Have you noticed there’s a Women in Education: Leading Perspectives Institute in July? In San…
I get a bit hot under the collar–okay, a lot hot under the collar, when I read posts like this:
Don’t get me wrong. The blogger has definitely pulled together some key data on the benefits of direct instruction, where teachers demonstrate “how” and students then practice for mastery, for children in poverty. There are key reasons to use direct instruction.
But…not all students from poverty have the same learning needs. And this kind of instruction is what made Einstein and Edison drop out of school. And here’s my big point:
It isn’t EITHER Direct Instruction OR Student-Centered Instruction. It’s both.
Sorry to shout. But either/or thinking won’t work on this issue. Here’s three big reasons why.
Students Really Do Have Different Learning Needs
If you’ve concluded that learning styles don’t matter, here’s the deal…in many situations, CONTENT drives how students need to learn, so matching styles and instructional methods won’t work. However, being taught in someone else’s style all day long, year after year, is like never getting to throw a baseball, or shoot a basket, or write a note with your preferred hand. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and a sure bet that you’ll start assuming you aren’t “good at it.”
And styles exist. I’ve found personality type to be the best identifier of those styles.
Check my TEDx talk for information on neuroscience, Jung and how students approach math. Note that some Jungian types show more brain activity when looking out the window than when doing the kinds of repetitive tasks that make up the bulk of direct instruction.
Read my Educational Leadership article “Let Me Learn My Own Way” Pay particular attention to what it says about differences in student needs for practice. Practice DOES NOT make perfect for all of us, nor do we need the same amount.
Check out how making courses more extraverted, collaborative and hands-on–the opposite of direct instruction–helped the “lower” students in North Carolina State’s engineering program. I think an increase in graduation rates is probably more important than mere increases in standardized test scores, don’t you?
Check my Research Summary: How Type Preferences Influence Student Approaches to Mathematical Tasks. Hmmm so the differences are statistically significant…
If you look at ANY of these, you’ll see a place for direct instruction. Again, I’m not saying get rid of it. I’m saying educators, beware. Let’s see why.
Direct Instruction May Be a Bridge, Not a Solution
I don’t know about you, but I’m really not looking for test-taking masters. I understand that short-term results can be a predictor of long-term results, at least on more tests. But what I want to know is, do instructional practices lead to lifelong learners? To innovators? To informed citizens I want voting in the next elections and sitting on juries? We need a Short-Term AND Long-Term view of whether instructional practices are best for students.
Two great, great books provide wonderful insights about the probable reasons that direct instruction shows improved test scores with high-poverty students.
Check out Literacy with an Attitude by Patrick Finn. He saw first-hand this need in his working-class students to be told what to do, and the problems that “liberal” teachers had when they tried to instruct through inquiry or open discussions. Yet he also contrasts that with upper-class students who are taught to question and think for themselves. What are we reinforcing if we only teach working-class students to follow orders???
Lisa Delpitt’s Other People’s Children looks at some of the same issues through the lens of race and the culture of power.
These authors echo to an extent the findings of the author whose blog link begins this post. Yet they go beyond. Direct instruction isn’t enough. In reading, especially, it often results in students not having time to do the one activity with the highest correlation to improved reading skills–actually reading!! Class time gets bogged down in fluency drills, decoding worksheets, and so on. Read The Book Whisperer to find out how reading instruction based on student choice and free reading time equals or outperforms every other form of reading instruction!! Direct instruction, yes, around genre characteristics and other key concepts, but with free reading, not instead of!!!
So…we may need direct instruction to help these students gain academic confidence, but we need to carefully help them learn to learn for themselves if they are to bridge to the long-term, self-directed learning required in college and the workplace. In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough documents how the Kipp Schools, which provide support for their students even during college, still haven’t found how to help them navigate higher learning. They haven’t managed to bridge over…
We’ll Lose the Out-Of-The-Box Thinkers
If you read all this and still think direct instruction is warranted in high-poverty schools, consider that you’re also probably sacrificing any future Einsteins, Gates’s, Jobs’s, Edisons, etc., who might be in those schools. Read John Dewey’s writings. Drill and kill turned his school days into torture. In Jungian terms, you lose the 25 percent or so of the population that prefers the Intuitive style–processing information through hunches, connections and analogies. They need scores of chances to put their own mark on things. Yes, some of these students are pleasers and will comply, but they can’t develop their full potential if they aren’t taught to trust their own style!!
A good portion of the other 75 percent of the population who prefer Sensing seem to benefit far more from far more direct instruction and practice. They often tell me, “Why would I start if there’s a chance I might not be doing it the most efficient way or the way you want me to do it?” And guess what? Teachers who prefer Sensing prefer to use direct instruction methods. Who You Are is How You Teach…that’s the opening chapter in my book on differentiated instruction.
Besides the Einsteins, you’ll most likely also lose the 30 percent of students who are our hands-on, improvisational learners–the studies we have show that these students make up about 90 percent of the kids who fill our alternative high schools. They don’t learn by sit n’ git. Not year in and year out.
My current book project (Corwin, late 2013) is on how we turn these either/or destructive practices in education into conversations where we recognize the positive contributions of both “sides” and how to get the upsides working for our particular organization. We have to. Or we end up with partial solutions that don’t work for the long haul.
What do you think? Can we do both?