Monday, April 27, 2015

Direct Instruction

I have long been a proponent of direct instruction in the classroom.  I operate on the theory that my school district pays me a moderate amount of money on the supposition that I know more about math than the students in my classes and should therefore impart that knowledge to the dumplings, and not expect the students to create the knowledge from thin air:
The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Debates about direct instruction versus inquiry learning have been ongoing for many years. Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.

Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.

Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.

The UK report concludes that many of the approaches adopted in Australian education are counterproductive:
Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction.
Especially during the early primary school years in areas like English and mathematics, teachers need to be explicit about what they teach and make better use of whole-class teaching.
The Chicoms are doing it right.  I expect opponents of this philosophy to go slippery slope and reductio ad absurdum any moment now.


maxutils said...

You completely ignored the idea of direct instruction by Socratic method … takes longer, but better understanding.

Darren said...

I didn't ignore it, I don't consider the Socratic Method to *be* direct instruction. And neither did Socrates.

maxutils said...

I disagree with both of you… but either way, it is far different then sending groups off to figure stuff out themselves. A good socratic proces results in the same achievement as direct, but with greater understanding. Takes longer, though.

Auntie Ann said...

If only Project Follow Through had not been suppressed, this would have been clear to everyone back in the early 70's and the last 45 years of running full speed down the wrong track might never have happened.