Monday, February 19, 2007

A Comment on Joanne Jacobs' Post Re DI

The following was my comment on Joanne's stimulating discussion on 'Teachers wonder about direct instruction.'

Although my primary focus is currently on WHAT we teach rather than HOW, I must strongly endorse Mr. Strauss’ reasoned and thoughtful comments. Good teachers have always blended successful methods of the past with the best of what is currently known about the different ways that children learn. No single style can possibly meet the needs of our more and more diverse learners we encounter every day. There seems to be considerable confusion about the technical meaning of DI as developed by Mr. Engelmann. One would need to thoroughly study his rationale and approach to make an informed judgment and I suspect many are responding to the ‘label’ rather than its substance just as many react to ‘discovery learning’ as if it is a method to be used all the time. Effective math lessons I’ve observed for the past 10 years included the essential components of instructional/learning theory:
1. Motivated the lesson (a ‘hook’)
2. Articulation of the objectives of the lesson (what students will know and/or be able to do at the end of the lesson) - this must be carefully thought out during planning and conveyed clearly.
2. Connected current learning to prior learning
3. Reviewed the necessary prerequisite skills for success
4. Provided clear explanations both orally and in writing (on board, on handout or in an electronic presentation)
5. Maximized student involvement via questioning, promoting of dialogue or an activity
6. Assessed what was actually learned (e.g.,responses to questions or requiring students to complete a specific task).
When you remove all the labels, Joanne, it comes down to this: How do we know that the objectives of the lesson were achieved? When I am transmitting parcels of information directly to students, I am still engaging their minds by asking many many questions of different taxonomies to check for their understanding as well as checking if they are still conscious! When I propose a challenging problem and give them a few minutes to work on it in small groups, I am still monitoring their progress carefully and asking guiding questions.
If DI includes all of these components and allows children to explore at times and tackle unstructured open-ended questions for which there is no clear blueprint for solution, then I applaud DI and I guess I’ve been using it all along. If ‘Discovery Learning’ includes all of these components, then I guess I’ve been using it all along and I applaud that too.
Again, as Larry so ably expressed it, good teachers FIND A WAY that works for most of their students most of the time. There will always be some in the class who are not able to grasp the material for a myriad of reasons, often having nothing to do with the child’s ability. Rather than continue this general debate, perhaps we should be looking at REAL examples of effective teaching and then we can applaud these efforts and use them as models for the rest of us, rather than debate the category into which the lesson falls. Oh well, this will never happen, because real examples and pictures would obviate all of the rhetoric and we’d have nothing to blog about!


Anonymous said...

Real examples would be useful.

It's never clear to me if what it being criticized or promoted is something for first graders or seniors. Also not taken into account seems to be the motivation of the student(s)or their relative level of achievement.

Then again, I'm an outsider to most of these discussions and perhaps I missed the first half of the conversation where these details were established.

Dave Marain said...

Excellent point, Myrtle!
I've just had the opportunity to read through some Direct Instruction (DI) lessons and they have many positive qualities about which I'll say more. However, most of the dialogue concerns K-6 skills in math. Since the majority of my observations have been grades 9-12, my perspective is definitely different. When I make comments about the effective lessons I've seen, I get very negative reactions which all seem to imply we need DI because kids are not learning math by current 'reform' methods and we have the statistics to prove it!
Here's my take: The content of the DI lessons appears to be solid and the lessons carefully developed incrementally just as advertised. What bothers me is that the developers of the materials wanted to make the lessons 'teacher-proof', i.e., so those elementary teachers whom they are convinced don't really 'know their math' won't screw it up. I have a real problem with that. If the majority of elementary teachers like teacher-proof materials that are scripted right down to the hand gestures and exact words to be used, then I guess I'm wrong. I believe that DI develops math skills quite well but its founded on 2 basic premises:
(1) K-6 teachers not knowledgeable enough to create anything on their own AND
(2) Children that age are not really ready for any challenges that go beyond these materials.

Well, you and I know differently, now don't we! Not only does this demean the more talented math student, who is able to go much further, but it doesn't give other children an oppotunity to explore rich mathematics. Young children MUST master their basics, but they are capable of reasoning beyond these scripted materials. I think Engelmann and others thought they could also make the materials children-proof as well! Interesting but I'm not sure that works with all humans!