‘Clear Teaching’ with Direct Instruction

Shep Barbash explains how Direct Instruction works in Clear Teaching (pdf). The short book looks at Zig Engelmann’s development of DI, its “transformative” success with disadvantaged students and its rejection by the education establishment, despite research showing DI’s effectiveness.

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  1. Any program built on placement tests, rules for behavior, drill and practice, scripted lessons, rewards and summative assessment, to name a few, should be dismissed. The research is outdated and flawed — most of it done by Engelmann himself, and he’s never even been a teacher in the K-12 world.

    Of course, no one dares take his ridiculous 100K challenge, because it’s so easy to manipulate. I can get my students to show monumental leaps in any area we study, if I create the testing instrument and teach to it. This is exactly what is wrong with education today, and DI only makes it worse. Teachers are so busy running the traditional script day after day — DI, worksheets, rewards, punishments, homework and tests — that real teaching and learning is rarely done.

    Legitimate transformation in the classroom involves eliminating everything that people like Engelmann are selling. We need to replace all of this with student-centered environments that provide autonomy, collaboration, project-based instruction and meaningful narrative feedback, instead of number and letter grades.

    There’s plenty of legitimate research to support these things done by recognized leaders in the K-12 world — Stephen Krashen, Nancie Atwell, Alfie Kohn, Angela Maiers and Mark Forget, to name a few.

    • Mark appears to have dismissed DI for ideological reasons rather than through examining the evidence. Fortunately education is moving in the direction of evidence-based practice, but as Mark’s comments exemplify there remains a long way to go.

      Reviews and evidence supporting Direct Instruction programs?

      How does one make judgements about which literacy programs/approaches deserve respect and implementation? One can go to the primary sources (original research), though this may be very time-consuming, or one may feel unable to critically evaluate research merit. An alternative is to examine reviews and the findings by respected sources.

      One focus involves whether particular programs incorporate the components considered crucial by relevant authorities. That is, is the approach in question theoretically plausible? Does it have the recommended elements to enable it to succeed?

      How does Direct Instruction stack up theoretically?
      The National Reading Panel (2000) issued a now famous report consequent upon a Congressional mandate to identify skills and methods crucial in reading development. The Panel reviewed more than 100,000 studies focusing on the K-3 research in reading instruction to identify which elements lead to reading success.

      From a theoretical perspective, each of the National Reading Panel (2000) recommended foci for reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension) is clearly set out and taught in Direct Instruction literacy programs. An examination of the program teaching sequences in, for example, the Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading texts attests to their comprehensive nature.

      However, these necessary elements are only the ingredients for success. Having all the right culinary ingredients doesn’t guarantee a perfect soufflé. There are other issues, such as what proportion of each ingredient is optimal, when should they be added, how much stirring, heating, cooling is necessary? Getting any of these requirements wrong leads to sub-optimal outcomes.

      So, it is with literacy programs. “Yet there is a big difference between a program based on such elements and a program that has itself been compared with matched or randomly assigned control groups” (Slavin, 2003). Just because a program has all the elements doesn’t mean that it will be effective necessarily. Engelmann (2003) points to the logical error of inferring a whole based upon the presence of some or all of its elements. If a dog is a Dalmatian, it has spots. Therefore, if a dog has spots, it is a Dalmatian (Engelmann, 2003). In this simile, the Dalmatian represents programs known to be effective with students. It is possible to analyse these programs, determine their characteristics, and then assume incorrectly that the mere presence of those characteristics is sufficient to ensure effectiveness. Engelmann is thus critical of merely “research-based” programs, that is, programs constructed only to ensure each respected component is somewhere represented. He points out that this does not guarantee effectiveness.

      So for a true measure, we must look also for empirical studies to show that a particular combination of theoretically important elements is indeed effective.

      The vital question then becomes: Has a particular program demonstrated replicated effectiveness? For what populations?

      Hattie examines meta-analyses of research studies relating to student achievement, and concludes that Direct Instruction is highly effective. No other curricular program showed such consistently strong effects with students of different ability levels, of different ages, and with different subject matters. …

      “One of the common criticisms is that Direct Instruction works with very low-level or specific skills, and with lower ability and the youngest students. These are not the findings from the meta-analyses. The effects of Direct Instruction are similar for regular (d=0.99), and special education and lower ability students (d=0.86), higher for reading (d=0.89) than for mathematics (d=0.50), similar for the more low-level word attack (d=0.64) and also for high-level comprehension (d=0.54), and similar for elementary and high school students .The messages of these meta-analyses on Direction Instruction underline the power of stating the learning intentions and success criteria, and then engaging students in moving towards these. The teacher needs to invite the students to learn, provide much deliberative practice and modeling, and provide appropriate feedback and multiple opportunities to learn. Students need opportunities for independent practice, and then there need to be opportunities to learn the skill or knowledge implicit in the learning intention in contexts other than those directly taught” (pp. 206-7).
      Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York: Routledge.
      Corrective Reading, a remedial small group form of Direct Instruction, has strong evidence of effectiveness (Slavin, 2009, Best Evidence Encyclopedia)
      Slavin, R.E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. (2009, June) Effective programs for struggling readers: A best evidence synthesis. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. http://www.bestevidence.org/word/strug_read_Jul_07_2009.pdf
      Reading First focuses on core reading programs in grades K-3. There are only two programs widely acknowledged to have strong evidence of effectiveness in this area: Success for All and Direct Instruction.
      Slavin, R.E. (2007). Statement of Robert E. Slavin, Director Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Activities. Hearings on Implementation of No Child Left Behind. March 14, 2007. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://www.ednews.org/articles/8996/1/Statement-of-Robert-E-Slavin-Director-Center-for-Data-Driven-Reform-in-Education/Page1.html
      “The evidence is pretty much overwhelming,” said Prof Steve Dinham, the Australian Council for Educational Research research director for teaching, learning and leadership. “Direct instruction and explicit teaching is two to three times more effective than inquiry-based learning or problem-based learning.”
      Smith, B. (2008). Results back principal’s return to instruction. The Age, 10 May, p.8.
      “For example, Direct Instruction (DI), a behaviorally oriented teaching procedure based on an explicit step-by-step strategy (ES=.93) is six-and-one-half times more effective than the intuitively appealing modality matched instruction (ES=.14) that attempts to capitalize on learning style differences. Students with Specific Learning Disabilities who are instructed with DI would be better off than 87% of students not receiving DI and would gain over 11 months credit on an achievement measure compared to about one month for modality matched instruction.”
      Kavale, K. (2005). Effective intervention for students with specific learning disability: The nature of special education. Learning Disabilities, 13(4), 127-138.
      Across varying contexts, Direct Instruction, the Comer School Development Program, and Success for All have shown robust results and have shown that, in general, they can be expected to improve students’ test scores. These three models stand out from other available comprehensive school reform (CSR) designs by the quantity and generalizability of their outcomes, the reliable positive effects on student achievement, and the overall quality of the evidence. … These clear, focused, and well-supported school-based models of improvement are in stark contrast to top-down direction and flexibility for educational reform.
      Borman, G. (2007). Taking reform to scale. Wisconsin Center for Educational Research Retrieved February 4, 2007, from http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/
      The American Institutes for Research (2006) reviewed 800 studies of student achievement and of the 22 reform models examined, Direct Instruction and Success for All received the highest rating for quality and effectiveness http://www.air.org/news/documents/Release200611_csrq.html

