Direct Instruction, (not the commercial program) refers to (1) instructional approaches that are structured, sequenced, and led by teachers, and/or (2) the presentation of academic content to students by teachers, such as in a presentation or demonstration. In other words, teachers are “directing” the instructional process or instruction is being “directed” at students.
The largest educational research ever made was called Project Follow Through, completed in the 1970s. It cost over $600 million, and covering 79,000 children in 180 communities. This project examined a variety of programs and educational philosophies to learn how to improve education of disadvantaged children in grades K-3. Desired positive outcomes included basic skills, cognitive skills (“higher order thinking”) and affective gains (self-esteem). Multiple programs were implemented over a 5-year period and the results were analyzed by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Abt Associates (Cambridge, MA). The various programs studied could be grouped into the three classes described above (Basic Skills, Cognitive-Conceptual, Affective-Cognitive).
The program that gave the best results in general was true Direct Instruction. The other program types, which have come and gone as educational strategies (having labels like “holistic,” “student-centered learning,” “learning-to-learn,” “active learning,” “cooperative education,” and “whole language”) were inferior. Students receiving Direct Instruction did better than those in all other programs when tested in reading, arithmetic, spelling, and language. Direct Instruction improved cognitive skills dramatically relative to the control groups and also showed the highest improvement in self-esteem scores compared to control groups.
That being said, good direct instruction should include the following:
- Establishing learning objectives for lessons, activities, and projects, and then making sure that students have understood the goals.
- Purposefully organizing and sequencing a series of lessons, projects, and assignments that move students toward stronger understanding and the achievement of specific academic goals.
- Reviewing instructions for an activity or modeling a process—such as a scientific experiment—so that students know what they are expected to do.
- Providing students with clear explanations, descriptions, and illustrations of the knowledge and skills being taught.
- Asking questions to make sure that students have understood what has been taught.
- Practicing the skill with the students called guided practice.
- Assigning more practice with the skill called independent practice or homework.
Some may want to criticize the fact that this research is forty plus years old, but let me point out this was the largest study ever made in the history of educational research and it will never happen again. Why? Because the money is not there, nor ever will be there again to repeat it on such a large scale. So according to this, you cannot go wrong with using direct instruction in the classroom.