Direct Instruction

9 Feb 2012


Direct Instruction is an approach to teaching. It is skills-oriented, and the teaching practices it implies are teacher-directed. It emphasizes the use of small-group, face to-face instruction by teachers and aides using carefully articulated lessons in which cognitive skills are broken down into small units, sequenced deliberately, and taught
explicitly (See Carnine, 2000, pp. 5-6; Traub, 1999).
Direct Instruction derives mainly from two lines of scholarship and curriculum development. One line of scholarship is based on a synthesis of findings from experimental studies (conducted by many different researchers, working independently, mostly in the 1980s) in which teachers were trained to use particular instructional practices. These practices then were assessed for their effects on student learning, and the effects were compared with effects for similar students who had not been taught according to the experimental method. The synthesis growing out of these studies identified common “teaching functions” abstracted from the experiments that had proved effective in improving student learning. These teaching functions included teaching in small steps with student practice after each step, guiding students during initial practice, and ensuring that all students experienced a high level of successful practice.
Instruction of this sort was described variously by the people who used it and discussed it. It was sometimes called
systematic teaching, or explicit teaching, or active teaching. In an influential essay, Barak Rosenshine and Robert
Stevens (1986) called it direct instruction, and this is the name by which it is now most often known.

As Rosenshine and Stevens describe it, direct instruction is a teaching model, not a particular, fully elaborated
program for teaching, say, reading or mathematics. It is abstracted from detailed procedures found, for example, in
particular training manuals and materials, and it implies nothing definite about how teachers who make new uses of
it might best fulfill the teaching functions it embodies (Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986, p. 389). It is a generic teaching
model, in other words one awaiting subsequent interpretation and development in particular applications.
Interpretation and development of that sort has been provided in a second line of scholarship associated primarily with the work of Siegfried Engelmann and his colleagues. Their work goes beyond the generic direct instruction
model, providing detailed teaching programs consistent with its main principles. Engelmann and his colleagues call
their programs Direct Instruction or DI programs, using upper-case type to distinguish them from the earlier, generic formulations. (We follow their upper-case usage convention in this report).
The texture of detail in Direct Instruction derives in part from its foundation in close analyses of the comprehension and reasoning skills needed for successful performance in, say, reading or mathematics. These skills providevthe intellectual substance of Direct Instruction programs. In the case of reading, it is substance found in the sound
system of spoken English and the ways in which English sounds are represented in writing. That is why Direct
Instruction is associated with phonemic awareness, or phonics. But Direct Instruction is not the same thing as phonics, or “merely phonics.” Direct Instruction can be used to teach things other than phonics mathematics and logic,
for example and phonics can be taught (as it often has been) by means other than Direct Instruction.
The detailed character of Direct Instruction derives also from a learning theory and a set of teaching practices
linked to that theory. The learning theory focuses on how children generalize from present understanding to understanding of new, untaught examples. This theory informs the sequencing of classroom tasks for children and the
means by which teachers lead children through those tasks. The means include a complex system of scripted remarks,
questions, and signals, to which children provide individual and choral responses in extended, interactive sessions.
Children in Direct Instruction classrooms also do written work in workbook or activity sheets.

The Direct, Explicit Model of Instruction
The exemplary model of direct, explicit instruction consists of five phases that allow teachers to scaffold instruction, gradually shifting and releasing responsibility for completing a task from themselves to students (Joyce & Weil, 2000; Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Rosenshine & Meister, 1992; Vygotsky, 1978).

1. Orientation

In the first phase of direct, explicit instruction, teachers activate students relevant prior knowledge and experiences and help them to connect it to the new knowledge they will gain from the lesson. They also familiarize learners with the focus of a lesson. In student-friendly language, they explain the lessons purpose, telling students what they are expected to be able to do.

