Sunday, March 11, 2007

How can we take Direct Instruction beyond the blogosphere?

There are various reasons why people start educational blogs. Some of us want to make our voices heard in educational debates, and we hope we can play small roles in making education better in America. We want to make a difference.

There are a couple of problems with that, however. First of all, it's hard for us to get attention. The network of educational bloggers isn't very big, and education isn't a subject that attracts a tremendous amount of interest with John Q. Public. I mean, I don't ever remember having to elbow anybody out of the way in the education section of a bookstore. The other problem is that there is a lot of disagreement between us. If we could ever succeed in bringing about a consensus for any of our reform ideas, maybe the first problem could be overcome.

One subject that does seem to have a consensus is Direct Instruction. As you may know, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post and asked for feedback about Direct Instruction, and similar posts were written at the same time by Ms. Teacher and Joanne Jacobs. Between the three posts, there were over seventy responses. The only skepticism that was expressed about DI came from teachers who had never actually seen it used. Every single person who had used it said it was effective. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a consensus.

Maybe it's because I'm a high school teacher, or maybe it's because I'm an idiot (Quit nodding, Cryticlife!), but I had never even heard of Direct Instruction until I began blogging. I know I'm not alone, however, because I've talked to a number of other people in education, including elementary school teachers, who also hadn't heard of it. As I said earlier, the network of educational bloggers is relatively small, but isn't there something we can do to make more people--or at least a lot more people in education--aware of the effectiveness of Direct Instruction? Isn't there something we can do to pressure education schools and those who put on workshops to begin to teach this very promising technique along with their "progressive" ideas?

It seems to me that there are elements of a very interesting story in here. We have a program mandated by Congress that went on for several years (Project Follow Through), and I assume that millions of dollars of tax-payer money was spent. We have results showing a particular program to be superior, especially in working with disadvantaged kids, but we have higher-ups burying the results because it didn't correspond with their theories. We have the founder of the program, Zig Engelmann, unable to find any publisher willing to tell his story. This looks to me to be a nice big-fat-juicy scandal that somebody in the media or some politician should love. Of course, this is education, and that just doesn't have the sex appeal of some other things. Maybe we could get Zig to claim that he was part of a plot to murder Princess Di, or maybe he could claim to be the father of Anna Nicole's baby. That ought to get the ball rolling!

I admit that I feel self-conscious pushing so hard for Direct Instruction, because I'm a high school social studies teacher, and I've never been trained in the technique. I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to tell elementary school teachers how to do their jobs, and I wouldn't want to see any of them forced to abandon methods they believe are working for one they may have never heard of. But unless all of the things that I have read and all the feedback about Direct Instruction are wrong, they should at least be aware of what Direct Instruction is and how effective it has been for others. Right now, I think it's safe to say that that is not the case.

Political bloggers played an important role in the Election of 2004, and conservative bloggers had a great deal to do with eventual ousting of Dan Rather from CBS News. If they could have that much power, maybe we can make a dent here. How can we spread the message of Direct Instruction beyond our little educational blogging network? I have some ideas of my own, but I'd love to hear from others, especially those who have actually used it. Maybe together we can make a difference on something we actually agree on.


Blogger M said...

I've never heard of it. I've tried to read about it but the sites I've been to never actually explain what it is, just how good it is. What is it? How does it work? Why is it good for primary schools?

Why do you think people haven't heard of it?

3/11/2007 10:59 PM  
Blogger M said...

(sorry, I *have* heard of it..but only thought here).

3/11/2007 11:00 PM  
Blogger Dickey45 said...

Some schools of ed actually teach future teachers that DI is bad. No kidding - I have proof from a former employee that worked with my son.

Another blog to add to your circle (don't need to visit but know that it is very pro-DI) is mine:

And I too would like to know how to get the word out.

This week, my not-for-profit organization (pending 503c) will be accepting scholarship applications from Oregon school teachers to attend the Association for Direct Instruction 5 day long conference in Eugene, Oregon. I'm trying but it feels like a drop in the bucket.

3/12/2007 7:50 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

I think the first thing is pointing people to Zig's site. For this week, all of the chapters of his book are available for PDF download. If enough people read it, maybe the word will start to get around.

3/12/2007 10:46 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Thank you, Ian! I downloaded the book.