      There is ample empirical evidence that the Direct Instruction programs have succeeded with a wide range of learners. This has been recognised by diverse groups, for example, the US Government’s acceptance of the Direct Instruction model as one eligible for funding. The US Department of Education allocates enormous amounts for the implementation of replicable, research based school reform models. Its approved list includes Direct Instruction programs. Direct Instruction programs have also been acknowledged as having the exemplary research base required under the recent USA Reading First Act, 2001 (Manzo & Robelen, 2002).
      Manzo, K., & Robelen, E. (2002, May 1). States unclear on ESEA rules about reading. Education Week online. Retrieved February 14, 2003. http://www.edweek.org
      Major reviews of the primary research can provide additional surety of program value. In a Department of US Education meta-analysis, Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement (2002, Nov), Direct Instruction was assigned the highest classification: Strongest Evidence of Effectiveness, as ascertained by Quality of the evidence Quantity of the evidence, and Statistically significant and positive results. “Its effects are relatively robust and the model can be expected to improve students’ test scores. The model certainly deserves continued dissemination and federal support”
      Borman, G.D., Hewes, G.M., Overman, L.T., & Brown, S. (2002). Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement. http://www.csos.jhu.edu./crespar/techReports/report59.pdf
      One relevant meta-analysis of Direct Instruction programs (including versions of Corrective Reading) did find support for this instructional method (Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2002).
      Borman, G.D., Hewes, G.M., Overman, L.T., & Brown, S. (2002). Comprehensive school reform and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Report No. 59. Washington, DC: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR), U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 12/2/03 from http://www.csos.jhu.edu./crespar/techReports/report59.pdf
      Reading First focuses on core reading programs in grades K-3. There are only two programs widely acknowledged to have strong evidence of effectiveness in this area: Success for All and Direct Instruction.
      Slavin, R.E. (2007). Statement of Robert E. Slavin, Director Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Activities. Hearings on Implementation of No Child Left Behind. March 14, 2007. Retrieved March 16, 2007, from http://www.ednews.org/articles/8996/1/Statement-of-Robert-E-Slavin-Director-Center-for-Data-Driven-Reform-in-Education/Page1.html
      “By using a Direct Instruction approach to teaching, more children with learning disabilities, who were thought to be unable to improve in any academic area, can make incredible gains in their schooling.”
      Department of Psychology, University of Michigan entitled “Special Needs Education: Direct Instruction and Special Needs”: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/delicata.356/direct_instruction_and_special_needs.
      A report from American Institutes for Research found that Direct Instruction was one of only three programs with adequate evidence for effectiveness in reading instruction. http://www.aasa.org/issues_and_insights/district_organization/Reform/Approach/direct.htm
      Power4Kids http://www.haan4kids.org/power4kids/
      Following the successful models of rigorous medical science, the Power4Kids reading study will be a landmark in education ~ a large-scale, randomized, controlled, longitudinal field trial. It is the second largest study of its kind ever to be conducted in public schools. It is designed to provide conclusive evidence of the effectiveness of quality remedial reading programs, along with determining common learning profiles of students and the best targeted-intervention for each profile. Regardless of the reason a child struggles to learn to read, Power4Kids will provide the information and winning models of how to close the reading gap in our schools. Four (4) highly effective remedial reading programs have been awarded a position in the study by virtue of their scientifically-based evidence of effectiveness. The programs are:
      Corrective Reading, Failure Free Reading, Spell Read P.A.T., Wilson Learning Program
      The Council for Exceptional Children provides informed judgements regarding professional practices in the field. The Direct Instruction model was judged by the Editorial Committee to be well validated and reliably used. http://dldcec.org/ld%5Fresources/alerts/

      Direct Instruction is the only model to be recommended by American Federation of Teachers in each of their reviews. Seven Promising Reading and English Language Arts Programs “When this program is faithfully implemented, the results are stunning…” (Seven Promising Reading and English Language Arts Programs, pg. 9). Direct Instruction is also lauded in Three Promising High School Remedial Reading Programs, and Five Promising Remedial Reading Intervention Programs (http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/downloads/teachers/remedial.pdf). http://www.aft.org/edissues/Reading/Resources.htm
      American Federation of Teachers (1999). Five promising remedial reading intervention programs. Building on the best: Learning from what works. Retrieved 12/2/03 from http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/downloads/teachers/remedial.pdf
      The report Bringing Evidence Driven Progress to Education: A Recommended Strategy for the U.S. Department of Education (2002) nominates Direct Instruction as having strong evidence for effectiveness. http://www.excelgov.org/displayContent.asp?Keyword=prppcEvidence
      The Center for Education Reform (2003) nominated DI among its “Best Bets”.
      “Strong, proven education programs for kids – programs that demonstrate success for more than just a handful of students”
      McCluskey, N. (2003). Best bets: Education curricula that work. Center for Education Reform. Retrieved 11/5/2004 from http://www.edreform.com/pubs/bestbets.pdf
      Better by design: A consumers’ guide to schoolwide reform: A report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation supports the Direct Instruction model as a viable approach to schoolwide reform http://www.edexcellence.net/library/bbd/better_by_design.html
      Reading Programs that Work: A Review of Programs for Pre-Kindergarten to 4th Grade
      This independent review included Direct Instruction among six school-wide effective reading models (Schacter, 1999)http://www.mff.org/edtech/publication.taf?_function=detail&Content_uid1=279
      Corrective Reading: Decoding and Corrective Reading: Comprehension are among the programs adopted by the California State Board of Education in 1999, after it abandoned the Whole Language model. http://www.cde.ca.gov/cdepress/lang_arts.pdf
      Task Force on Improving Low-Performing Schools (American Federations of Teachers, 1999) named Corrective Reading as one of five effective remedial reading interventions
      Marilyn Jager Adams, author of a major text on reading: “Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print” commented on Direct Instruction thus “The research is irrefutable.”
      The two best known examples of sound research-based practices coming to scale are Direct Instruction (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1997) and Success for All (Slavin, Madden, Dolan, & Wasik, 1996).
      Foorman, B.R., & Moats, L.C. (2004). Conditions for sustaining research-based practices in early reading instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 25, 51-60.
      From renowned researcher on effective teaching, Barak Rosenshine, “Reading Mastery is an extremely effective program for teaching decoding to all children. The mean score for 171 students across six DI schools, who began the program in kindergarten and who remained in the program for four years was at the 49th percentile. I think this is a wonderful finding” (Rosenshine, 2002).
      Adams & Englemann’ (1996) meta-analysis resulted in an effect size of 0.69 for the 44 acceptable comparisons involving the Direct Instruction program Reading Mastery. Across DI programs, the average effect size for 173 comparisons was 0.87. In White’s 1988 DI meta-analysis involved learning disabled, intellectually disabled, and reading disabled students, the average effect size for Direct Instruction programs was .84. A similar meta-analysis of the effectiveness of the whole language approach to reading found an effect size of only 0.09 (Stahl & Miller, 1989). An effect size of 1 means a gain of 1 standard deviation – equivalent of a year’s progress (0.8 is a large effect size, 0.5-0.8 is a medium effect size, and less than .5 is a small effect size).
      2004 Florida Center for Reading Research aims to disseminate information about research-based practices related to literacy instruction and assessment for children in pre-school through 12th grade. Its Director is well known researcher, Joe Torgesen.
      “The instructional content and design of Corrective Reading is consistent with scientifically based reading research” (p.4).
      Torgesen, J. (2004). SRA Corrective Reading. Florida Center for Reading Research. Retrieved 16/1/2005 from http://www.fcrr.org/FCRRReports/PDF/corrective_reading_final.pdf
      Sally Shaywitz does recommend the REACH System (Corrective Reading, Spelling Through Morphographs, and R&W) for “dyslexic” children in her much publicised book The Brain and Dyslexia.
      In the Oregon Reading First Center Review of 9 Comprehensive Programs 2004 Reading Mastery was ranked number 1.
      To be considered comprehensive, a program had to (a) include materials for all grades from K through 3; and (b) comprehensively address the five essential components of the Reading First legislation.
      Program Title
      1 Reading Mastery Plus 2002
      2 Houghton Mifflin The Nation’s Choice 2003
      3 Open Court 2002
      Harcourt School Publishers Trophies 2003
      Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Reading 2003
      Scott Foresman Reading 2004
      Success For All Foundation Success for All
      Wright Group Literacy 2002
      Rigby Literacy 2000
      Curriculum Review Panel. (2004). Review of Comprehensive Programs. Oregon Reading First Center. Retrieved 16/1/2005 from http://reading.uoregon.edu/curricula/core_report_amended_3-04.pdf
      DI for English language learners
      The beginning reading programs with the strongest evidence of effectiveness in this review made use of systematic phonics – such as Success for All, Direct Instruction, and Jolly Phonics (Slavin & Cheung, 2003)

