Its Contributions to High School Achievement
Martin A. Kozloff
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Director, Millennium Community School
Frances B. Bessellieu
New Hanover County Schools
This paper describes the design principles, instructional practices, and specific curricula of Direct Instruction--one example of focused, systematic, explicit instruction. At a time when public schools are increasingly held accountable for students' achievement and for closing and preventing the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged and white/advantaged students, Direct Instruction provides highly effective programs whose implementation fosters beneficial change in students' engagement and achievement, in teachers' skill at instruction and evaluation, and in the social organization of schools (e.g., strong shared mission and teacher teaming). Information in this paper will assist high school teachers and administrators to: (1) integrate Direct Instruction programs (e.g., in math, science, history, reading, and writing) in high school curricula; (2) use features of Direct Instruction (if not commercial programs) in virtually any high school classes to ensure strong student involvement and content mastery; and (3) make important contributions to district-wide school reform that involves the introduction of Direct Instruction beginning in early elementary grades and continuing through high school.
For several decades the field of education has been strongly influenced by an orientation called constructivism--which includes so-called progressive, child-centered, holistic, and developmentally appropriate philosophies and practices. Constructivist principles inform the curricular and licensure standards promulgated by organizations such as the National Council for Teachers of English, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. In addition, constructivist principles engender and legitimize curricula in reading (e.g., whole language; Goodman, 1986), math (Davis, Maher, & Noddings, 1990), science (Brookes & Brookes, 1996), early childhood education (DeVries & Zan, 1994), and schools of education. However, public schools are increasingly criticized because: (1) a large percentage of students (from elementary schools through high schools) are not proficient in reading, writing, and math; and (2) there are unacceptable discrepancies in achievement between white/affluent students and minority/disadvantaged students. In addition, schools of education are cited for failing to produce teachers skilled at effective instruction in literacy and math (Ingersoll, 1999; National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999).
The critique of public schools and schools of education has led scholars, state legislatures, and consumer groups to examine constructivism itself. Examples of the critique of constructivism can be found in Bianchini, 1997; Chall, 2000; Grossen, 1998; Hirsch, 1996; Johnson and Immerwahr, 1994; Nola, 1997; Ravitch, 2000; Stone, 1996; Suchting, 1992; Zevenbergen, 1996; and Zolkower, 1995). The major criticisms of constructivism include the following.
1. The design principles underlying constructivist "inquiry" curricula and "developmentally appropriate" "best practices" are at odds with the large body of experimental research on learning (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1998; Brophy & Good, 1986; Catania, 1998; Rosenshine, 1986; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986).
2. Constructivist "inquiry" instruction relies heavily on students "discovering" concepts, rules, and cognitive strategies in the absence of carefully tested sequences of instructional units and explicit instruction from teachers; with minimal teacher correction of errors; and without an emphasis on distributed (planned) practice to the point of mastery--to ensure fluency, retention, and independence. Therefore, constructivist "best practices" fail to foster in students strong and broad sets of competencies; favor affluent children entering school well-prepared by literate parents; and (ironically) instead of yielding equality and social justice, exacerbate the unequal distribution of knowledge and life-chances (Delpit, 1988).
3. Constructivist beliefs--that all truth is relative, that knowledge cannot be transmitted, and that students should guide their own education (beliefs whose validation rests on little more than repetition)--lead to social and individual anomie; i.e., the absence of individual and shared standards for reasoning, interpreting, and evaluating (Nola, 1997).
4. Weak skills acquired in early grades result in "cumulative dysfluency" (Binder, 1996). Students not taught to communicate, read, and reason skillfully in elementary school are unable later to learn other subjects (math, science, history) that depend on skillful communication, reading, and reasoning. Therefore, these students enter high school many years below grade level, are a source of discipline problems, and are more likely to drop out of school (Montgomery & Rossi, 1994).
The critique of contemporary education in general and constructivism/progressivism in particular--combined with efforts of state legislatures and consumer groups to hold public schools and schools of education accountable for what students learn and do not learn--appears to have fostered the increasing adoption (in public schools) of focused, explicit, direct forms of instruction validated by extensive field tests, and whose aims are high student involvement and mastery of content. The purpose of this paper is to introduce high school administrators and teachers to the major features of Direct Instruction. This introduction will help high school administrators and teachers to:
1. Increase student proficency with a variety of Direct Instruction programs for initial and remedial instruction in literacy, math, history, and science, and/or by integrating certain features of Direct Instruction in classrooms even when commercial programs are not used.
2 Participate in district wide school reform that involves integration of Direct Instruction beginning in early elementary grades--so that students enter high school well prepared.
The paper is divided into the following sections: (1) a definition of the instructivist approach (which includes Direct Instruction); (2) the mission of instructivist educators; (3) varieties of instructivist education; (4) a discussion of the implications of Direct Instruction for high school teachers and administrators; and (5) correction of myths about Direct Instruction--myths that decrease students' access to effective education.
II. A Definition of the Instructivist Approach in Education
To educate means to lead forth--to bring a person into a culture of ideas (e.g., bodies of knowledge), moral principles, and skills (e.g., reading) so the person may competently participate in and contribute to the culture--and at the same time develop his or her potentials. Systematic education (e.g., schooling) requires a curriculum (a sequence of ideas, moral principles, and skills to teach) and instruction (communication between teachers and students). This raises two questions. What generates and guides the curriculum and instruction? How does one determine how well the curriculum and instruction are educating students (and teachers)? Different approaches are defined by their answers. The instructivist approach draws on two principles and two concepts to answer these questions.
Instructivist Principles: Reality and Knowledge
In contrast to advocates of constructivism (Cobb, Wood, & Yackel, 1990; Noddings, 1990; von Glasersfeld, 1984, 1995), instructivists (Finn & Ravitch, 1996) believe that:
1. There is surely a reality that exists independently of what we may think of it. It is difficult to prove that this proposition is true. However, it is easy to show that any other proposition (e.g., that reality is all an interpretation--all in your head) leads to painful consequences (Peirce, 1877).