I plan to go into a Bd. of Ed meeting and ask about a couple of school district policies, and want to bring in DI (and, heavily question the use of TERC). I'll make sure it's on the agenda first. I figure I'll have to be extraordinarily well-prepared and have answers to any conceivable questions or critiques at my fingertips. Some direction in how to prepare for such a presentation might be helpful (or, if you guys just think it's a bad idea -- my knowledge of district politics is limited, other than that they can operate in a rather cutthroat manner).

3/12/2007 2:49 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi M,

The fact that you hadn't heard of it makes me feel a little better. Here are the links that I first read to find out about Project Follow Through and Direct Instruction:

Dickey45, I would love to hear the explanation about why DI is a bad technique. From what I've read, that would be an awfully tough argument to win.

Crypticlife, I wouldn't discourage you from giving it a try, but I'm afraid that it's going to be hard to get them to listen to a layman about teaching techniques. In fact, I'm not sure they'd listen to teachers, either. I really wish we could get someone in the media to run with this.

3/12/2007 3:11 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I hadn't heard of it until they trotted it out as the flavor of the month at the nearby humongous inner city school district. It was disastrous, because seriously, no one took training teachers and administrators in it seriously.

Then they use a form of it at our middle schools' math classes, but the classes are still heterogeneously grouped and there is so much assessment that there is practically no time for instruction. Once again, NOT working, but I wouldn't attribute that to the method.

So unfortunately, I have never seen it used correctly, so I feel I can't comment about that. But I do feel that administrators in central offices are all too willing to jump on any bandwagon without following through on the preprequisites of many of the myriad programs that are contantly trotted out as The Next Big Thing.

3/12/2007 7:21 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Ms Cornelius makes a good point.

An improperly implemented program isn't going to give you improved results. This is especially true of DI which, when properly implemented, changes many aspects of what goes on in the school.

3/12/2007 8:08 PM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

Link to the book...

Seriously, its a great read... only a few more days of being available for free.

3/12/2007 8:32 PM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

Ms Cornelius,

I totally understand your last point. Its like the boy who cried wolf. So many poor reforms have been pushed, that decent ones aren't given a chance.

3/12/2007 8:35 PM  
Blogger ms-teacher said...

Dennis, you might try to see if your district would be willing to pay for you to attend the conference in Oregon. I went last year and one of the presentations was on using DI in a high school classroom, more specifically using a history textbook. It can be used at the high school level and need NOT be restricted to teaching reading only.

One of the people in my Master's program is teaching at a middle school that is strictly DI based - all of their subjects are being implemented using DI methodologies. This teacher wants to come to my school site next year and I'm hoping to work with her closely so that I can use DI more effectively in all of my classes.

3/12/2007 9:35 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

The REACH system Ms. Teacher uses was developed by Bonnie Grossen. Grossen basically just cobbled together the DI elementary programs and the remedial DI reading programs for use in a middle school/high school setting.

In the late 1990s the system was implemented in a cluster of CA schools. See this article. Note the pie charts on page 3 showing the damage wrought by whole language in CA in the 90s.

See also this evaluation of the first year implementation at the Goethe school.Seee pages 7-8 to get an idea of how low the lowest group was performing. 18% of students could not read 8 words/syllables on the WJ word attack subtest. This was aftr 6-8 years of schooling.

It's stuff like this that shows how broken the system is.

3/13/2007 5:50 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Ms Cornelius, excellent point, and I think what it means that if it's going to be implemented, it needs to be done correctly. For that, there would need to be a huge buy-in. Essentially, we need to get people to agree.

Unfortunately, many are unwilling to look at evidence and quick to discount whatever they don't like. What's needed is overwhelming evidence and visual evidence -- videotapes or something.

On an initial skimming of Engelmann's book, it seems a lot of the principles are behavioral. M, I don't know if you've heard of behaviorism and BF Skinner, but besides medication behavioral therapy is probably the only therapy that conclusively has an effect. It also came to my mind last night when I was watching the popular British show "Supernanny" -- a nanny who primarily uses behavior modification techniques. I doubt one could point to Supernanny and convince teachers DI would work, but if there were a show or video displaying DI. . .

