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April 30, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Guest: The drawbacks of Direct Instruction

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Jack Schneider

Direct Instruction works. And I’d never send my own child to a school that uses it.

That may seem like a paradox. But the picture becomes much clearer once you have a sense of what Direct Instruction looks like. Half a century old, the program groups children by ability, breaks learning objectives down into their component parts, utilizes frequent assessment and immediate correction, and even scripts teacher instruction. According to the model’s designer, Direct Instruction is “a set of procedures for producing a change in behavior toward a pre-stated objective.”

Not surprisingly, students in Direct Instruction classrooms tend to score well on tests. Even in less-formal applications of the model — in which “direct instruction” is not capitalized, teachers work without scripts and the school does not purchase materials from a DI provider — the approach is teacher-centered, simplifies classroom aims to the basics, maximizes instructional efficiency and emphasizes repetition and drill. Want to raise reading comprehension scores? Direct Instruction (or direct instruction) is a surefire way to do it.

But the strengths of the program are also its weaknesses. The program dramatically narrows the aims of education and leaves little room for creativity, spontaneity and joy in the classroom. Although test scores may go up, the improvement is not without a cost.

Where do we see Direct Instruction? Not in affluent neighborhoods or in prestigious college-preparatory schools. Instead, the program is almost exclusively the preserve of schools serving our most vulnerable students.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: direct instruction, Gildo Rey, Jack Schneider