2. Our human species has worked for thousands of years to better understand reality, and has organized knowledge into systems called "mathematics," "science," "literature," and "history," among others. The historical role of teachers is to help students acquire this knowledge (and then to generate their own knowledge), in the form of concepts ("knowledge that"), principles or rules ("knowledge why"), cognitive strategies ("knowledge how"), and physical operations ("knowledge how to"). This is best done by teaching with clear and focused knowledge objectives in mind; teaching concepts, principles, strategies, and operations explicitly and systematically; and paying careful and continual attention to students' learning. This brings us to the concepts that guide the instructivist approach.
Instructivist Concepts: Behavior and Learning
Instructivist educators are guided by the concepts behavior and learning. Behavior is anything students do. Generally, behavior that is grist for development in education is behavior that is observable. However, inner behaviors, such as thoughts and feelings, though not directly observable except by the individual, are affected by the same environmental events and arrangements as observable behavior. Therefore, the instructivist approach in education certainly addresses how students: (1) feel (e.g., pleasure at achievement); (2) think (e.g., wonder, plan, decide, solve, mentally rehearse); and (3) act (talk, read, write, discuss). The second main concept is learning. Learning is change in behavior (feeling, thinking, acting) that results from interaction with the environment. Of course, learning is affected by health, sleep, prior learning, and maturation. It is also affected by the nature of the environment; e.g., opportunities to interact with objects and persons.
In light of the concepts behavior and learning, the instructivist approach in education simply means that an educator (college professor, school principal, classroom teacher, student intern):
1. Draws on the enormous literature on how human beings learn, to design curricula and forms of communication (instruction) that are congruent with students' competencies, preferences, needs, and capacities. And
2. Focuses on changes in students' behavior (learning) as a way of keeping track of students' progress and the adequacy of their education.
III. The Mission of Instructivist Educators
The mission of instructivist educators is to create environments with
students that will foster students' (and teachers'): (1) investment in
the educational process; (2) prosocial participation in the class as a
community; (3) conceptual knowledge (e.g., concepts and propositions in
reading, science, social studies, math, and higher-order thinking, or reasoning);
(4) practical knowledge (e.g., cognitive strategies and physical operations
for skillful problem solving); and (5) an increasing ability to direct
their own learning. Instructivist educators believe that virtually all
students can succeed, and when they do not succeed, something is wrong
...we begin with the obvious fact that the children we work with are perfectly capable of learning anything that we can teach... We know that the intellectual crippling of children is caused by faulty instruction--not by faulty children. (Engelmann & Carnine, 1991, p. 376)
From as long ago as the 1950's, instructivist educators have been guided by an ethic of social justice--i.e., equal access of all individuals and groups to effective education and to the opportunities for self-development, jobs, and social contributions that depend on effective education. Instructivist educators were among the first to create programs to improve education for disadvantaged children and their families (Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966); to prevent or replace antisocial behavior in children; to humanize large, custodial training schools that warehoused persons with disabilities; and to develop effective treatments for persons with a variety of illnesses or conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, stroke, and cancer. This early and more recent work is described in Gardner et al. (1994), Ullmann and Krasner (1966), and Ulrich, Stachnick, and Mabry (1970).
Because of its distinctive methods of instruction and effectiveness, instructivist education has been successful where curricula based on other philosophies have failed with challenged individuals. This has led some educators to assume that instructivist education is suitable only for these populations. This unfortunate inference is as illogical as providing supernutritious food only to the most malnourished. In fact, instructivist education is field tested with all sorts of populations, including challenged, average and gifted learners, and is highly effective with all (Gardner et al, 1994).
Finally, instructivist educators feel a moral imperative to design and
participate with students in effective educational environments.
We function as advocates for the children, with the understanding that if we fail the children will be seriously pre-empted from doing things with their lives, such as having career options and achieving some potential values for society. We should respond to inadequate teaching as we would to problems of physical abuse... We should be intolerant because we know what can be accomplished if children are taught appropriately. (Engelmann & Carnine, 1991, p. 376)
IV. Varieties of Instructivist Education
The instructivist approach has three prominent, related, but distinct branches--applied behavior analysis, Precision Teaching, and Direct Instruction. When these are combined, the educational environment gives students the maximum chance of learning all of the curriculum at their own pace, while fostering creativity, community, and independence (Binder & Watkins, 1990).
Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied behavior analysis is not one distinct curriculum (Schloss & Smith, 1998). It is a loosely coupled set of practices derived from decades of experimental research on how environmental events and arrangements affect "operant" learning; i.e., learning in more or less voluntary behavior (Skinner, 1938, 1953). The major contributions of applied behavior analysis include: (1) methods for discovering functional relationships between features of students' environments (e.g., difficulty of tasks, pacing of instruction) and students' participation and achievement; (2) using knowledge of functional relationships to design instruction consistent with students' individual skills, preferences, and requirements; e.g., for less noise or more frequent feedback; and (3) methods for evaluating the adequacy of curriculum and instruction by keeping careful track of each student's (and the whole class's) learning, and revising curriculum and instruction accordingly.
The second branch of the instructivist approach is Precision Teaching. Precision teaching was developed by Ogden Lindsey and his associates, who have kept records on over 500,000 precision teaching programs conducted through the years (Binder, Haughton, & Van Eyk, 1990; Haughton, 1980; Johnson & Layng, 1996; Lindsley, 1993; Potts, Eshleman, & Cooper, 1993). Lindsley based Precision Teaching on Skinner's discovery that the rate of a behavior (the number of occurrences per unit of time) is a dimension of the behavior, and not just a measure of the behavior. This implies that fluent (automatic, effortless, fast, and accurate) behavior differs fundamentally from behavior that is not fluent. Following are features of Precision Teaching.
1. Teachers identify and teach "tool skills" (component skills or knowledge) needed to learn complex (composite) skills and knowledge. For example, (a) skill at listening to a teacher, following her argument and taking notes, combined with (b) fluency with math facts, the concept of ratio, and simple arithmetic operations, facilitate students' learning algebra. When students are not fluent with tool skills (e.g., reading and writing), they are unable to learn complex skills (e.g., comprehending text, solving math problems) in which the tool skills are embedded. In other words, early dysfluencies are compounded. This "cumulative dysfluency" (Binder, 1996) yields low expectations of success, disruptive or withdrawn behavior, diagnosis of learning disability, and/or dropping out (McDermott, 1993; Montgomery & Rossi, 1994). For instructivist educators, this is a failure of instructional design, not of students.