No one ever thought nannies could be sexy (well, not their jobs, anyway ;)). A reality show showing the effect of DI would be best, but barring that a few good documentaries that could be circulated might help. Videos of good teachers, and bad ones, and remarks on the differences in approach. It might also help to allay teacher worries of being over-scripted or reduced in role. A good behavior mod specialist needs great intelligence and skill, and if teachers were well-trained in this I believe public perception of them as professionals would increase. So, does anyone know if there is video evidence for DI?

3/13/2007 7:29 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

ADI has some videos available.

Some are even online

3/13/2007 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

I can just see a reality TV show based on different teaching methods: Which class can improve the most by the end of the year? Find 10 classrooms of the same grade level scattered across the country, where the students are of the same type of background. Get each of the teachers to use a different instructional method and evaluate the classroom's improvement after 5 months or a year.

3/13/2007 12:57 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ms. Teacher, thank you for the tip.

Does anyone have an email address for Greg Toppo. He does education articles for USA Today, and if I understand correctly, his brother is an executive producer for CNN. Last year he did an article on teacher blogs, so some of us have had contact with him. I'd like to contact him, give him a little bit of the story of Project Follow Through, let him know that this has been a frequent topic on the education blogs, and see if he'd be interested. What do you think?

3/13/2007 3:01 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Thanks Ken,

I wish some of the critics would watch the videos. There's some reference to City Springs, which makes me think they were largely filmed there. Watch with what the "before" picture would have been in mind: that's what I'd love to see. Maybe some of the videos they have for sale show some of that.

Incidentally, Dennis, a lot of the principles can and should be applied on the high school level as well. Obviously, it's much harder to create scripts that lead students through skills that involve far more complex tasks, but the basics of positive reinforcement (praise), immediate correction, repetition of items, and clarity remain valuable.

3/13/2007 3:14 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Dennis, we might start here. Has a phone number, and Ellicott City looks to be less than an hour commute to McLean, where usatoday is located. Nice street, too -- lots of big backyards.

Chances are also good that the usatoday email addresses are systematic. A whois on the site suggests the convention is first, so it would be gtoppo -@- the domain (even not being sure, better not to post emails directly if one can avoid it). If you send an email with a read receipt, chances are you'll either get a response or an undeliverable message. Whether he reads emails on that address is another thing, of course. I think it might cost a bit to find a home email address for him.

3/13/2007 3:46 PM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

You could contact him at his homepage here.

He replied back to his comments on the page as early as a few days ago.


3/13/2007 6:20 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, Crytpiclife and Rory (You truly are the Googlemaster!). EHT came through with his actual email address, so I will put something together and send it to him.

3/14/2007 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The premise of the recent Time Magazine article, "How To Build a Student For The 21st Century," (December 18) is largely false, and frankly, sickening.

I am a veteran high school history teacher whose students do very well on standardized tests - AP, CAPT, SAT. I never to teach to tests. I demand that students go beyond their limited frame of reference and learn something, which inlcudes memorization. My students acquire lots knowledge.

That Stanford University Professor who told her daughter to tell her teacher that she only needs to know the Amazon river - not the other rivers of South America - is a perfect example of the Educrat mentality. On the contrary, the mere act of learning something and memorizing it is a useful activity. Moreover, to understand more about the estuaries of the Amazon can lead to other sociological and anthropological awarenesses, even if they are not realized immediately. Memorization builds brain power and makes higher-level thinking possible. How can one think at a higher level when they know very little? How can we ask our young people to depend on Google? Do we not want to help young people think on their feet? Knowledge begets knowledge. More knowledge will not hurt young people, instead it will help them intellectually, psychologically and physiologically.

This "crisis" in education has come before, as far back as the nineteen twenties. In 1925 William Heard Kilpatrick of Columbia Teachers College said that instead of teaching facts and figures, schools should teach students "critical thinking." Students need to learn how to "look-up" information in the modern world - the 1920s! In his "Child Centered School," Harold Rugg urged in 1928 a shifting of the focus to a child-centered environment. (Heather MacDonald) These so-called cutting-edge progressive education theories are old. Moreover, they have never worked with most students.

We thought the human condition was somehow evolving by 1914 and then we had WWI. The human condition is what it is. Students are what they are; much of the time they are reluctent learners. The Rousseauian theory of the naturally inquistitve young person is largely false. Some students are sometimes deeply engaged. Yes, the very best and brightest are often self-directed learners. But what about the big middle? No matter how the educrats twist it, turn it and re-package it, their wares are the same, and so are the results. And they are poor results.

