What Is Direct Instruction?

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Charlotte Thomson IserbytDay 5: Skin­ner Hor­ror Files

Skin­ner Trou­bles with Direct Instruction/Mastery Learn­ing

dog trainingThe fol­low­ing blog post is an excerpt from Appen­dix XXV of my book the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca. It is the sec­ond of a two-part alert series in the late 1990s that com­prised this par­tic­u­lar appen­dix. This is the best sum­ma­ry of what exact­ly Direct Instruc­tion is. And why par­ents and cit­i­zens need to be con­cerned about this method being used in schools — often under dif­fer­ent names and guis­es.

The Dif­fer­ence Between Tra­di­tion­al Edu­ca­tion and Direct Instruc­tion” by Tracey J. Hayes

The major dif­fer­ence between Tra­di­tion­al Edu­ca­tion and Direct Instruc­tion (DI) is the
method in which the con­tent is taught.

Tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion focus­es on con­tent-rich cur­ricu­lum in which a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject is
“intro­duced, taught, and reviewed,” mov­ing from sim­ple to com­plex, spi­ral­ing back to refresh and retain pre­vi­ous­ly learned mate­r­i­al while pro­gress­ing in that sub­ject. Some pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies make rec­om­men­da­tions on what con­tent is to be taught, but in most tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion class­rooms, the teacher decides “how” the “what” is to be taught.

To help deter­mine stu­dent achieve­ment in tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion, week­ly quizzes and end-of-chap­ter tests are admin­is­tered. One hun­dred per­cent mas­tery is, how­ev­er, not expect­ed. The teacher knows that with time and review, reten­tion of knowl­edge and test scores will improve. The object of tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion is to offer stu­dents a broad foun­da­tion of infor­ma­tion, based on facts and fig­ures, that will be retained for future appli­ca­tion on high stakes assess­ments, edu­ca­tion and career objec­tives, and life-long wis­dom.

Tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion is some­times described as “direct instruc­tion.” In tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion the teacher stands in front of the class­room “direct­ly instruct­ing” the stu­dents in the sub­ject mat­ter. Direct instruc­tion and teacher-direct­ed instruc­tion (used in tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion) are exam­ples of how words in our lan­guage can be per­ceived as being one and the same, when in fact they are very dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er. Decep­tive seman­tics has cre­at­ed much con­fu­sion among many edu­ca­tors as well as par­ents.

Empty BrainWith tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion, on Mon­day the teacher assigns her class a chap­ter to read on the sub­ject of George Wash­ing­ton cross­ing the Delaware. She tells them they will be test­ed on this sub­ject on Fri­day, but she doesn’t tell them exact­ly on what they will be test­ed. In oth­er words, they must learn as much as they can about every­thing in the chapter—including the name of George Washington’s horse. When test­ed, the stu­dents might receive a 75% or 80% grade and some par­ents may be upset with what they con­sid­er a “low” grade. How­ev­er, in fact, the stu­dents have done far bet­ter than stu­dents using mas­tery learn­ing or direct instruc­tion who are taught to the test, only learn­ing that mate­r­i­al on which the teacher tells them they will be test­ed and receiv­ing a grade of 90–100%. The stu­dents in the tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion class have actu­al­ly learned many, many times more than the stu­dents in a mas­tery learn­ing or direct instruc­tion class, even though they did not have to use all they learned on their test. Pro­fes­sor Ben­jamin Bloom, the father of mas­tery learn­ing, was cer­tain­ly cor­rect when he assert­ed that stu­dents could reach 85% mastery—of a lim­it­ed or dumb­ed down cur­ricu­lum.

Skinner TIMEDirect Instruc­tion focus­es on a nar­row cur­ricu­lum in which a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject is intro­duced via a stim­u­lus, expect­ing a par­tic­u­lar response from the stu­dent. Based on behav­ioral psy­chol­o­gy and the work of B.F. Skin­ner, DI requires the teacher to use oper­ant con­di­tion­ing and behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion tech­niques. In a DI class­room the teacher must fol­low a pre­scribed set of les­son plans, some­times in script form, and use cer­tain cues such as clap­ping with the intent to incite a cer­tain reac­tion such as uni­son chant­i­ng from the stu­dents. In many class­rooms, rewards and tokens are also used to gen­er­ate a pre­de­ter­mined response (S-R-S).

Direct Instruc­tion is a teach­ing method that bypass­es the brain and insti­gates a reflex that is not nat­ur­al, but rather con­trolled and pro­grammed. This kind of manip­u­la­tion caus­es some stu­dents to become so stressed that they become sick or devel­op ner­vous tics. Many DI pro­grams are designed for the com­put­er with built-in bells and whis­tles to “con­trol and pace the learn­ing out­comes.” With out­come-based edu­ca­tion (OBE) already in many schools, Com­put­er Assist­ed Learn­ing (CAL), pro­grammed with the ML/DI method, is also pro­mot­ing affective/subjective goals.

Direct Instruc­tion expects mas­tery (ML) to be achieved in each area of instruc­tion before mov­ing onto the next lev­el. There are fre­quent tests, cram­ming, crank­ing, and drilling the skills to per­fec­tion, so test scores are usu­al­ly high in the ear­ly years. Typ­i­cal class­rooms, how­ev­er, con­sist of stu­dents with vary­ing abil­i­ties, so the amount of con­tent is decreased to accom­mo­date the slow­est learn­er [dumb­ed-down, ed.]. In some schools coop­er­a­tive learn­ing is used to appease the high achiev­er. Since review of pre­vi­ous­ly learned mate­ri­als is not encour­aged, over­all reten­tion is less. SAT scores are low, and ulti­mate appli­ca­tion is not achieved and in some cas­es sti­fled.

Operant7Direct Instruc­tion has been used for decades in areas where pover­ty is preva­lent because the method of teach­ing pro­motes order and dis­ci­pline in the class­room. Since many par­ents want to dis­card whole lan­guage and imple­ment phon­ics, schools across the nation are adopt­ing DI pro­grams with­out tru­ly under­stand­ing the method behind the con­tent. At the expense of destroy­ing one’s free will, these schools are train­ing stu­dents to become pas­sive drones rather than edu­cat­ed cit­i­zens. As stu­dents plateau at a cer­tain lev­el because they can­not make sense of the knowl­edge they once were expect­ed to recall on com­mand, one must won­der if the pres­sure to per­form like bark­ing dogs is what stu­dents real­ly need or what we real­ly want.