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May 13, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Guest: Direct instruction offers clearest path for student success

marcy stein

Marcy Stein

How best should we educate our children? With direct instruction.

For more than 50 years, the best way to educate children has been heatedly debated by those who favor teacher-directed instruction (also known as explicit instruction) and their opponents who favor student-centered instruction — to the point where the debates have become “wars,” e.g., the reading wars, the math wars.

Those who promote student-centered approaches falsely assume that children learn better when direct instruction is minimal, when the teacher is not a teacher at all but a coach who facilitates each child’s individual rate of learning and personal creation of knowledge.

As a matter of fact, schools where teachers use direct instruction almost always measurably outperform similar schools where teachers do not. The superiority of direct instruction for students at risk for academic failure was recently recognized in a Seattle Times editorial about Auburn’s Gildo Rey Elementary, a highly successful school in an impoverished community.

Despite all odds, this school has “become one of the top-scoring public elementary schools in Washington state.” Focusing on the students’ excellent results there, the Times’ editorial board rightly recognized that the success is due largely to this school’s use of direct instruction. The students in this school performed remarkably well on state tests that measure both basic skills and higher-order thinking.

If direct instruction has been so successful, why hasn’t it been more widely adopted? One crucial reason, I believe, is because influential critics confuse direct instruction with rote instruction and associate rote instruction with the derogatory phrase “drill and kill.”

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