And what are the wares of education schools? Theories. Of course educrats will say that knowledge is not important because content - history, math, science, literature etcera - is outside their area of theories. More often than not, student-centered, group work is inefficient and less effective in helping students attain the kind of education that is going to help them succeed. Constructivist education is in the end obsurd. There has been a proliforation of Kaplan study centers and the like, because the recent upsurge of progressive education practices over the last 15 years has forced students to get direct, teacher-centered instruction elsewhere.

I am deeply, deeply concerned about the future of our young people. Their counterparts from India and China are learning much more than our young people, and, yes, they do a lot of memorizing and withstand lectures and obsorb lots of information. But they are also very creative.

Education should not be expected to be fun and immediately relevant. It should better than fun. It should be fulfilling and mind expanding. It requires lots of work and intensity. We do not need longer school days or schools years, we need more intensity and content oriented education. For fun we can have more team sports available to more students at all ability levels; they can learn "cooperative" skills, while bringing more blood to their brains and building self-esteem through hard work.

The directives from the education establishment are forcing a loss of discipline and rigor at a time when we need more of it.

We need to impart lots of knowledge and information to the millions of reluctant learners so that they have in their heads an educated mind even when the computer is down. The late Neil Postman said that computers have not solved any problems in education that were there before. Instead, computers and the internet have created new ones.

I would like to write a full length piece on this subject for Time.

3/17/2007 9:11 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Wow, Anonymous! That was quite a comment. I agree with just about everything you said. I had not read the TIME article, but after your comment, I definitely will.

3/17/2007 9:39 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...


Please write your article. If school choice were present, and the principal of a school put out something like your comment at a mission statement, it would go a long way towards convincing me to send my kids there. And my oldest IS one of the rare children with a genuine interest in learning. I strongly believe he would love such an environment. My middle son is (so far) not, and I think he'd NEED such an environment. To my mind, so-called "child centered" teaching is not deserving of that rubric.

3/19/2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger Lsquared said...

There are obstacles that aren't obvious here, that are why you find things like education colleges saying that Direct Instruction doesn't work (even though there are studies showing that it does). Professors need theories--not just seeing what works, but having a theory to justify why it works. Whatever theory is dominant has a lot of power. Right now constructivism has a lot of power.

Direct Instruction's strong point is the program, not the theory. I'm not saying that there is no theoretical side to it, but it grew in a way that concentrated on practice and not on promoting theory. I read Zig's book with great interest, and one thing I found eye-opening was that one of the first things they tried was to teach the teachers the principles behind direct instruction, but most of them didn't internalize it correctly--they kept reacting the wrong way to what students, they backed up and wrote scripts so that teachers could do the right thing without reconstructing everything themselves. After that, they had teams of people who would develop new things for the program, but the teacher training was all in how to use the things that had been created, because they found that most teachers weren't very effective at creating new stuff that worked. So what this means is that if you learn Direct Instruction as a teacher, you mostly learn how and rather than why.

Colleges of Education, on the other hand, like to teach teach why's, so Direct Instruction isn't very compatible with what Education professors like to teach. Education theory is very big picture, and Direct Instruction is very nitty gritty.

This bit of Zig's book was really eye-opening to me, by the way. I teach pre-service math teachers, and I often ask them to create lesson materials from scratch. I do this because that's how I think--I am always a instructional designer as well as a teacher. After reading this, I'm wondering if asking these future high school teachers to do the same thing is effective or not. I'm trying to rething the mental link I have between teaching and instructional design.

Now, the people who control the money, and advise the people who control the money are all trained in Educational theory. Its not only their training, it's their job--they do research and write papers and it all centers around how various things fit into the prevailing theory. It's really hard to get theories to switch directions--there's a lot of inertia in Theory (the history of plate tectonics becoming recognized is a good example). (It's problematic that there are a lot of Direct Instruction imitators who also have scripted programs, and look superficially like Direct Instruction, and from the point of view of Education Theory, all of these programs are all in the same basket, even if some are much less effective.)

Good luck. Fight the good fight. But be prepared to be patient.

3/21/2007 2:25 PM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

Thats a link to some DI information for the HS level.

3/22/2007 5:27 PM  

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