      Slavin, R.E., & Cheung, A. (2003). Effective reading programs for English language learners: A best-evidence synthesis. Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. http://www.csos.jhu.edu/crespar/techReports/Report66.pdf

      The two best known examples of sound research-based practices coming to scale are direct instruction (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1997) and Success for all (Slavin, Madden, Dolan, & Wasik, 1996).
      Foorman, B.R., & Moats, L.C. (2004). Conditions for sustaining research-based practices in early reading instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 25, 51-60.
      Recently revived interest:
      Torgesen (2003) suggests there is now a consensus on the most important instructional features for interventions:
      • Provide ample opportunities for guided practice of new skills
      • Provide a significant increase in intensity of instruction
      • Provide systematic cueing of appropriate strategies in context
      • Interventions are more effective when they provide appropriate levels of scaffolding as children learn to apply new skills
      • Provide systematic and explicit instruction on whatever component skills are deficient: e.g., in reading – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension strategies (Torgesen, 2003)
      Torgesen, J. (2003). Using science, energy, patience, consistency, and leadership to reduce the number of children left behind in reading. Barksdale Reading Institute, Florida. Retrieved 3/5/2004 from http://www.fcrr.org/staffpresentations/Joe/NA/mississippi_03.ppt

      The 2000 report to the Department for Education and Employment in Great Britain (McBer: A model of teacher effectiveness) reached similar conclusions about the value of this approach.

      DI was originally designed to assist disadvantaged students
      But, its emphasis on analysing task characteristics and effective teaching principles transcends learner characteristics

      DI programs have been shown to be effective for:
      Slow learners Disadvantaged Intellectual disability Gifted Learning disability Indigenous Acquired brain injury Language disability Deaf Behavioural disorder Autism spectrum ADHD English language learners

      Many DI programs have been shown effective in:
      Basic skills: reading, spelling, maths, language, writing
      Higher order skills: literary analysis, logic, chemistry, critical reading, geometry, history and social studies
      Computer-assisted instruction: Funnix beginning reading program, videodisc courseware in science and maths.

      The combination of effectiveness across learner types and across curriculum areas provides credibility that the model itself is very well founded. Further it demonstrates that effective instruction transcends learner characteristics.
      WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new guide using strict scientific criteria to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of 22 widely adopted comprehensive elementary school reform models rates 15 as “limited” to “moderately strong” in demonstrating positive effects on student achievement.
      The American Institutes for Research (AIR) report was produced by AIR’s Comprehensive School Reform Quality (CSRQ) Center, a multi-year project funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The CSRQ Center Report on Elementary School CSR Models builds on AIR’s pioneering work in conducting consumer-friendly research reviews, including An Educators’ Guide to Schoolwide Reform issued in 1999, and its current work for the What Works Clearinghouse.
      “Our purpose in providing ratings is not to pick winners and losers but rather to clarify options for decision-makers,” said Steve Fleischman, a managing director for AIR who oversaw the study. “This report is being issued in the hopes that the information and analysis it provides contributes to making research relevant in improving education.”
      Collectively, the reform models reviewed serve thousands of mostly high-poverty, low-performing schools nationwide. The review includes such well known models as Success for All, Accelerated Schools, Core Knowledge, America’s Choice, Direct Instruction, School Renaissance, and the School Development Program.
      AIR researchers conducted extensive reviews of about 800 studies and other publicly available information to rate the models in five categories of quality and effectiveness, including their ability to improve student achievement and to provide support to schools that allowed the model to be fully implemented. The CSRQ Center review framework was developed in consultation with an Advisory Group composed of leading education experts and researchers, and is closely aligned with the requirement for scientifically based evidence that is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
      Of the 22 reform models examined, Direct Instruction (Full Immersion Model), based in Eugene, Ore., and Success for All, located in Baltimore, Md., received a “moderately strong” rating in “Category 1: Evidence of Positive Effects on Student Achievement.”
      Five models met the standards for the “moderate” rating in Category 1: Accelerated Schools PLUS, in Storrs, Conn.; America’s Choice School Design, based in Washington, D.C.; Core Knowledge, located in Charlottesville, Va.; School Renaissance in Madison, Wis.; and the School Development Project, based in New Haven, Conn. Models receiving a “moderate” rating may still show notable evidence of positive outcomes, but this evidence is not as strong as those models receiving a “moderately strong” or “very strong” rating.
      Eight models earned a “limited” rating in Category 1: ATLAS Communities and Co-nect, both in Cambridge, Mass.; Different Ways of Knowing, located in Santa Monica, Calif.; Integrated Thematic Instruction, based in Covington, Wash,; Literacy Collaborative, from Columbus, Ohio; National Writing Project, in Berkeley, Calif.; Modern Red Schoolhouse, based in Nashville, Tenn.; and Ventures Initiative Focus System, located in New York, N.Y. The “limited” rating indicates that while the CSRQ Center found some evidence of positive effects on student achievement, much more rigorous research and evidence needs to be presented on the model to fully support its effectiveness.
      Seven CSR models received a “zero” rating in Category 1: Breakthrough to Literacy, from Coralville, Iowa; Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning, in Redlands, Calif.; Community for Learning, based in Philadelphia, Pa.; Coalition of Essential Schools, located in Oakland, Calif.; Expeditionary Learning, based in Garrison, N.Y.; First Steps, in Salem, Mass.; and Onward to Excellence II, located in Portland, Ore. A rating of “zero” means that evidence was found to provide a rating for this category, but none was of sufficient quality to be counted as reliable evidence.
      None of the 22 models earned a “no” or “negative” rating, which indicate that a model has no evidence available for review, or strong evidence demonstrating negative effects in a given category or subcategory, respectively.
      Consumers can visit the CSRQ Center’s Web site (http://www.csrq.org/reports.asp) to download the entire report, individual model profiles, or to search the online database to perform side-by-side comparisons of the models reviewed by the CSRQ Center.
      About CSRQ Center
      The Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (CSRQ Center, http://www.csrq.org) is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, through a Comprehensive School Reform Quality Initiative Grant (S222B030012), and is operated by the American Institutes for Research (AIR, http://www.air.org).