2. Teachers provide carefully planned, short practice sessions on older and new skills to strengthen fluency, retention, and independence. These sessions have the spirit of team (e.g., basketball) practice.
3. Teachers help students assemble component skills into complex activities; for example, using elemental knowledge of biology and experimental procedure to conduct projects.
4. Teachers help students evaluate progress; e.g., counting and charting math problems solved per minute per day, or misspelled words caught and corrected. Counting and charting (as weightlifters count repetitions), enables students to become more independent learners; they know what to look for and how to improve their skills. It is also a powerful source of self-motivation to excel and pride in achievement.
Direct Instruction is a third branch of the instructivist approach. Direct Instruction grew out of the work of Siegfried Englemann, Carl Bereiter, and Wes Becker with disadvantaged children (Becker & Carnine, 1981; Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966). Over the past 30 years, it has been developed for teaching elementary through secondary language, reading, math, history, higher-order thinking (reasoning), writing, science, social studies, and legal concepts (Adams & Engelmann, 1996; Kameenui & Carnine, 1998). The methods and materials have been rigorously tested in numerous experiments and field trials. This field testing of all curricula distinguishes Direct Instruction from other curricula and textbooks, which ordinarily receive no testing before they are adopted by schools and "tested" on children.
Moreover, Direct Instruction was compared with 12 other models of instruction in the largest education evaluation ever conducted, called Follow Through, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by the Stanford Research Institute (Bock, Stebbins, and Proper, 1977; Watkins, 1997). Follow Through ran from 1967 to 1995. In its early years, 75,000 children per year in 120 communities participated. The other models included the Behavior Analysis Model, the Florida Parent Education Model, and several constructivist/progressivist models that were language-oriented, "student-centered," and cognitive-developmental--including the High/Scope cognitive curriculum, the Bank Street College Model, Open Education, Responsive Education, and the Tucson Early Education Model. Scores on the Metropolitan Achievement Test, the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, and the Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Scale, showed that Direct Instruction was superior both to controls schools and to every other model in fostering basic reading and math skills, higher-order cognitive-conceptual skills, and even self-esteem (Adams & Engelmann, 1996; Becker & Carnine, 1981).
Finally, follow-up studies have been conducted with students taught with Direct Instruction. For example, Meyer (1984) followed children (predominantly Black or Hispanic) in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn who had been taught reading and math using Direct Instruction in elementary school. At the end of the 9th grade, these students were still one year ahead of children who had been in control (nonDirect Instruction) schools in reading, and 7 months ahead of control children in math. Similar results were found by Gersten, Keating and Becker (1988). Former Direct Instruction students continued to out-perform children who had received traditional instruction. In addition, in contrast to comparison groups who had not received Direct Instruction in earlier years, former Direct Instruction students have higher rates of graduating high school on time, lower rates of dropping out, and higher rates of applying and being accepted into college (Darch, Gersten, & Taylor, 1987; Meyer, Gersten, & Gutkin, 1983).
The major features of Direct Instruction are as follows (Engelmann & Carnine, 1991; Gersten, Woodward, & Darch, 1986; Stein, Carnine, & Dixon, 1998).
1. A guiding principle of Direct Instruction is that students can learn what the teacher can teach, and that if students aren't learning, the teacher isn't teaching. In other words, neither race, family background, social class, nor other factors are used to explain low achievement. Either the curriculum is ill-designed (which is unlikely because Direct Instruction curricula are extensively field tested); or the teacher is not following the curriculum exactly (generally because she has not received sufficient prior training or is not receiving timely coaching), or the teacher has not adapted the curriculum (e.g., provided extra practice) based on students' needs revealed by periodic curriculum-based measures ("mastery tests").
2. Direct Instruction focuses on cognitive learning--concepts, rules, cognitive strategies, and problem solving. It is not rote learning.
3. Curriculum development involves three analyses: the analysis of knowledge, the analysis of teacher-student communication, and the analysis of (student) behavior.
a. The curriculum developer first analyzes a knowledge system (e.g., mathematics, literacy) into logical classes and relationships.
b. These are transformed into strand sequences representing the major concepts and skills in the knowledge system. For example, literacy strands might be increasingly complex units on decoding, spelling, comprehension, and writing.
c. Each unit of knowledge is transformed into lessons with precise wording of teacher presentations (instructional communication) and specification of examples (e.g., algebra problems that require one vs. another solution strategy), so that communication is logically faultless. This enables students readily to induce ("construct") the proper generalizations and discriminations and correctly use the concepts, propositions, and strategies.
d. The curriculum developer specifies activities (e.g., answers to questions, responses to history texts) that indicate whether students have learned what the teacher was trying to teach.
In summary, Direct Instruction curricula consist of carefully crafted teacher-student communications during exercises (e.g., how to derive the slope of a line) ordered into lessons (e.g., on linear relationships), arranged into skill sequences (e.g., on functions) within levels (e.g., Algebra I).
4. The aim of instruction on any lesson is mastery. Every student should be able to perform the skill independently and without mistakes--firm and fluent. Direct Instruction teaches concepts, rules, strategies, and operations to greater mastery than typically is the case. As Binder points out:
(E)ducational programs will be more effective in the long run if they produce a more focused, but truly mastered, repertoire rather than a broad but fragile repertoire. The latter might be said to characterize the usual educational approach in America, which introduces but never ensures mastery of a broad range of skills and knowledge. (Binder, 1996, p. 179)
Therefore, Direct Instruction curricula are organized around big ideas (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998).
Big ideas are those concepts, principles, or heuristics that facilitate the most efficient and broadest acquisition of knowledge. They are the keys that unlock a content area for a broad range of diverse learners... (S)tudents, from the brightest to the most challenged, are likely to benefit from thorough knowledge of the most important aspects of a given content area. (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998: p. 8)
For example, big ideas in a Direct Instruction science curriculum might include "the nature of science, energy transformations, forces of nature, flow of matter and energy in ecosystems, and the interdependence of life" (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998, p. 119). These concepts "are essential in building a level of scientific literacy among all students that is necessary for understanding and problem-solving within the natural and created world" (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998, pp. 121-122). In addition, big ideas provide for the generalization of knowledge to other areas, and serve as a context of prior knowledge to which students can assimilate new learning.
