, since my school claims we all inquiry and discovery, I name my approach "problem-solving" teaching...

2/25/2007 8:38 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

exo I think you mean di not DI.

2/25/2007 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SRA/McGraw-Hill - the publisher of Direct Instruction programs - recently launched a website and online community for Direct Instruction information. In addition to offering free webinars on DI implementation and teaching, the site also has a user forum, a blog, and many other resources on general DI topics and specific programs such as Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading.

3/10/2009 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Funnix said...

Curious about what this DI stuff is all about? You can check it out for yourself free:

From February 1 through 16th, the Funnix Beginning Reading program will be free for download--no strings, no hidden costs.

The Funnix sequence teaches 2 year's worth of reading skills. During last year's promotion, more than 40,000 people received the Funnix Beginning Reading program free. Even higher numbers are anticipated for this year.

If you're in the market for an excellent beginning reading program, sign up for your free download of Funnix Beginning Reading. The program has been offered for $25 during most of 2011; however, the price will rise to $38 following the giveaway in February.

Funnix Beginning Reading is a free download. Complete the form available at starting February 1 to receive an email with instructions on how to download the entire 220 lessons onto your computer. You will receive everything you need to teach the program, including daily workbook activities and guides to help utilize the program effectively.

When you teach Funnix Beginning Reading, you and your child sit next to each other and watch the computer screen. A narrator presents a series of fast-paced exercises in each 30-minute lesson. The narrator asks questions, and your child responds out loud. Your job is to reinforce correct responses and correct any mistakes by following simple rules for "navigating" the program.

In schools, the program works the same way, except there's usually a small group of children being taught, and the person who leads the group is a teacher or an aide.

The program, designed by Siegfried Engelmann and Owen Engelmann, has been very successful with a large range of children from ages 4 through 7 who enter the program know nothing about reading, including children who have been written off by schools.

Remember, the giveaway starts at 1 am (EST) February 1.

No early signup. Come back between February 1-February 16 to sign up.

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1/17/2012 9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not understand what you mean but I would like to comment only. thanks :)


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