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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: direct instruction

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July 24, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Guest: Teachers need more than one formula for student success

Andrew E. Kelly

Andrew E. Kelly

The battle around “what works” in education continues to rage nationally and in our great state. What is the best way to ensure that each of our kids, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and personal background are able to successfully meet our educational standards and move through elementary, middle and high school to graduate prepared for college and a career?

One argument centers on whether schools should use direct instruction, a teacher-centered approach that commonly uses call-and-response, or a more free-flowing structure where students talk out their thinking and make sense of what they already know to build the scaffolding for their future.

Yet, as I work to support our state’s lowest-performing schools through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, I see more similarities than differences when it comes to what goes on in the classroom. Across the state, schools are succeeding with kids using both explicit instruction and constructivist learning. The bottom line: Great teaching is great teaching

Lakeridge Elementary School within the Renton School District is one school in our state experiencing phenomenal results. After receiving a federal school improvement grant three years ago, Lakeridge has taken on a new approach that emphasizes not just teaching content but, just as importantly, teaching kids how to think.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Andy Kelly, direct instruction, Lakeridge

May 15, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Your voices: Readers share views on direct instruction and Gildo Rey

Illustration by Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Illustration by Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Thanks to the many readers who shared their thoughts about Auburn’s Gildo Rey Elementary, featured in an Education Lab story a few weeks ago, and the school’s use of a teaching technique known as direct or explicit instruction.

Many expressed strong support for direct instruction, and a number backed using a variety of techniques, which is really what Gildo Rey does.

Commenter Dorboln is one who expressed the latter:

The big issue in education, math in particular, is that everyone thinks you need to go 100% traditional or 100% inquiry, or believe the two are mutually exclusive, which they are not. You need to blend the two.

Blue N Green agreed:

It’s tempting to look at education as a single problem in search of one assembly-line solution, but it simply isn’t and never will be. Kudos to these teachers for finding the approach that works FOR THEIR KIDS. This does not mean it works everywhere, always.


Comments | More in Your voices | Topics: direct instruction, Gildo Rey Elementary, Jack Schneider

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.”


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: direct instruction, Marcy Stein

April 30, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Guest: The drawbacks of Direct Instruction


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.


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