Comments are still coming in on the post on direct instruction (and the Direct Instruction curriculum). For those who want to know more about the curriclum, chapter 5 of The Outrage of Project Follow Through: 5 Million Failed Kids Later is now available online. DI creator Zig Engelmann argues that respected academics suppressed the results of Project Follow Through, a massive federal study, because Engelmann’s Direct Instruction was proven far superior to other programs to improve the achievement of low-income students.
D-Ed Reckoning also quotes from chapter 4, in which Engelmann writes about trying to build reading comprehension in students with very little knowledge or vocabulary. Engelmann gave at-risk high school students in four cities a test with questions like, â€œIn what year did Columbus discover America?â€ and â€œHow many days are in a year?â€
Fewer than 25 percent of the students correctly answered the question about Columbus. (Several responded, â€œ1942.â€) About the same percentage didnâ€™t know the number of days in a year. Their answers ranged from 360 to 12.
Engelmann read students the first paragraph in their 10th grade U.S. history book:
Today, few Americans think of their country as having been a part of a British Colonial empire, but Americaâ€™s colonial history lasted over 150 years, and Britainâ€™s influence upon America was fundamental.
A majority missed each of the following questions:
* The sentence starts with “Today.” Does that mean this day or something that would be true today, tomorrow, and yesterday? The consensus: only today.
* The sentence refers to few Americans. Is that a small number or quite a few? Quite a few.
* The sentence refers to their country. Whatâ€™s the name of their country? Britain.
* The sentence says their country was part of a British Colonial Empire. Which country was part? Britain.
* The sentence says that few Americans think of their country. Whose country was that? Britain. Was a British Colonial empire something owned by England or America? America. (Most students didnâ€™t know that Britain was England and that colonial referred to colonies, or exactly what colonies were.)
Engelmann drew students’ attention to the last part of the sentence, which describes Britain’s influence on America as “fundamental.”
â€œWhat does fundamental mean?â€ Long pause. One hand
â€œWhat does fundamental mean?â€
â€œYou know. Learning fundamental skills.â€
Engelmann redesigned his program to teach skills and information to students, starting with first- and second-grade knowledge for those with the weakest comprehension. He was surprised to find that “a lot of high school students who are considered pretty good students place in the highest level of the decoding sequence and the lowest level of the comprehension sequence.”