5. Concepts, rules, and cognitive strategies are not taught in isolation from each other. Instead, instruction involves strategic integration (Kameenui & Carenine, 1998) within and across subjects. For example, the concepts density, heat, and pressure overlap in a science curriculum. Instruction on each concept is part of a strand leading to a larger concept (e.g., convection cell) that integrates the strands. As a big idea, convection is illustrated with air circulating in a room, liquid boiling in a pot, and mantle, ocean, and ocean-land convection (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998, p. 121). In other words, the aim is to help students acquire knowledge that is rich in detail, integrated (e.g., synthesizing math, science, writing and reasoning), and generative of new questions and activities.
6. Brief (5 minute) placement tests are given for most Direct Instruction curricula to ensure that each student begins at the level and lessons for which he or she is prepared. This means that students are immediately able to learn very quickly what the teacher is teaching, and therefore learn more in less time. For example, high school students who have had prior years of ineffective reading instruction might begin the Corrective Reading curriculum on level A, where they are taught elemental strategies for decoding words. Other remedial reading students might be placed on more advanced levels of Corrective Reading, where they would be learning strategies for analyzing different forms of text.
7. The teacher closely monitors and coaches students' learning during lessons and when students are working independently or in groups. The point is to make sure students are getting the concepts, rules, cognitive strategies, and physical routines being taught. This can be done only if the teacher closely supervises and works with students.
8. Generally, students are taught in small groups of about eight to twelve so that the teacher can more easily monitor progress and provide individual help. Students in a group are equally prepared for the beginning lesson and have the same degree of need for teacher guidance. It's important to emphasize that these temporary skill groups are not tracks. Temporary skill grouping is in stark contrast to the "invisible tracking" that occurs despite teachers' apparent commitment to egalitarianism. Invisible tracking is the systematic, differential treatment of students in the usual "mixed-ability groups," in which teachers pay more instructional attention and give more approval to higher performing students, which leads to the self-fulfilling prophesy of achievement for a few students and underachievement for the many (Grossen, 1996). Direct Instruction confronts head-on the fact of real differences in students' background preparation and the right of all students to achieve. It does this by providing instruction tailored to the identified strengths and needs of the students, as determined by short placement exams. Therefore, all students have a maximum chance of learning all the material. All can succeed. Moreover, skill groupings are frequently re-evaluated. The continuous data yielded by Direct Instruction lessons and mastery tests enable teachers to alter group membership; e.g., to move some students to a faster group.
9. Lessons move at a brisk pace. This sustains attention and results in a high rate of learning opportunities--15 per minute is common.
10. Instruction is organized in a logical-developmental sequence. All the concepts, rules, strategies, and operations that students need in any lesson have already been taught. In addition, what students learn in any lesson is used in later lessons. There is no inert knowledge.
11. Lessons are scripted in the sense that the teacher knows exactly what to say to provide faultless communication, and what to ask that enables students to reveal their understanding and/or the help they need. Scripts (which teachers in time generally memorize) ensure that teachers present exercises in the most logical-developmental order and use the exact wording that most clearly communicates the knowledge task at hand.
12. The strategy the teacher uses to help students get concepts or solve problems (e.g., to conjugate French verbs) is at first explicit, or conspicuous. For example, the teacher states the steps and the rules she is using at the same time she demonstrates how to find the first differential in a calculus class. After another teacher demonstration, students are closer to solving the problem on their own; they are internalizing the explicitly presented cognitive strategy. In other words, Direct Instruction teaches students to use higher-order thinking.
13. Lessons are about 30-45 minutes long. Each lesson consists of short exercises from different strands. For example, an early lesson from the Corrective Reading curriculum might have three minutes (one exercise) on pronouncing new sounds; another three minutes on reading new sounds; another five minutes on reading words "the slow way"--sounding out; another five minutes on reading old words "the fast way"--blending; and five minutes of review.
The teacher-directed (verbal) part of a lesson (e.g., on multiplying parentheses in algebra) might be followed by independent and small group activity (e.g., cooperative groups or students working in pairs) to give students practice and to generalize skills to new problems. Exercises in subsequent lessons address many of the same strands but add more concepts or address harder problems or examples. This organization of strands and lessons in a logical-developmental sequence holds attention and helps students retain knowledge from one day, week, and month to the next.
14. The group and each student is always "firm" on one exercise (for example, calculating the slope of a line with the teacher) before the teacher moves to the next exercise (e.g., students calculate the slope of the same line independently). This ensures that students master more complex materials presented later, because they are firm on the concepts and rules needed to understand the teacher's subsequent communication.
Teachers are alert to mistakes and teach students immediately to identify and correct them. This is because uncorrected errors will be learned, which makes it harder and harder for students to learn new material and requires much time to remedy later. However, helping students to correct errors does not make students dependent on the teacher. In fact, correction procedures teach students to observe and improve their own behavior. This builds patience, persistence, and confidence. "If you try hard, you get it."
15. Teacher-student communication has a common format from lesson to lesson. Therefore, students need to attend only to the content of the communication, and do not have to figure out how the teacher is communicating. The general format is Model-Lead-Test-Delayed test:
a. Model: For example, in an algebra class the teacher says, "I'll show you how to use the FOIL strategy to multiply (x + y)(a - b). First, I multiply x and a, to get ax. Outside, I multiply x and -b to get -bx. Inside, I multiply a and y to get ay..."
b. Lead: This step is guided practice; teacher and students work the same problem together. For example, the teacher says, "Okay, let's use the FOIL strategy together. Get ready. First we..." This step is repeated once more if needed until all students are firm.
c. Test: Students now do the exercise on their own. "Your turn to use FOIL. Get ready..." Once students are firm with the first problem, the teacher adds a second and third, gradually fading out the model and the lead steps as students become more skillful.
d. Delayed test: The teacher provides many opportunities later in the lesson and in subsequent lessons to give extra practice and to assess mastery. If she discovers errors of definitions, rules, or strategies, these are, again, corrected immediately. Repeated errors of the same kind suggest that students were not prepared for the new material and/or that instruction must be adapted to meet individual or group needs (e.g., certain steps of a strategy may have to be taught in smaller steps).