      • Is there a nice summary somewhere that is both readable and less of a “cut and paste” job? Preferably from a neutral third party? Thanks.

    • Catherine says:

      Mindsets like this are why I homeschool.

      • I’m prepared to learn more, and preferably to see some third party corroboration; the materials linked above, though, are the official website and marketing materials.

        • Will H. Burrow says:

          Aaron: Project Follow Thrugh was a federally funded study. It was one of the best research studies the feds ever funded.
          On a less research level……..I am involved with a public school program where we have over 100 students using various direct instruction materials. We have students at every age level and from average to very impaired on the ability scale. Almost all of them make much more progress than with other reading and math programs. Two years of progress in a year is not uncommon and we have obtained as much as five years of growth in a year. I have not seen anything else that even comes close to that record. As a district we are moving towards a standards based learning environment and the clear scope and sequence of DI materials is an extremely good fit as is the focus on mastery of skills. After using DI materials for several years I still can not understand why the education establishment is so fearful of it.

    • Being someone who’s studied music for a long time, I cringe whenever some airhead insists that drill and practice impede real learning. The truth I see over and over again is that the *lack of* drill and practice impede real learning. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise musical, creative people fail as musicians because they didn’t dedicate themselves to learning through drill and practice. They never get to the point of being able to do things automatically and instinctively.

      Think about playing a piece like a Sousa march. Nice, moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute. Now, musicians do this every day with a sensory delay of 80-100 ms. That’s almost a sixteenth note at that tempo! Yet, amazingly, we manage to play together. Layer on top of that the delay introduced by consciously thinking about what to play. Bam! You’re late. The rest of the group’s moved on already. Without the music being automatic and instinctive, playing together is nearly impossible. Musicians don’t have time to think.

      While I realize that music is a specialized discipline, I also believe that the ability to make mental operations automatic and instinctive is useful in every area of life. Once something is automatic, it can be called on by any part of the mind, not just the conscious. There’s a reason people walk and talk in their sleep, but don’t use computers in their sleep. Interacting with a computer still takes conscious effort, so it’s not possible to do without the conscious mind engaged. Walking and talking? Absolutely we can do both without thinking.

      Why is the engagement of the conscious mind important? The urban legend that “we only use 10% of our brains” is somewhat true. While the number isn’t as neat as 10%, our conscious mind only uses a small percentage of our brain at any one time. That means the majority of your brain is working in ways not under conscious control. Drilling and practicing things to the point of automaticity is *the* way to give the subconscious mind more tools and materials to work with.

      Training the whole mind means going deeper than bowing to the whims of the conscious mind. And it’s something we can’t do alone as kids. That’s the power of the traditional methods you ignorantly decry. They arm the whole mind with facts and mental habits that can be used by any part of the brain. Without the hard and tedious work of practicing and memorizing, the information never makes it past the conscious mind.

      But since it’s unpleasant for kids, in the same way that eating vegetables is unpleasant for kids, they need adult supervision and guidance to help them do their practicing and memorizing. Deny them that, and they end up poorer in the end, even if it was more pleasant getting there.

      • tim-10-ber says:

        Thank you!! The same is true of athletes. I have both a musician son and a basketball player son…the amount of drilling they do to perfect their craft is amazing…500 – 1000 shots put up each day; make 100 free throws DAILY’; practice scales daily; work on pieces of music daily slowly at first to master the tune and then faster and faster to master the tempo…

        Yet, I talk to head of ed schools who tell me they have no clue how to teach kids how to read. Seriously? We have been teaching reading for how many centuries? How else do you learn to read with out practice, practice, practice?

        Why are drills, rote memorization and practice so frowned upon in government schools? My state is trying to ban (finally) calculators from elementary schools. Please lets teach the basics and the rest will come…

      • There’s a material difference between developing muscle memory and developing cognitive skills. Practice can of course improve both, but the process is different.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Learning to play an instrument isn’t muscle memory.

          • Obviously there’s a huge amount of muscle memory involved in playing an instrument. If you have to think through each note and finger position or chord, you’re going to be a terrible musician.

            There’s no shame in muscle memory. It’s what I’m using, right now, to type.

          • Aaron, you’re grossly underestimating the mental processes at work when playing music if you think that musicians practice for muscle memory.

            The ability for the mind to decode what is on the page, orient what’s seen to what’s being heard, understand what the correct action is, and access the appropriate muscle memory to it is almost miraculous. It’s also completely dependent on training the mind to do these things. That training comes only with drill and practice.

          • Your second paragraph concedes the importance of muscle memory, and the role of drill in creating that muscle memory. That is, you have agreed with my point, so why not just admit that rather than trying to quibble with things I didn’t say?

        • No, really, the process isn’t all that different. As an actor I’ve found memory is a muscle. I always drill lines to automaticity. I have found that I’m only as free to create as I am memorized. That is, if I’m trying to recall a line, I’m not able to pay attention to subtext or what my partner is doing or what is happening between us. In fact, I’m not able to create much at all. But if the lines are automatic, I can respond to my creative impulses, to what I see, to whatever my partner(s) throws at me. I can ride the flow of what’s going on underneath the lines. It’s a fallacy that discipline (or in my case, memorization) is the means the death of creativity; rather, true creativity depends on it. And this is true not only for artists and athletes but academic activity as well. It’s all the same process, though expressed differently.
          One of the great advantages my kids have is that I taught them to memorize. My 7th grade is sailing through Alegebra I while many of her classmates are struggling because they have never memorized their basic math facts. She tells my 2nd grader, who is memorizing his multiplication facts now, that he will be so happy he did because it will make his life easier and he’ll be able to do what he calls “fancy math.”

    • We educators must ask ourselves two vital questions: Will we continue to allow nearly one third of our students nationwide to fail in the essential skills of reading, math and writing? And will we continue to deny the “overwhelming and unambiguous evidence”* that a structured and, yes, even scripted approach like Direct Instruction is the best way to build those essential skills? The quality of life for millions of children, our economic recovery and, indeed, the very future of our democracy may depend on our answers.

      * Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

    • Hey, maybe we should hold off before piling on Mark…maybe his post was a witty parody of what DI opponents would say?

  2. Mark – using that nasty DI junk (model, do together, independent – along with error correction), I taught my 15 YO with autism how to do his locker in about 10 minutes. You can’t introduce errors or you have to undo your own teaching with him. I did introduce errors. Which is why it took 10 minutes. With a script (to minimize errors), it would have taken 5 minutes.

    DI includes projects. Have you actually used DI curriculum? Or did you just “review it.”

