Friday, October 02, 2009

Direct Instruction - why it is very good.

I had written an essay a few months ago on Play = Learning and was surprised that one of this blog's reader was not not keen on the excerpts I had taken out of the book. Dan suggested I look into Direct Instruction, which frankly I was not ready to really understand then because it was the exact opposite of Play=Learning, Unschooling and Child-Directed learning. However, in the past year, I have come to question Unschooling and Child-Directed learning - it seemed to lack something. I have since read up on Classical Education and found that the Charlotte Mason method was what our family was searching for. This past week, I was reading Einstein Never Used Flash Cards when my husband re-introduced the idea of Direct Instruction to me through a book he is currently reading Market Education by Andrew Coulson. I chucked the Einstein book aside to delve into learning more about Direct Instruction. My interest peaked.

Very briefly, Project Follow Through was a federally funded (over $600M), large-scale study (79,000 children in 180 communities) from the late 1960s to the late 1970s to identify effective instructional methods - primarily for disadvantaged children grades K-3. 22 different teaching methods were introduced around the country and their effects on student achievement were measured.



As you can see, the graph shows that Direct Instruction (a method rich in structure and drilling and content) was far more effective than other methods I would have expected to score higher, such as:

Parent Education
: Parents of disadvantaged children are taught to teach their own children. Cognitively-Oriented Curriculum: this curriculum encourages children to schedule their own activities. Teaching emphasizes "labeling and explaining causal relationships". Self Directed Literature: Students are exposed to literature relating to their own experiences and interest. Child-directed choices are emphasized, based in part on the assumption that student choice would enhance enjoyment and facilitate learning through each child's individual learning style.

So all these progressive methods scored poorly... So what exactly is Direct Instruction?
Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminating misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning.

Some more startling results of Direct Instruction taken from Market Education:

The most structure, most skill-oriented approach of the lot, Distar (or Direct Instruction) systematically broke new topics down into understandable parts, and then had students practice those component skills, eventually putting them back together to master the complete task. It not only placed first in teaching basic skills as a whole, but came out first in all four subcategories (reading, arithmetic, spelling and language) individually. Students taught by Direct Instruction placed a close second in advanced conceptual skills, and even scored highest on tests of self-esteem and responsibility toward their work.
To put these accomplishments in perspective, poor/disadvantaged students who had gone through several years of Direct Instruction performed at the national average of all students. This is not particularly remarkable unless you realize that students from this demographic group normally performed at the 20th percentile, which is to say, worse than 80% of their peers around the country. Non-disadvantaged children in the program performed even better, and the success of Distar was just as evident with non-native English speakers as with native English speakers. What's more, the benefits that accrued to students from participation in the program continued even after they had returned to regular classrooms. 2, 3 and even 6 years after they had left the Distar Follow Through program, disadvantaged former-participants still performed at a level above the control group of disadvantaged students who had not participated in Follow Through.

While basic skills approaches in general, and Direct Instruction in particular, were coming out at the top of the heap in raising student performance, progressive methods that allowed children to guide their own learning and that focused on self-esteem or higher-order thinking skills received an embarrassing wake-up call. Not only did almost all of these methods fail to improve student performance, they actually caused it to drop relative to the performance of students not participating in Follow Through. Moreover - and this is where the embarrassment comes in - their failure was not restricted to children's academic skills, but extended into the very areas of self-esteem, conceptual skills, and attitude toward learning that they were intended to foster.

More Resources:

Direct Instruction - Wikipedia
National Institute for Direct Instruction
SRA Pre-K to 12 Programmes - there are free sample lessons on the website, here is a video, and here are more materials
The Dirty Little Secret From Biggest Education Study Ever



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