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Direct Instruction? Sure, If You Don’t Want Einsteins!

We can't just box students in with direct instruction, yet some need to be taught how to explore!!
We can’t just box students in with direct instruction, yet some need to be taught how to explore!!

I get a bit hot under the collar–okay, a lot hot under the collar, when I read posts like this:

What Can We Learn from Direct Instruction and Siegfried Engelmann?

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.

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New Teacher Goals

In my last blog, I discussed how my experiences with coaching myself as a cyclist parallel my most effective strategies for coaching teachers.

Setting individualized goals is a key component. When I first tried out my biking shoes, I aimed for my husband’s goal: clip in as much as possible. After the second fall, I changed my goal: clip in wherever it is safe. I unclip on any stretch of road or trail that might bring surprises.

Often, new teachers—or their mentors—assume that a strategy needs to be implemented just as other teachers use it. They end up either biting off more than they can chew at first, or struggling inordinately with something that looked so easy when modeled by a teacher with very different strengths. Think for example about ways to develop student responsibility for materials. A new middle school teacher wanted to use a colleague’s chart for tracking which class had the highest percentage of students who came each day with pencil, notebook, and homework.

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Differentiated Cycling AND Coaching

Have you noticed that “who you are is how you teach”? Colleagues who are a bit more reserved tend to run quieter classrooms. Teachers who love to read (in what little spare time teachers have!) share that love with students. Our classrooms mirror our strengths and interests in countless ways. (You can download Chapter 2: Who You Are is How You Teach from one of my books which explains a framework for working with normal differences among teachers–and students)

Who We Are is How We Bike–And Teach

I recently realized that who I am is also how I bike. As I did some thorough self-coaching to master new equipment, I found I was taking myself through the same process I use with teachers. Hopefully, my biking experience will help provide an image of key strategies that can help new teachers use their strengths to master their biggest needs in the classroom.!<

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Differentiated Professional Development

Besides telling me, “That was practical,” attendees at my daylong workshops also comment, “You kept us awake all day. What did you do?” Well, I differentiated.

I do my best to model what I hope teachers will do for students: “teach around” the learning styles so that the day’s activities are varied and everyone’s needs are met at least some of the time. You can learn more about how these styles apply to students in my Educational Leadership article, “Let Me Learn My Own Way”, but the styles also apply to teachers. Try planning your next professional development session with something for each style.

  • “Let me master it!” Teachers with this learning style often appreciate receiving detailed instructions for new strategies or lessons. Provide time for reading those instructions and asking detailed questions. Give a demonstration or show a film clip of a teacher using the new strategy.
  • “Let me do something!” These teachers do not want to sit still all day!
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