2. Presentation

This is the explicit phase of the instructional model, in which teachers identify a specific strategy for students, then
model exactly where, how, and why to apply the strategy to get meaning from a reading passage. If the teaching
objective involves a strategy such as comparing ideas, teachers might use a graphic organizer as part of their modeling, thinking aloud frequently as they complete the organizer. If the objective involves helping students grasp an important content-area concept from a nonfiction selection, teachers may identify its characteristics, along with examples and non-examples, definitions, and rules. Throughout this and other phases of direct instruction, teachers check frequently for understanding of all students and provide immediate corrective feedback when needed.
The most effective presentations include both verbal and visual explanations (Joyce & Weil, 2000). By completing some sort of graphic organizer as they talk about a strategy or concept, teachers help students trap ideas. Keeping and displaying the representations in the classroom also provides students a model to refer to as they apply a strategy or work with a concept on their own. The best language and literacy presentations also are grounded in real texts and situations (Duffy, 2003). Teachers present strategies and concepts in concert with units topics and reading materials. They show how particular strategies and concepts can be used to explore a units big questions. Additionally, the best presentations are grounded in students everyday strategic thinking and stores of general knowledge (Langer, 2002), which teachers connect to the academic tasks.
3. Structured Practice

The structured practice phase of direct, explicit instruction calls for teachers to begin the process of handing over to students the strategy or concept that they have modeled. Using new but related material, teachers apply the steps of
a strategy or the dimensions of a concept, involving students in ways in which they cannot fail. For example, students use graphic organizers, sentence frames, or other structured supports that organize the successful use of the strategy.
4. Guided Practice

Guided practice is the phase of instruction that helps students move toward independence. In this phase, teachers give students increasing responsibility for applying a strategy or concept to more new material. Teachers use structured response techniques (see PD56) to ensure that every student participates and to check the accuracy of students responses in order to provide immediate corrective feedback, if necessary. The teacher withdraws support gradually and only when students show that they can work on their own.
5. Independent Practice

In the final phase of direct, explicit instruction, students independently practice work with a strategy or concept, applying their new knowledge in unfamiliar situations. During this phase, students have the main responsibility for
completing academic tasks on their own, although teachers still monitor what they do and respond to their efforts.
Applying the Research: Inside Language, Literacy, and Content
Direct, explicit instruction is an integral part of Inside Language, Literacy, and Content. Special emphasis is given to key comprehension strategies such as identifying main ideas, using text structure, or making connections, to word-learning strategies such as contextual and morphemic analysis that students can apply to figure out and learn new or specialized vocabulary, and to writing strategies, such as focusing on the central idea. Structured, Scaffolded Lessons Following the model of exemplary direct instruction, lessons in each area of Inside Language, Literacy, and Content are designed to scaffold learners efforts and to gradually release responsibility. Lessons are organized with headings that clearly identify the phases of direct instruction, such as Connect, Teach/Model, Practice Together, Try It!, and On Your Own. This gives teachers at-a-glance support and reinforcement in infusing the direct instruction model throughout the day.

Graphic Organizers, Academic Language Frames.
and Routines These are used extensively throughout Inside Language, Literacy, and Content to guide student learning. Lessons use graphic organizers and other visual supports to take students step-by-step through the hidden thinking processes that proficient readers and writers habitually use. The Academic Language Frames help students articulate the concepts they are learning or support them as they demonstrate a skill. Simple repetitive routines for developing
vocabulary, phonics, and fluency are clearly presented in the front of the Teachers Edition and referenced
throughout the lessons.
Multi-level Teaching Strategies

Throughout Inside Language, Literacy, and Content, multi-level teaching strategies provide ways to differentiate instruction, adjusting it as needed for students levels of language proficiency.
Structured Response Techniques

As part of structured and extended practice, students respond orally to summarize a concept or write responses on cards to display at the same time. These techniques allow teachers to involve all students and provide immediate feedback to support correct answers and address incorrect ones.

Checking Understanding

Lessons include prompts for ongoing checking of students understanding during the direct instruction process and assist the teacher in deciding when to assign independent practice.
Immediate Corrective Feedback

Lessons provide immediate corrective feedback if students have trouble understanding the strategy or content being taught. Look for the ideas that follow the red arrows in the instructional column of the TEs. Corrective feedback varies depending on the lesson but may include rereading or reteaching, additional practice examples, teacher prompts, sentence frames, or other structured support that clarifies the strategy or content.

Additional Support

Inside Language, Literacy, and Content includes multiple additional resources to support students in mastering the strategies and content taught through direct instruction. The Digital Library provides videos and images that help students build background and connect new content to what they already know. Recorded readings, chants, choral responses, and role plays support lessons in multiple strands including oral language and grammar. Supplemental reading materials provide additional opportunities for students to practice and apply skills and strategies in core lessons.

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