    You know nothing of what you speak. Maybe you should read up on it.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Said it before: The Army used similar techniques to teach some fairly complicated skills. The Army has less room for failing in that sort of thing.
    I imagine the motivation for resistance is varied, but I wonder if the fact that the system works, as a system, means that “teaching” in the sense of subjective and personalized experience is less necessary and so may be seen as less valued.

  4. Catherine says:

    Sorry, I didn’t make myself clear. Mindsets like Mark’s are why I homeschool. I have bright children, and they still need drill and practice. Based on my limited experience teaching (college, middle school, private tutoring, and teaching my own children), I have no idea why he disses placement tests, rules of behavior, or summative assessments…we don’t want to know what kids have learned or expect orderly behavior from them? (Scripts I do find unnecessary for the most part but still useful as examples of what to cover and how to speak neutrally and to the point.) My mother was an elementary school teacher (she’s a lawyer now), and she long ago rebelled against nearly everything Mark is pushing because she saw the lack of actual learning that resulted. My husband has an education degree (he decided not to teach during his student teaching term because of student behavior issues), and he has come around in the last decade to realizing what a lot of bunk he was taught in college education classes. You can keep your “recognized leaders”, Mark. I’d rather use what works to teach my children to function in this world. (Don’t worry, I provide them socialization part-time at schools–at least US schools are still good for “teaching” recess and standing in lines.) In support of Engelmann specifically, his Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons worked like a charm with my four-year-old this past year.

  5. The Education Consumers Foundation has published Clear Teaching and made available a great deal of information for those wishing to see real and dramatic improvements in reading proficiency rates. The resources below will help educators,

  6. “Mark” surely gets top prize (a week’s vacation at a school of education, having lengthy and idiotic discussions with cult-advocates of whole language, constructivism, and social justice) for the most irony packed into one paragraph….

    “Any program built on placement tests, rules for behavior, drill and practice, scripted lessons, rewards and summative assessment, to name a few, should be dismissed. The research is outdated and flawed — most of it done by Engelmann himself, and he’s never even been a teacher in the K-12 world.”

    Notice that “Mark” (as is the case with “progressives” who have destroyed public education with their dingbat “pedagogies” and half-wit “methods”) presents ZERO evidence to support his bombastic and ever-so-clever attack on DI. I bet he read and reread his “piece” with (misguided) pride.

    Mark doesn’t want any testing—because then teachers might be accountable. Besides, “Mark” can read kids’ minds and KNOW what they know without having to look at what they do. He doesn’t need any objective methods to show whether he has taught anything.

    Apparently Mark has never studied a DI program to see the logical perfection of the design; has not seen kids who have been abused for years with progressive, faddish bunk for five years, finally begin reading within a few weeks with Reading Mastery or Corrective Reading; has not read the hundreds of articles spanning 40 years (and still being published in the Journal of Direct Instruction and elsewhere); and has in general no idea what he is talking about.

    But I say, “Keep it up, Mark. Let there be no doubt that you are guided by progressive edudrivel rather than data.”

    We can expect plenty of deranged reactions from overly-excited eduhucksters to be posted here because they feel (and are) threatened by instructional methods that actually work. I can’t wait to see what the whole language losers have to say. Or the social justice gasbags who do all their “revolutionary” work from the comfort of their offices. Or the constructivist ninnies who will—in perfect imitation of jackasses—serve up the usual blather about how you can’t communicate knowledge directly; kids have to “discover it.”

    Yeah, good luck discovering trig.

    • Martin, I didn’t come here to promote anything, but I have written a book on a better approach that I call, results-only learning. It will be published by ASCD next year. It is a practical, research-based approach that I have used for years. It works for all students.

      I hope you’ll read it, but like most who are looking for accountability (Gates, Duncan, Rhee), you’re likely far too closed-minded.

  7. As mentioned above, the military has long, successful experience using direct instruction to teach just about everything to everyone from junior enlisted to senior officers. Another widely used example is the Advanced Trauma Life Support course developed by the American College of Surgeons. ATLS certification is typically required of emergency room physicians, as well as of many other physicians, surgeons, PAs and nurse practitioners.

    I seem to remember that Direct Instruction was used in some of the most needy and unsuccessful Baltimore schools (in the 60s or 70s, I think), with remarkable results. Project Follow-Through was the name, I think.

    • You say they use “direct instruction” or they say they use “direct instruction”? And if it’s the latter, where do they say that they use this particular method of instruction?

      • The method of instruction has been described to me by those who have experienced it; explain the intent of the lession, describe what is to be done, do it (stepwise, with feedback), summarize, take questions, give test.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Good point. If you’ve ever taken a CPR class, how was it done? Pretty close to DI, wasn’t it.
    Different from the Harold Hill method of instruction, iirc.

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Good grief– my advanced math and science classes in High School must have been a total waste. The teacher would derive the equation (or whatever) as the class followed along and took notes, then demonstrate it with a couple of problems, then give us problems to practice…… We had labs too, of course, but they were part of the demonstration–i.e. “Watch how this works in real life”, not “stumble around and DISCOVER!”

    Obviously all my classmates who went into STEM fields were totally scarred for life by this approach.

    Meanwhile, a LACK of drill is why you come across Algebra 2 students who still don’t ‘get’ Y=mX+b when it should be automatic by late high school!

    Drill isn’t fun, but it is useful. Sort of like chores, waiting for dessert, and time-outs. As adults, it’s our JOB to make kids do the boring stuff so they’re capable of the fun stuff later on!

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      For the record, I use Saxon Math with my home schooled kids. The scripts are so-so… I glance at them to make sure I’m not missing anything, but since I already understand the subject area, I can teach without them. Where scripted DI REALLY shines, IMO, is in environments where the teachers can’t handle the Math on their own and need the extra crutch. Sure, it would be nice if all elementary school teachers could do fractions, but since they can’t, DI is a useful tool…

      • You should try SRA Essentials for Algebra. I had to do lessons 55 through 118 in 2 months! (With my son who has autism). Let’s just say he is still learning y=mx + b but he is only a freshman and considered 1 year behind. The foundation work in Essentials is wonderful. It cost $250 new but was well worth it as you get scripts, workbook, textbook, answer key, and teacher’s guide.

        The school uses McDougal Littell Algebra I which is atrocious.

        • Deirdre Mundy says:

          My eldest is in second grade, so we’re probably a few years off from Algebra! 🙂 I AM disappointed with the lack of a proof-based Geometry textbook in Saxon- so when my kids get older, I’ll need to find a good one as I think Geometry is excellent for teaching clear thinking and logic! 🙂

          The students I had who couldn’t get y=mx+b had supposedly already covered it for three years straight— and passed the classes! So clearly there was some sort of flaw in instruction somewhere along the way….

          • Sean Mays says:

            DM: A course in Geometry by Weeks and Adkins might be something you want to try. It’s pretty “old school” ! Of course, you COULD just go with Euclid’s Elements for truly old school. Weeks and Adkins also have algebra I and II texts, but I can’t speak to them specifically. I’ve heard of Saxon folks using Harold Jacobs Geometry. I probably should have posted this on your page, sorry to be off topic.

            re: “discovery” my position remains – it took us roughly 6000 years to discover Calculus – you have maybe 18 years; we need something faster. Now, it can be fun to “set up” the kids and guide the discovery process in a very confined sandbox; but that’s a different story.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            I would suggest that you consider “Basic Geometry” by David Birkhoff. It is an improvement over Euclidean geometry because Euclid’s geometry is very subtly broken (so subtle that it took a long time to realize this … see Hilbert’s axioms for details). Birkhoff’s geometry is believed to be correct/non-broken, but is designed for high school students in a way that Hilberts axioms are not. It is proof based and covers the same basic planar geometry that Euclid covers.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          I’m using Essentials for Writing (DI) with my 13 year old Aspie (SRA). It’s been a God send.