Following is a portion of a script from lesson 45, level C of the remedial reading curriculum Corrective Reading (described in the next section). The exercise is on relevant vs. irrelevant evidence, which is part of the strand on deductive reasoning, which is part of the large objective of teaching students to analyze and evaluate arguments in a variety of materials. Students' answers are in italics. Note that: (1) this exercise builds on many earlier exercises (e.g., students have already learned about premisses and conclusions); (2) the evidence-testing strategy is taught explicitly (the students do not have to try to "construct" how to do it; they are taught how to do it); (3) the teacher first models the strategy; (4) the teacher "tests" whether she has in fact taught the rules and strategy; and (5) the teacher provides sufficient practice until students are firm--can do the strategy independently and without errors. The teacher says,
When we draw a conclusion from a rule, we start with the rule. Then we add some other evidence. Here's a rule. The more you exercise, the healthier you are. Here's some additional evidence. Sharon exercises more than she did a year ago. What's the conclusion? Say it.
Sharon is healthier.
Sometimes, we can't draw a conclusion from a rule. This happens when the additional evidence is irrelevant. Here's a rule: The more you exercise, the healthier you are. Here's the additional evidence: Olivia takes a lot of vitamins. What's the conclusion? There is none. We can't draw a conclusion because the additional evidence is irrelevant to the rule.
Here's another rule: The more you drive, the more you pollute the air. Tell if each piece of evidence is relevant or irrelevant to the rule. Remember, if it is irrelevant, we can't draw a conclusion. Here are the pieces of evidence:
1. This year's cars are more expensive than last year's. Is this evidence relevant or irrelevant? What's the answer?
So what's the conclusion? Say it.
There is none.
2. Carla uses the family car twice as much as Amanda does.
Is this evidence relevant or irrelevant? What's the answer?
So, what's the conclusion? Say it.
Carla pollutes the air more.
3. Now that Frieda has a bike, she doesn't drive as much as she used
Is this evidence relevant or irrelevant? What's the answer?
So, what's the conclusion? Say it.
Frieda doesn't pollute the air as much.
4. Many English words have roots that are thousands of years old.
Is this evidence relevant or irrelevant? What's the answer?
So, what's the conclusion? Say it.
There is none.
This exercise (and others) prepares students for later lessons in which students learn to analyze the logical adequacy of complex arguments.
16. The general format of the highly focused portion of lessons is model-lead-test-delayed test. However, there are specific formats for teaching each form of knowledge; i.e., concepts, rules, cognitive strategies, and physical operations (routines).
a. Concepts (e.g., granite, in an earth science course) are taught by providing students with a definition, which students learn via model- lead-test-delayed test. "Granite is an igneous rock consisting of quartz, feldspar, and mica....Say that definition with me....Great! Your turn to say the definition of granite..."
Then the teacher carefully juxtaposes examples and nonexamples of granite, and labels each one, reminding students of the definition.
Finally, the teacher helps students to apply the definition by presenting examples and nonexamples of a concept; asking students to label each item; and then asking students to state their reason. "Is this granite?... How do you know?" It is essential that the teacher juxtapose some examples that appear very different, but still share the defining features of the concept (e.g., red vs. gray granite), so that students learn to see "sameness" (quartz, mica, and feldspar). In addition, the teacher juxtaposes examples that appear to be the same, but have features that require categorizing differently, so that students learn "difference."
b. Propositions, or rules, are taught be telling students the rule ("When pressure increases, temperature increases."); teaching students to say the rule; and then teaching students to apply the rule to examples. "So, if pressure is 150 pounds per square inch, and temperature is 120 degrees, and pressure is increased to 190 pounds per square inch, what will happen to temperature?...It will increase...How do you know? (Students give the rule.)
c. Cognitive strategies and physical operations are taught by having students enact the steps in a sequence (e.g., calculating the first derivative) at the same time the teacher states the rules that govern actions in the steps. If a task is short enough, the whole routine would be taught at one time. If the task is lengthy, the teacher might teach the central step first, and then add the remaining steps.
17. Teachers provide timely and genuine praise for new learning, for reading and solving problems without errors, and for persistence. Following are examples from Becker, Engelmann, and Thomas (1971).
a. (To the group, while a student is trying) "Gill is working hard. Just watch. He's going to figure it out. If you work hard, you'll get it."
b. (To the group, while a student is trying) "Betty will learn this. It is tough, but she's a smart person." (Later, as Betty continues working) "She's working hard. She's going to show you."
c. (To the group, when the student has gotten it) "What did I tell you? She kept working hard and she got it. She knows that if you work hard you'll get it."
18. Gradually, the teacher moves from a teacher-guided to a more student-guided format. This is called mediated scaffolding (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998). The move from more to less scaffolding is accomplished by first ensuring student mastery of the knowledge tasks at hand; teaching students problem-solving strategies; fading assistance; and introducing more complex contexts (which helps students distinguish between essential and inessential details) (Becker & Carnine, 1981). In other words, Direct Instruction fosters independence and retention.
19. Short proficiency (mastery) tests are used periodically (e.g., about every ten lessons) to ensure that all students have mastered the material and to determine which concepts, rules, or cognitive strategies require additional instruction. This helps to sustain the quality of teachers' instruction and students' education; it prevents the drift towards mediocrity or failure.
20. A school that uses Direct Instruction does not use it all day. Rather, Direct Instruction would most likely be for 30-45 minutes at the beginning of some class periods, to review previous concepts and to give instruction that builds on previous learning. The rest of a class period would be individual or small group work to practice, generalize, or adapt what was learned. For example, a class period might begin with Direct Instruction on atmospheric convection. This might be followed by students searching the internet for websites with data on weather patterns illustrating convection. This might be followed by students' writing papers (stretched over a week or so) that describe their computer search. In writing papers, students use big ideas and strategies learned in earlier classes on spelling, reasoning, and writing (strategic integration). The essential thing is that students get the main concepts, principles, strategies, and operations before they are asked to use them in complex tasks.
