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.