    • So you’re stating that the difference between “direct instruction” and what goes on in a typical math, geometry or trig class is, essentially, nothing?

      Seriously, is your anecdote the “be all and end all” of “direct instruction”? That’s all we’re talking about?

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Well, the Direct Instruction (TM) includes scripts for teachers including how to explain things and what questions to ask the class. Experienced teachers who know their stuff don’t need scripts– they already have various ways to demonstrate a concept, they know where typical students tend to miss the boat, they’re prepared to answer questions.

        DI provides scripts that MIMIC good teaching to people less prepared in their subject areas. So, your good trig teacher uses these methods (minus the script) because she knows trig inside and out. Your 5th grade teacher who doesn’t really ‘get’ long division needs the script, and may learn a bit by teaching via DI.

        The “project-based’, ‘student-centered’ stuff is often NOT a good way to learn anyway (it works in systems like Montessori b/c the projects are calibrated to teach very specific skills. As applied in most classrooms there’s not enough structure and teacher involvement to make sure students learn the material they’re supposed to be ‘discovering.’)

        • Deirdre, I was with you in the beginning of your comment; then you lost me in the last paragraph. As I’ve stated, my experience is in both ways of teaching. I’ve done scripted lecture with drill and practice, which has all of the structure you say is needed. Then, I realized that this didn’t teach kids the most important lesson an educator should ever want to teach — how to learn.

          Giving kids the information and asking them to regurgitate it on a multiple-choice test is not learning. It’s demonstrating nothing more than rote memory, a useless skill.

          I want my students to thirst for learning — to become lifelong learners. I don’t want mindless automatons, which is what systems like DI create.

          A well-planned project that offers just the right amount of coaching is a remarkable tool. Of course, skills are built in. Structure is provided through mini lessons that teach the necessary skills to complete the project. The key is getting students to want to see an end result. When they see something real, something they are invested in, they want to complete it. They want to learn.

          Lecture at students and put a worksheet under their noses, and see how enthusiastic they are.

    • The more I read these comments, the more I wonder how many people have ever taught in a K-12 public school. I’ve taught in a district with a large population of students on free-and-reduced lunch. Many of these kids come from broken homes. Many are foster kids.

      The lazy drill-and-practice approach that so many people embrace has made these kids feel like failures year after year. They don’t see the point in the boredom, so they don’t want to do it. One bad teacher after an other assigns it for homework, and the students don’t do it. They get zeroes, they fail and they learn to hate the subject and learning, in general.

      A results-only classroom, which puts learning in students’ hands and turns the teacher into a coach/facilitator, opens new doors for these students, as well as those already motivated to learn. Suddenly, they see learning as fun — not as a rigorous, boring drill (what an awful word to associate with learning).

      Programs like DI and Teach for America are for lazy teachers, who aren’t innovative enough to create a functioning, bustling workshop environment that provides opportunities for collaboration and real learning.

      It’s ironic that many people embracing this mindless style of “teaching” are the same ones that vilify educators and say they are overpaid.

      • I have never taught in the K-12 system, just in the post-secondary system (three different universities over the course of 18 years). There is nothing lazy about a drill and practice approach – I spent days deconstructing examples and strategies to differentiate between the methods available to attack any of the problems I select. One of the first questions I ask is, “how do we recognize that we should do X here?” This sort of pattern recognition takes repeated exposure to varied and sundry problems, with many variations, so that the student will recognize the specific cues within each problem. This is why I still assign and grade homework, and post complete, annotated solutions for my students.

        “A results-only classroom” – what do you mean by this? I think that my math classes, which ask students to solve a problem (usually by _any_ method that is correct), are both process and results driven. I assign open-ended problems, I grade both process and answer, but the real result is that the students leave my class having succeeded in learning how to solve real-world problems. Does this not put the learning in the hands of the student? My students need time to absorb the material I have presented, to attempt to use it, to receive feedback about their attempts, to revise and retry the problems, and then to be evaluated. There’s lots of time for thinking and discussion, but only a small fraction of that time is in-class. Most of it is at home, in study groups, or in the process of doing their assignments. This does not make me a coach or a facilitator, but a teacher.

        While post-secondary education is voluntary, and thus separates me from many of the more troubled students you refer to, that does not invalidate the teaching method. No method will work for all subjects or for all students. I have heard the idea that the subject being taught should dictate the pedagogy, and this requires that teachers have subject oriented degrees. This is the requirement in Pennsylvania (where I am), and I think it this helps.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Because it’s old, and it works, and doesn’t generate huge sales of “systems”, there must be something wrong with it.
    In the military, the maxim is, “Tell’em what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them. Test them.” Repeat as necessary focusing on the gaps found in the test. Failures are the responsibility of the instructor.

  11. Maybe I should have prefaced my initial remarks by sharing a bit of my history. For 16 years, I taught in a style that is very similar to DI. I was a traditional teacher; the military people commenting here would have loved my style. I gave plenty of summative assessments along the way and lots of drill and practice.

    What I learned is that this, in fact, does not work for today’s public school kids. It may be great for home schooling, students with autism and private school kids, who are driven to succeed by overbearing parents. For reluctant learners, however, it didn’t work, and this is the crowd I deal with daily.

    What does work is a more student-centered, project-based approach. Giving students choice in how they learn and providing a workshop environment, creates a thirst for learning. This has been proven by many researchers, who are also teachers, and it has worked for me for several years.

    I don’t have to worry about accountability, because even though I never teach to any kind of standardized test, and I never use any kind of summative assessments of my own, my students routinely outperform their peers in the traditional classrooms on our state-mandated achievement test.

    Best of all, they love learning. They don’t need me steering them in a particular direction with some script, carrot-and-stick grading system and a boring worksheet. They want to learn, and they do.

    This is a Results Only Learning Environment. It never forces learning on students; rather, it shows them how wonderful learning can be, when they can discover it on their own. Student behavior is never an issue, because students in a ROLE are always engaged in the task at hand.

    Most people are afraid of this system, because they don’t understand it. I understand both the traditional way and this way, because I’ve done both. I know that results-only learning is best, because I speak from experience.

    • Mark,

      Thanks for the follow-up. I would counter that drill, practice, and memorization themselves are *not* bad things. There are a lot of things in life that one can’t do well without huge doses of each.

      However, I’m with you in being against *lazy* drill, practice, and memorization. The problem I have so often with music students is they practice without thinking. They believe playing whatever it is over and over again is practice. It’s not. Drill and practice become meaningful when students learn how to constantly check themselves against what they want to accomplish.

      The big effort for me has always been getting students to self check while doing anything. That’s a skill I believe has to be taught and practiced to the point of being habit. Unfortunately, it’s one that I find rare in people, both kids and adults (especially adults under 35 or so). It takes the ability to confront that what you’ve done might have been wrong. I always frame it as an empowering question: Did you do what you wanted to?

