Direct Instruction Research Paper Starter

Direct Instruction

(Research Starters)

This article presents an overview of Direct Instruction, a teacher-directed curriculum specifically designed to address the learning needs of underprivileged students who are at-risk of failing. This system of teaching was developed by Siegfried Engelmann in the 1960's and has recently resurfaced as a viable form of instructing those identified students who could benefit from the highly intensive, sequential instructions. Direct Instruction has certain characteristics: an academic focus; a teacher-directed curriculum; clarity to goals; review of past learning; presentation of new material in small steps; the monitoring of student progress through questioning; provision for feedback with corrections; provision for independent exercise; and the revision of the lesson's goals based on review. Elements of Direct Instruction are also incorporated within software that is used to enhance the learning of at-risk students.

Keywords At-risk students; Automaticity; Direct instruction; Learning objectives; Mastery; Phonics; Sequential learning; Teacher-directed learning

Teaching Methods: Direct Instruction


Direct Instruction is a system of teaching that was developed by Siegfried Engelmann in the 1960's, as a way to address the learning needs of underprivileged at-risk students. Studies have shown that the programs work best in Kindergarten and Grade 1; however, the programs also have been proven to work effectively in Pre-K through 6th grades, in secondary programs, in adult special education, and for remedial students.

This teacher-directed program begins with a highly developed classroom script that breaks down complex skills into specific sequential components. Students are taught each component. The teacher models the desired behavior, provides practice and feedback at each step, and tests students to determine mastery. If 100% mastery is not achieved, then the teacher takes steps to re-teach skills until all students have acquired mastery (Engelmann & Osborn, 1999). The highly directive program focuses on topics such as: reading, mathematics, language, science, social science, fact learning (or cultural literacy), and handwriting. The program requires ongoing intensive technical support for teachers.

Described as a highly structured, intensive teaching program, Direct Instruction is geared to address the needs of underprivileged children as a way to accelerate learning for at-risk students. The oldest version of Direct Instruction was called DISTAR and originated in the Carl Bereiter-Siegfried Engelmann Preschool at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in the 1960's. Engelmann, an education specialist and professor at the university, asserted that if a student failed, the reason behind this failure was the instructional sequencing rather than the fault of the student. He further stated that just because a teacher covered certain material didn't mean that the student learned the material. Hence, he developed a program that had certain characteristics: an academic focus; a teacher-directed curriculum; clarity to goals; review of past learning; presentation of new material in small steps; the monitoring of student progress through questioning; provision for feedback with corrections; provision for independent exercise; and, the revision of the lesson's goals based on review.

Direct Instruction gained recognition when the federal government's Follow Through Projectin 1967 confirmed the effectiveness of Direct Instruction. The goal of the Follow Through Project, a $500 million dollar endeavor, was to raise performance in poverty-stricken districts. Agencies across the United States were invited to implement their programs in order to discover programs that would meet the 50% rise in performance that the project anticipated. Of the over 20 programs that were involved, only Direct Instruction came close to the mark of 50%. The Follow Through Project was cancelled in 1995 due to budget cuts (Ryder, Burton, & Silberg, 2006). However, Engelmann's work continued and was expanded into several instructional packages that focused on reading, math and language, and included the addition of general comprehension and analytic skills to the early mastery of skills agenda that was promoted in the earliest DISTAR model.

A hallmark of Direct Instruction is its fully scripted program of instruction. Lessons are heavily researched and designed to teach concepts, with each sequential lesson built on previously mastered skills and understandings. Classroom scripts are written, tested, rewritten, retested, and piloted until developers are assured that 90% of students can acquire the specified knowledge the first time around (Engelmann & Osborn, 1999).

Teachers need orientation and adequate professional development to be successful in implementing Direct Instruction. The program requires teachers to ask up to 300 questions in at least six small group sessions each day. Teachers perform reading checks every five to ten lessons until the class has reached 100% mastery (Engelmann & Osborn, 1999). Even the novice teacher can follow the procedures of Direct Instruction and foster success. In-class coaches are commonly offered for support when the commercially produced Direct Instruction program is first introduced to a school system. Coaches monitor each individual teacher and offer support when problems evolve. In-class coaches can be employers of the contractors who promote the program or teachers who have been trained in Direct Instruction.

Direct Instruction has evolved further to include best practices in literacy development. The program is used in small groups, as a way of developing communities of learners where students meet group and community goals. Teachers give brief placement tests to ensure that each student begins where he or she belongs; the organized short lessons are implemented sequentially.

Although once linked to instruction in many content areas, the more recent approaches to Direct Instruction have been coupled with systematic and explicit phonics instruction. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Engelmann's original program, due to the Department of Education's "Reading First" initiative, with its focus on more defined reading instruction across schools. Within the "15 Elements of Effective Adolescent Literacy Programs" presented by the Alliance for Excellent Education (2004) is described the need for direct, explicit comprehension instruction "in the strategies and processes that proficient readers use" (p. 4). The "Reading Next" program, an expansion of the "Reading First" program, emphasizes this point in the instruction of older children.

In May 2006, the National Council on Teacher Quality published its findings of the state of reading instruction. It asserted that "the current reading failure rate of 20 to 30 percent could be reduced to the range of 2 to 10 percent" if elementary teachers incorporated certain research based practices in their classrooms (p. 1). These practices include characteristics of Direct Instruction: explicit instruction in letter sounds, syllables and words; teaching phonics in a sequence; practicing skills to a point of automaticity; and, frequent assessment and instructional adjustments to determine student progress. Direct Instruction has evidenced itself to be a program that has the ability to increase the literacy skills in at-risk students. One area of significant underperformance by the at-risk student was that of writing skills. Study participants' metacognitive skills positively transferred to their writing performance. Accordingly, at-risk students need an extended hands-on practice with writing strategies throughout a writing process (Eunjyu, 2013). Direct Instruction in mastery of phonics is also more effective than other teaching approaches in helping students become skilled, independent readers (Raynor et al., 2001). Physical education programs have also incorporated Direct Instruction in their curriculum, as a way to implement and assess basic skills. Demonstration is a major part of the modeling in physical education programs.

Teachers in science programs also support the implementation of Direct Instruction in their curriculum. David Klahr (2006), professor of psychology at the Carnegie Mellon University, has reviewed a spectrum of teaching methods in science instruction and has asserted that Direct Instruction has its place in the science classroom. Direct Instruction becomes an effective model when teaching a process. Specifically, the design of experiments is an activity that is easily retained when Direct Instruction is used to promote this skill. The Direct Instruction curriculum itself is a highly tuned curriculum supported by such organizations as the National Institute for Direct Instruction and the Association for Direct Instruction.

While the Direct Instruction program has a highly specific curriculum and strategies for implementation, the term direct instruction has evolved to include any teacher-directed approach to instruction that involves the components of explicit step-by step instruction and student mastery at each step. Teachers have developed their own scripts, preparing lesson plans that include fast-paced directed instruction, with regular checks for understanding and feedback. Recently, educational technology has included hybrid direct instruction opportunities for students, motivating students to work on their own to improve their skills.


Development of Curriculum

Developers of Direct Instruction curriculum follow a specific protocol before a program is implemented in...

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