In summary, Direct Instruction has nothing to do with training meaningless bits of behavior or training students to be compliant. Indeed, the conversational format of Direct Instruction approximates a Socratic dialogue with students learning both the subject matter and the rules of the dialogue (reasoning). It is a sophisticated way of: (1) determining what students need to succeed with meaningful material; (2) arranging the learning environment so students receive what they need; and (3) helping teachers and students keep track of progress and difficulties so curriculum and instruction can be improved (accountability). Section V shows suggests some of the implications of Direct Instruction for high school teachers, supervisors, and administrators.
V. Some Implications of Direct Instruction for High Schools
There are three major implications of Direct Instruction for high school teachers, supervisors, and administrators. These are: (1) using Direct Instruction curricula either for initial instruction or remedial instruction in various subjects; (2) using the main features of Direct Instruction to organize and improve classroom instruction even if commerical Direct Instruction curricula are not used; and (3) knowing enough about Direct Instruction to initiate (if needed) and to play a guiding role in district-wide school reform that involves the implementation of Direct Instruction (or other focused) curricula.
High School Level Direct Instruction Curricula
A number of extensively field tested and highly effective Direct Instruction curricula are available for initial teaching and remedial teaching in high school content areas.
Initial Teaching Curricula. Following are Direct Instruction curricula for teaching students who do not require remediation or who are not in an at-risk status.
1. Understanding U.S. History I and II. (Carnine, et al., 1994). This field tested program teaches students a general strategy for analyzing historical events, processes, and periods--Problem-Solution-Effect. The strategy is then applied to U.S. history using original materials. The program contains concept maps and interspersed questions (to foster higher-order thinking) and a variety of writing projects.
2. Expressive Writing (Engelmann & Silbert, 1983). This curriculum teaches the elements of composing and writing (punctuation, sentence and paragraph construction, quotations, editing), and for writing and editing in different formats.
3. Basic Writing Skills (Gleason & Stults, 1983). This curriculum addresses elemental rules for composing sentences and paragraphs, and more advanced strategies for writing papers.
4. A Mathematics Series, on videodisc, for teaching geometry, equations, roots, exponents, graphs, and statistics (BFA Education Media, 1991)
5. Understanding Chemistry and Energy (BFA Educational Media, 1991). This videodisc program focuses on atomic and molecular structure, energy forms, organic compounds, energy activiation and catalysis.
6. Earth Science (BFA Education Associates, 1991). This videodisc program explores phases of matter, density and mass, and geologic processes.
7. Advanced Skills for School Success (Archer, 1992). This program teaches students to plan objectives, budget time, evaluate progress, and solve problems.
Remedial Teaching Curricula. Several Direct Instruction curricula are useful for students entering high school unprepared for the difficult work or who later reveal learning difficulties in a particular area. These remedial curricula are as follows.
1. Corrective Reading. The Corrective Reading program (Engelmann et al., 1998) is for students who have not learned to read proficiently and do not learn well on their own. This fast-paced program allows students to work in a comprehension strand, a decoding strand, or both. Each of these strands has four levels--A, B1, B2, and C. The Decoding strand progresses from teaching letter sounds and blending skills to reading expository passages characteristic of textbook material. The Comprehension strand helps develop reasoning strategies used by successful readers; e.g., applying prior knowledge, making inferences, and analyzing evidence. Both strands include teacher presentation books, teacher guides, student books, and workbooks. Ongoing assessment is built into the program to provide immediate feedback. Corrective Reading is also an excellent program for students with learning disabilities.
2. Corrective Spelling Through Morphographs (Dixon & Engelmann, 1979). This program teaches a variety of morphographs (e.g., prefixes, suffixes, and word bases) and rules for combining them into general strategies for students to use with thousands of words--familiar and unfamiliar.
3. Corrective Mathematics (Engelmann & Steely, 1997). This curriculum contains placement tests that identify students' needs precisely, and then materials for instruction on basic operations, fractions, decimals, percents, and equations.
4. Rewards: Reading Excellence, Word Attack, and Rate Development Strategies (Archer, Gleason, & Vachon, 2000). This program teaches multi-syllabic decoding strategies and vocabulary to mastery in a short time (20 lessons). It also contains correlated literature in history and science to foster fluency and generalization. It is an excellent program for use in classs, after school, or in summer programs.
Using Some of the Main Features of Direct Instruction to Organize and Improve Classroom Instruction
When schools do not use commercial Direct Instruction programs, teachers
can still increase student
involvement and achievement by employing some of the main features of Direct Instruction. These features include the following.
1. The curriculum for a course is logically coherent and explicit. It is important for teachers to examine their state standard course of study, textbooks, their own subject matter knowledge, and resource materials, and then to create a concept/proposition map that depicts logical and sequential relationships among the knowledge units to be covered. These maps (provided to students and demonstrably followed by the class) are a visual support during instruction (e.g., showing how the study of cell division is logically part of the study of life cycles); a framework for assessment (e.g., whether the class has mastered the entire knowledge system on the map); and a source of motivation to learn the later units (Vitale & Romance, 1999).
2. Daily lessons are a sequence of short, quick-paced exercises; e.g., (a) review of items from previous days to ensure students are firm before adding new examples; (b) work on new material from an earlier curriculum strand (e.g., vocabulary regarding historical events); (c) work on new material from another earlier curriculum strand (e.g., further examination of documents from an historical period); (d) independent, peer, or cooperative activities to practice vocabulary, solve problems, or write papers; (e) review of the day's lesson. In other words, a teacher rarely lectures (with students in a passive role). Instead, new material is virtually always worked on in a highly interactive format.
3. Teacher and students have clear and explictly stated knowledge objectives for every exercise. "Now I'll show you how to find the missing premiss in a syllogism." "Our goal is five or less errors reading this story passage" (review). Objectives are defined by what students will be able to do.
4. Teacher wording is unambiguous and focuses precisely on the point to be made. New words, concepts, and rules are taught before students need to know them understand the teacher's communication.
5. The most general and generalizable problem solving strategies are taught.
6. The teacher's models or demonstrations make explicit the definitions, rules, and strategies he or she is using. Students' knowledge of these is "tested," practiced, and firmed by the teacher, who frequently follows students' answers with the question, "How do you know?" If students have not gotten the rule or definition, the teacher uses the common error correct format: model-test-retest. The example, below, is from lesson 53 of Corrective Reading Level C. Student responses are in italics. The teacher says,
Here's an argument. Senator Flopp was convicted on criminal charges
both before and after he was in the Senate. There can be no question
about the character of people in the Senate.