      What I object to strongly is the demonization of thoughtful, self-motivated drill, practice, and memorization under the broad brush of all drill, practice, and memorization being bad. Your comments about the problems of motivation and direction of learning are well-taken, but as techniques drill, practice, and memorization are separable from these.

      • Quincy, your comments are well-taken. I do agree with what you say about “thoughtful, self-motivated drill, practice and memorization.” The key is the self-motivated part. This is a big part of results-only learning. We work to fan the intrinsic motivation that exists in students, so they will do what they need to be successful, even when it involves practice.

  12. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mark Barnes,

    I teach in a public high school and I agree with much of what you say. Years ago, I was telling a class that I wanted them to think and not just memorize. A student respectfully told me, “But Mr. Sweeny, high school is for memorization; thinking is for college.” There was a fair amount of truth in what he said, though I thought he didn’t give high schools quite enough credit. I also thought he gave colleges way too much. Almost all courses–at either the high school or college level–are forgotten soon after the course is over.

    Why does this happen? Most students do not use the information from the course, and they were never that interested in it in the first place. It was–to exaggerate a bit–just a hoop to jump through on the way to a diploma. The most exciting discussion I ever had in a class was when a bunch of ninth graders argued who was the best running back in the National Football League, LaDanian Tomlinson or Sean Alexander. This was Bloom 6. Because they cared. Ironically (?), because they cared, they had memorized lots and lots of things about the two. It wouldn’t have been much of an argument if they couldn’t back up their assertions with facts.

    This discussion was, however, “outside the curriculum.” Most of the things students are supposed to learn in high school are things they don’t have much inherent interest in. If you can get them to be interested by well-structured projects, God bless you. I’m not that good. (I try to get them to think and to care in other ways but I know I have only limited success.)

    I may be confused but I think that capital letter Direct Instruction is a series of largely scripted programs that are meant to teach basic skills (reading and arithmetic). Students practice until they are good at a particular skill and then move on, building on what went before. I don’t think any (capital letter) DI goes past an elementary school curriculum.

    This idea of building skills gradually, and doing a lot of practice, is hardly limited to elementary school or to capital letter DI, though. Daniel Kahneman talks about 2 systems in the mind: System 1 unconscious and automatic, and System 2 requiring conscious effort. System 2 can only do a few things at a time. Much of real learning consists of moving facts and techniques from System 2 to System 1. That leaves System 2 free to use those techniques and facts in non-rote ways. As somebody said, we use memory and practice to get good at the two things that matter most in high school: football and band.

    • Roger, your comments make a lot of sense. I think we’re starting to get to the key components of this energetic debate. Thanks for sharing the Kahneman stuff. Very interesting.

      BTW, I’d go with Tomlinson over Alexander — both of whom were fantastic players.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        We never did come to a conclusion. One of the things I tried to subtly get them to realize was that you couldn’t answer the question, “who is the better running back?” without considering just what it is that makes a good running back, and how to trade off the different strengths of different backs.

        Kahneman has a recently published book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” It’s very good.

  13. We need to stop slandering rote memorization. Having well-stocked memory banks is the prerequisite for valuable thinking. Chemists memorize tons. So do doctors, lawyers, speakers of foreign languages, CIA Middle East experts, editors, electricians, etc. An effective citizen in a democracy should have committed a lot of civics facts to memory. An well-cultured human should have committed basic knowledge about the human story to memory.

    We need to stop slandering lecture, the most efficient vehicle for provisioning one’s memory banks. My most beloved seventh grade teachers were the two that lectured the most –Mrs. S. our biology teacher, and Mrs. P. our American history teacher. Listening to them was fun. Taking notes was fun. I still remember the parts of the cell because of the lucid way Mrs. S. TOLD us about the cell. Many of my students really enjoy taking notes from me. And I see unmistakably that my lectures are superior to reading or projects for getting the kids to understand and remember the history concepts we need to learn. So let’s stop the broad-brushed condemnation of lecture as boring and mentally inert. I know I think a lot while listening to lecture –my brain is ON –and after lecture as I further process what I heard. I know the kids do too. Many parents tell me that kids come home and talk about what they learned in my class; in some families, it’s the source of regular, sustained dinner-table conversations. Let’s end the myth that lectures (DI) are stultifying.

    • Ponderosa, although I appreciate your opinion and I’m glad you have teachers you remember fondly, I simply don’t agree. With all of the remarkable technology at our fingertips, rote memory isn’t necessary.

      As far as lecture, even though you and some others, very few, might enjoy it, the majority of kids today are bored by even the most entertaining speaker. I can sing, hop or stand on my head, but after three minutes, the students are disengaged.

      As far as learning goes, the best research supports reading. Stephen Krashen studied literacy for 40 years, and he says that independent reading is the best teacher, by far.

      • So are you going to lead a charge to get rid of Dolch sight words?
        I’ve been mystified for years at the elementary-education mindset that holds memorization of facts such as multiplication tables and geography trivia is not needed (just use a calculator or Google it!), yet pooh-poohs synthetic phonics instruction while simultaneously pushing Dolch sight word lists on children. Surely we could just give the little ones iPods that will tell them how any given word sounds, thus dispensing with the need for Dolch sight word memorization!
        (What, teacher? You mean you actually want the children to become fluent readers and they will only do that if they don’t have to turn to a machine to tell them every little component word of their story? Why, if one uses the same logic in math, science, and history, it seems like it would also be valuable to commit some fundamental facts in those areas to memory as well, doesn’t it?)

      • Some rote memory is essential, technology or not. I’ve seen HS math students struggle with basic arithmetic while trying to factor numbers so they could solve a quadratic. The higher level skill: what are the intercepts would be within their grasp, if only they could multiply to find out. The distributive property would be within their grasp, if ONLY their teachers had drilled them on products so that they come fluidly. Of course, you COULD allow them more time on task. But then we get to the point where something that should take 2 minutes becomes an hour long voyage of discovery… ultimately having no rote memory means longer to complete a task, which drives up the cost in the work world. It impairs your ability to infer and extrapolate too, because you have no “fuel” to burn (poor analogy since the knowledge isn’t consumed) for the mental process.

        You’re cooking in the kitchen, you’re going to stop and look up how many tablespoons are in a quarter cup? Quickly Google and comprehend fractions so you can scale your recipe? Your toddler stole your half cup measure but left you a 1/3 cup measure. What DO you do?? QUICK, dinner is going to burn. Google is fine for spot training and refreshers, but you can’t boot strap your way to higher level concepts de novo multiple times a day, it’s mentally exhausting and inefficient.

  14. Ponderosa, I agree with you heartily.

    The lectures you enjoyed were written by your teachers, I imagine. Not delivered from script. They were enjoyable because the teachers knew what they were talking about and delivered this knowledge to you, with any accompanying insights they might have had. Yes, of course, they gained much of this knowledge from others and relied on work that had been done before. But by the time they were in front of the students, they were the messengers of the subject. They brought it in their own manner and words.

    To me, this is at the heart of teaching: becoming a messenger–that is, thinking about the subject, figuring out how best to convey it, and bringing it to students. The pedagogical approach will depend on the subject and topic. A begining language course needs lots of drill; an advanced course will likely have more literature and discussion. A history course may have room for drill, lecture, discussion, and projects. (I consider a research paper a project.)