The argument concludes something about all the people in the Senate. What is that conclusion?
They're all criminals.
The conclusion is based on information about part of the people in the Senate. Which part is that?
Say the rule the argument breaks. (Taught in an earlier lesson)
I (can't remember, forgot, don't know).
(Error correction) The rule is, just because you know about a part doesn't mean you know about the whole thing. (Model)
Say the rule the argument breaks. Say it. (Test)
Just because you know about a part doesn't mean you know about the whole thing.
Excellent. The conclusion was that all senators are criminals.
Say the rule the argument breaks." (Re-test)
Just because you know about a part doesn't mean you know about the whole thing.
Great job saying that rule!
7. Examples are selected and juxtaposed to reveal sameness ("These look different, but they are all examples of democracy.") and difference ("These problems look the same, but they require different strategies."). The teacher makes sure that students identify the essential features that make sameness and difference.
8. Student are firm on an exercise before going on to next exercises. Firmness is checked by questions and problems addressed to the whole group and to individuals. These "tests" enable teachers to determine whether the class is moving too quickly or to slowly, whether re-teaching is needed, and whether certain students need extra and/or more individualized assistance.
9. As said, every error is corrected immediately--generally with the model-test-retest format. The teacher might back up a few steps in strategy instruction or back up a few words (e.g., in translating word lists), and then repeat the sequence (including the previous error spot) to ensure that students are firm. Chronic errors suggest the need for re-teaching.
10. Initial instruction (e.g., exercises spread over several lessons until students are firm on a cognitive strategy for finding the slope of a straight line) is highly structured and teacher directed, and generally uses the model-lead-test-delayed test format. Later ("expanded") instruction, as students master a knowledge unit, is less structured and more student directed; e.g., projects to foster generalization and synthesis from different curricular strands. Note: at this point Direct instruction "expansion" activities resemble constructivist "inquiry" methods. The difference is that Direct Instruction first ensures that students are firm on background knowledge needed to inquire effectively.
Direct Instruction and District-wide School Reform
Using Direct Instruction programs and/or teaching methods will increase the effectiveness of high school instruction--and therefore student engagement and achievement. However, it will not affect the rate at which ill-prepared students enter high school. For this, there must be district-wide curriculum reform beginning in kindergarten--or even pre-kindergarten, to prepare children from disadvantaged homes (Hart & Risley, 1994). The following information and suggestions are offered so that high school administrators and teachers can initiate and/or participate effectively in district-wide reform involving the integration of Direct Instruction or other forms of focused instruction.
The Benefits of District-wide Reform Plans. In contrast to piece-meal changes in curriculum and instruction, district-wide planning can: (1) provide for the coherent and cumulative development of students' knowledge from grade to grade; (2) ease students' transition from elementary, to middle, to high school; (3) assist in planning and coordinating student assessment and teacher training; (4) facilitate communication across grade levels; (5) help to align a district's curriculum with a state's standard course of study; and (6) increase the likelihood that students will pass "gateway" examinations required for entry to the next grade levels or for graduation.
Common Mission. A shared mission is likely to facilitate the development and implementation of district-wide reform plans. An example of a district's mission might be as follows.
1. To raise the achievement of all children.
2. Especially to raise the achievement of minority and economically disadvantaged children.
3. To intervene early and proactively with powerful curricula in language and school skills for children in pre-k and grade 1 at risk of failure academically and behaviorally.
4. To increase teachers' skills in instruction, evaluation, collaboration, and school reform.
It is hard to imagine that there would be much disagreement in a district over these aims.
Direct Instruction Programs in Elementary Grades. Four powerful Direct Instruction programs that can be integrated with other programs in elementary school are Language for Learning, Reading Mastery, Connecting Math Concepts, and Corrective Reading. All have been extensively field tested and revised, and are published by SRA/Mc-Graw Hill.
1. Language for Learning is for grades pre-k-2. This curriculum teaches concepts, language rules, forms of communication, and classroom skills needed for oral and written expression, and participation in school activities. It can be used as part of a regular pre-school or kindergarten curriculum; to give a head start to children developmentally delayed or at-risk; or for children in first or second grade who have not yet acquired essential language and social skills.
2. Reading Mastery is a complete program, integrating decoding and comprehension, for students in grades k or 1-6. Complex skills are taught in sequences of sub-skills learned to 100% mastery. Lessons (taught in small groups) involve brisk pace, a high rate of student opportunities to respond, group and individual turns, and immediate error correction to prevent students developing gaps in knowledge. Student books contain fiction (classical and modern), history, poetry, geography, meterology, and oceanography. Generally, students complete six years of reading instruction in five years.
3. Connecting Math Concepts is a six-level program (generally grades 1-6) organized around big ideas, that covers basic math concepts, rules, and operations; fractions, ratios, and proportions; probability; coordinate systems and functions; and data analysis.
4. Corrective Reading (described in an earlier section) is an effective and relatively inexpensive remedial reading program that can be used beginning in grade 3 to ensure than children at least one grade behind in reading will be proficient before entering middle school.
Some Guidelines for Reform. School reform can be threatening. Teachers and principals may feel coerced to use new methods, concerned that they will lose their jobs, and overly stressed by the rapidity of change. The following suggestions may reduce the stress of school reform.
1. New curricula (e.g., Direct Instruction Reading Mastery, Language for Learning, or Corrective Reading), are not presented as replacing existing curricula and materials (e.g., Houghton Mifflin, Accelerated Reader, or whole language activities). Instead, principals and teachers examine (a) school-level achievement; (b) achievement by subgroups; and (c) achievement by individual students, and then decide how different curricula contribute to student success. For example, 30-45 minutes a day of Direct Instruction in language and reading is seen as providing focused instruction that complements other activities, so that all children master essential skills.
2. Curricular change must be driven by data. Data are of two sorts:
a. Achievement data (e.g., state end-of-grade tests) suggesting that the existing mix of curricula in a school (e.g., in math and reading) do not appear effective in helping all students master all the skills (e.g., as specified by the state standard course of study).
b. The research base for a new candidate curriculum (e.g., Direct Instruction) provides strong evidence that the candidate curriculum is effective in fostering student achievement, is developmentally appropropriate, and complements existing curricula.
3. Principals and teachers, meeting within schools and across school levels, themselves decide to adopt new curricula based on their own rational decision-making process and in light of the disctrict's mission and the data.
4. Changes in curricula and in school organization (e.g., within-school coaching and supervision) are best made at a comfortable pace that allows next steps to be planned on the basis of evaluation of the last step. For example, a high school might want to pilot test Corrective Reading in a few classes before deciding to use it school-wide.
5. It is a good idea to have one or more persons in each school serve as the curriculum coordinator of new programs (e.g., Reading Mastery) because successful implementation involves several integrated tasks--placement testing, cross-class and cross-grade grouping, ordering materials, providing initial training and ongoing supervision and coaching.
6. The district should have a plan for ongoing evaluation of the implementation of the school reform plans (e.g., faithfulness of implementation), summative (e.g., end-of-year) evaluation that includes teachers' and principals perceptions as well as achievement data, and decision rules about actions to take in light of the data.
The next section examines and corrects several myths about the instructivist approach in general and Direct Instruction in particular.
VI. Correcting Negative Myths About Direct Instruction
There are several myths about Direct Instruction. These myths are easy to correct by: (1) reading books and articles that report research on Direct Instruction; and( 2) visiting schools and classrooms where Direct Instruction is used. Important authors include Adams and Engelmann (1996); Engelmann and Carnine (1991); and Stein, Silbert and Carnine (1997). Important journals are The Behavior Analyst, Effective School Practices, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Journal of Precision Teaching. Let us now examine and correct various myths.
"Direct Instruction Reduces Students to Stimulus-Response Relationships."
The few technical terms in Direct Instruction ("signals," "firming," "error correction") lead some persons to believe that Direct Instruction teachers and curriculum developers regard students as akin to pigeons and rats trained by experimental psychologists. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of technical terms (words with precise meaning) is to enable teachers to communicate effectively. The word "signal," for example, directs attention to events that come before students' actions. Therefore, if one teacher says, "I think my signals are ambiguous," the other teacher knows what to look for.
Second, technical terms themselves do not depersonalize. Direct Instruction teachers know that a few words do not capture all there is to a person. The words merely point to certain aspects of the environment and students' actions. This is the same as in medicine, where physicians speak of cells, tissues, organs, symptoms, and illnesses. This does not mean physicians see clients as nothing more. If a physican sees her clients that way, it suggests she is inclined to do so; the terms do not make her do so.
Finally, consider the words pistel, petiole, and petal to describe a rose. The words do not make a rose ugly, or reduce it to nothing but parts. In fact, these concepts make the flower more wondrous by drawing attention to how it is beautiful and how it works. Likewise, the terms "component skills," "response adduction" (bringing together) and "composite skill" do not degrade children; the concepts make it possible to see how amazing it all is.
"Direct Instruction Destroys Creativity By 'Drill and Kill' Teaching."
Direct Instruction teachers and curriculum developers are more disgusted than other persons by mindless drill. However, they do not throw out useful practice. The creative, skillful and life-long art of dancers, martial artists, painters, writers, musicians, good cooks, and athletes show the necessity of practice, practice, and more practice for accuracy, fluency, endurance, momentum, retention, and maintenance (i.e., independence). Instead of "drill and kill," Direct Instruction employs "perfect practice"--practice carefully scheduled to help students "iron out the bugs," discover and improve gaps in skill or knowledge, and foster fluency.
"Direct Instruction Scripted Presentations Dehumanize Teachers."
Some teachers may not like certain features of Direct Instruction; e.g., brisk pacing, close attention to students' learning, error correction, and scripted presentations. However, it is an exaggeration to call these dehumanizing. It is doubtful that actors are dehumanized by saying the lines Shakespeare wrote (because the lines are beautiful), that chess players feel dehumanized by moving pieces according to rules, or that dancers feel dehumanized by performing moves scripted by a choreographer. Indeed, a careful reading of Direct Instruction teacher presentations reveals the genius and logical elegance in the wording and in the sequencing of concepts. Moreover, as with dancers, painters, poets, athletes, surgeons, and anyone following a protocol, individuality is manifested in personal style and competence.
In addition, as teachers learn the formats, the formats become invisible. The teacher "owns" what she says, just as actors live their parts. The teacher expresses individuality and creativity in how she arranges practice sessions, modifies lessons, and creates projects for students' independent and small group activity (Adams & Engelmann, 1996). Finally, because the most focused portion of lessons is prepared (is in the script) teachers do not have to spend valuable time creating lesson plans. Instead, they can devote that time to preparing "expansion" (more student-directed) activities, and adapting instruction for students having a harder time.
"Direct Instruction is All Teacher Centered."
Teachers are more directive during the early phase when students are trying to get the concepts, rules, strategies, and operations. However, as students' skills increase (e.g., graphing data and interpreting the slope of a line), students work on less structured activities to generalize and adapt knowledge to practical problems (e.g., graphing data on water pollution). At this point, the teacher gives help ("direction") as needed.
"Direct Instruction Only Teaches Rote Responses or Basic Skills and Knowledge."
This statement reflects a misunderstanding of skillful activity and Direct Instruction. The dichotomy between "lower-order" behavior (memorization [rote] and basic concepts) and "higher-order" behavior (problem solving, reflection) is misleading. All human activity involves both kinds of behavior. During a chemistry experiment, for example, students assemble the apparatus (rote), label chemicals (rote), solve equations (higher-order), and inspect their work (higher-order). Second, aside from introductory lessons on reading sounds or on math facts, virtually all of Direct Instruction on reading, reasoning, writing, science, history, and math is higher-order thinking--classifying, inducing rules, making inferences, testing generalizations, analyzing arguments, and solving problems.
This paper examined the main features and outcomes of Direct Instruction. It argued that Direct Instruction's design features and programs are consistent with the research on learning, are highly effective, and will enable high school teachers and administrators to meet the challenges of increasing school accountability. Finally, the paper describes Direct Instruction programs and methods that are relevant to initital and remedial high school instruction, and it suggests things to consider when high school teachers and administrators are involved in district-wide reform.
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