    Some lessons should have a clearly defined purpose; others may be left somewhat open-ended. If I were teaching my students how to find the slope of a curve at a given point, well, I’d make clear that this was the lesson’s focus. But there would be side observations as well. If my students were reading Moby-Dick, then I’d want them to be alert to surprises; I wouldn’t state exactly what they would get out of the lesson. I might state a general focus or starting point. I would give a lecture for background. I’d direct the discussion and pose questions–but the rest I’d leave somewhat ambiguous.

    To find the right approach to a lesson, one must give thought to the subject and topic being taught. That’s part of the fun of teaching: tinkering with the subject in the mind and figuring out how to make it clear to students. That makes it memorable for students too. The DI advocate would say: this has already been figured out; why reinvent the wheel? It isn’t a matter of reinventing the wheel. It’s a matter of bringing one’s best thought to one’s work, inhabiting it, and showing students that life. Even when imperfect (as it always is), this is worthwhile.

    • To find the right approach to a lesson, one must give thought to the subject and topic being taught. That’s part of the fun of teaching: tinkering with the subject in the mind and figuring out how to make it clear to students. That makes it memorable for students too. The DI advocate would say: this has already been figured out; why reinvent the wheel? It isn’t a matter of reinventing the wheel. It’s a matter of bringing one’s best thought to one’s work, inhabiting it, and showing students that life. Even when imperfect (as it always is), this is worthwhile.

      I think a DI advocate would claim that teachers figuring this out on their own will make a *LOT* of mistakes and those mistakes will harm the children that they are teaching. They would reason by analogy that we don’t encourage doctors to ‘figure out’ how to heal people even if this would be more fun for the doctors. Medical training is intended to teach the doctors how to recognize/identify most maladies and how to treat them using already-figured-out-protocols.

      As one example (which I’m taking from another context … I don’t know if the DI people care about this), the ‘=’ sign in mathematics has a very specific meaning. This meaning is often taught incorrectly (usually by oversight) in the lower grades. A 4th grade teacher could go on for years (or an entire career) mis-teaching this … which will have negative effects later on for the kids who have learned the wrong thing. In theory, a DI lesson (or lessons) would avoid this mistake.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Had a fraternity brother who was a music–bassoon–major who spent a huge amount of time blowing scales and other exercises. Strange stuff came floating up the vents from the furnace room late at night. His view was that you have to know how to blow before the ideas start to flow. I took that to mean that you can’t express an idea without the tools, but on later reflection decided he might also have meant exercises generate ideas.
    MB does the usual taurine scatology presuming memorizing facts precludes or crowds out thinking. Jeez. I get so tired of that nonsense. Does anybody, including him, actually believe that? I really, really doubt it.
    I’d go so far as to say that knowing stuff might preclude believing everything a teacher says. Could be inconvenient.
    My teaching–non-Army type–was long ago and my experience was like that of an earlier poster. The discussion that most engaged the students, to the extent that the teacher next door asked me to get them toned down, was about something far outside the subject for the semester.
    Just for grins, I suggest again looking at “redleg rumba”. Those guys have to know their jobs, they have to do each each other’s jobs. They have to be able to function with fewer guys. They have to be able to perform basic mainenance. They have to know how to put it up and take it down. Rig for sling loading, fixed-wing transport, towing. They have to know how to fight as Infantry just in case. And all the other stuff jarheads are supposed to know. And if they do it right, they save our guys’ lives. If they do it wrong, they cost our guys’ lives. Okay, so all drill and kill–so to speak. But they are prepared to discuss, which is to say, think about and explain to others, hysterical reports of indiscriminate shelling, how blue on blue happens, or not, and so forth. First you have to know the material. Then you can think for yourself. If you don’t know the material, your thinking isn’t worth anybody’s time to hear. But you’re a lot more manipulable.

    • Richard, first let me say, I love “taurine scatology.” That is priceless. I think one area I haven’t been clear on is that I’m not against knowing the material. I just believe that it can be taught without lecture, drill and practice.

      Why can’t thinking and learning the material be done at the same time?

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    MB. wrt your last question: Two reasons. They are separate issues. Memorizing valences, or whatever they call it in chemistry now, precludes thinking about what atoms make when they’re combined, or whether they can be combined. Thinking about combinations precludes memorizing valences. You can do them on alternate days, minutes, or marking periods.But you can’t do them at the same time. And if you don’t do the facts first, the thinking won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.
    You could space them out, like learning the valence of oxygen and talking about water, hydrogen peroxide, and suchlike. Then start the process over with, say, carbon. That sounds laborious.
    The second reason is that the assertion that we’ll be doing them at the same time is a cover for not doing facts at all.
    By the way, my fraternity brother of the bassoon has had a successful career, playing in some big-time sympnonies and running successful chamber groups for hire. He’d never have gotten there if he’d spent his time trying various combinations of notes without the skill to make them automatic while his thinking wandered the corridors of what the music is supposed to mean, how to modify his playing based on the others’ performances, and so forth.

  17. I teach in a public alternative high school for zero-tolerance violators and behavior problem students. Class ratio is averages about 10:1 currently. That’s about to go up to 15:1 I believe as the county keeps sending students over. The vast majority of students (probably 95%) are free/reduced lunches and it is a very diverse student population.

    I am also a retired Army veteran with 21 years of experience. DI worked fine in the military and I still remember most all of the drills I learned over that time and it’s been five years since retirement. I use DI with my students (I am attempting to phase in some PBL and student-led as well), but the DI works fine with them. They constantly talk about how much they learn in our school versus in a regular school. They don’t have a choice really. Small class-size and few distractions help tremendously. I’ve never cared about EOCs and it has never effected how I teach. Just for example, all my tests are short answer and EOCs are (as we all know) M/C. In this way I can know if my students know the information or just know how to guess on a test.

    For the record? Probably 85% of the kids I teach are smart and could be A/B students but their regular teachers don’t want to put the effort into it. They’d rather get them out of the class so they can focus on those who are in-the-box thinkers or just followers. These kids challenge me everyday to be a better teacher and to know my discipline (I teach U.S. history, geography, economics, and government. I facilitate on-line courses of ancient history, world history, and art history). We have a lot of discussions that couldn’t happen in a regular classroom and are somewhat Socratic in nature.

    I don’t know if I’ve added to this discussion or just wanted to hear myself think…bottom line? Use whatever works. Who cares about what it’s called or that sort of stuff. Know your students and you’ll know what is best for them. As a leader & trainer in the Army that’s what I always knew and it always worked.

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    Eric. Your situation sounds fortunate. I liked it when I had sergeants for classroom control. But your school’s view on misbehavior is apparently a pretty good substitute.
    There are several problems with your approach. It does not require huge expenditures on materials and systems and PD. It implies teachers can’t do the work–which is not true but it does annoy those who think their creativity is under threat. And those who think skills learning precludes high and wonderful thinking about whatever the teacher insists is true are…right. Which is a problem for some of them.

  19. Direct instruction is a method that is specifically designed to enhance academic learning time. Direct instruction does not assume that students will develop insights on their own. Instead, direct instruction takes learners through the steps of learning systematically.