The importance of effective instruction
- Published: Monday, 29 March 2021 14:07
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Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
Each of my articles is available as a PDF at https://tinyurl.com/y6vat4ut
Pre-edited version of: Hempenstall, K. (2004). The importance of effective instruction. In N.E. Marchand-Martella, T.A. Slocum, and R.C. Martella (Eds.), Introduction to Direct Instruction (pp.1-27). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
This piece is presented partly for historical reasons. It also suggests the issues are as salient today as they were nearly twenty years ago.
After studying this chapter you should be able to:
- Describe the economic, social and political benefits for society of competence in basic skills.
- Describe the areas of disadvantage for those individuals who do not develop competence in basic skills.
- Compare the basic skill development of students in the USA relative to other comparable countries and relative to the past.
- Describe the process of decline typically endured by students who make slow initial progress in basic skills.
- Describe the relationship between student achievement and teacher behavior.
- Explain why empirical research had such little impact upon teaching practice in the past.
- Compare the experiences in other professions in the shift toward research-based practice.
- Summarize the research on effective instructional principles (direct instruction).
- Describe the history of Direct Instruction and that of its major instigators.
- Display a general understanding of its unique features.
- Summarize the criticisms of Direct Instruction, and explain its lack of acceptance in education.
- List some of the major implementation issues for schools.
- Recognize the design and delivery features incorporated in a range of Direct Instruction programs.
There is a community acknowledgement that universal education is of the highest national priority so that individually and nationally the nation is able to make best use of its resources and thrive in a competitive world. Among the general population state and national student assessment have become an accepted means of gauging the success or otherwise of education policies.
Whilst there has always been controversy, a current perception is that the results, particularly in the core skills such as literacy and math, are unacceptably poor. This has occurred despite the increasingly enormous amounts of money poured into education annually. One explanation for this perception is that education has never forged strong links to research and has failed to acknowledge and promote methods of teaching that are demonstrably effective. There is ample evidence that most student failure is a predictable and preventable phenomenon, and even the step-by-step process of student decline is understood.
There has long been evidence that some teaching behaviors are more conducive to student success than are others. However, until recently these practices have had little impact in the classroom. It is now recognised that events in the classroom represent the most powerful opportunity to influence student progress available to the education system, and we are beginning to see interest in training teachers in the effective methods of instruction. The methods are viewed as helpful to the learning of most students, but have particular importance in the national efforts to overcome failure amongst disadvantaged minority groups.
An important model consistent with the recent emphases is known as Direct Instruction, an approach that has a relatively long history, though one that has not been well accepted or adopted by the education community. This model has many notable features that are consistent with the research on effective teaching, and some that are unique. These features can be readily observed in the range of programs available for a variety of curriculum areas.
More than ever before our society requires an educated population. Governments recognize that unless the nation’s workforce is skilled, the economy will always be under threat because of global competition. Parents are aware that their children’s economic and social future depends on a capacity to respond productively to a rapidly changing workplace. Adaptability, the capacity to respond to new challenges, requires as a prerequisite a firm grounding in basic skills – the underpinnings of a rounded education.
Additionally, we live in a more complex world in which no country can afford to be insular. The nation’s policies have an impact at a world level in addition to that at a domestic level. Citizens’ awareness of national and international issues is crucial in the development of a nation’s policies, and only an educated population can provide this support and guidance to their political leaders in a democratic society.
However, education was not always thought to be so significant among the broader community. There was a time when education, and in particular, literacy was not a pre-requisite for most employment. In the Seventh Century, for example, most reading was a religious activity, and the ability to read was restricted to relatively few. In fact, the first teachers of reading in English were priests, and only a few children were taught – the text being the Primer, or Prayerbook (Davis, 1973). It was not until the invention of the printing press in the Sixteenth Century that the written word became much more prevalent, although the Bible was the only book available in most homes. Reading and writing were first promoted by religious authorities as a means to one end (salvation), and only later was literacy considered important by the community, as a means to a quite different, secular end - an educated, democratic society.
In more recent times, Flesch (1955) exemplified this concern when expressing his dismay at the methods of teaching reading that were popular at the time. He argued that an alleged decline in reading standards among the children of the working class represented a threat to democracy. He hinted at conspiracies to disempower sections of the community by deliberately using methods of teaching that were ineffective. "The American dream is, essentially, equal opportunity through free education for all. This dream is beginning to vanish in a country where public schools are falling down on the job" (Flesch, 1955, p. 132).
What problems for individuals are related to low levels of education? A litany of disadvantage.
Stedman and Kaestle (1987) described the day-to-day effects of serious deficits in functional literacy.
Among the lowest fifth in functional literacy skills are many who are unable to read product labels and have to depend upon brand name logos for selection of items in a grocery store. Many are unable to determine whether they are getting the correct change. Many cannot read recipes very well and cannot read the directions on frozen food packages. (p. 34).
Further difficulties for these adults include reading traffic signs, street names and maps, transport schedules, children's homework, school reports, medical information, and emergency phone numbers.
The report of the National Institute for Literacy (1998) also focussed upon low literacy - pointing to a strong association with unemployment, poverty, and crime.
It is generally acknowledged that the availability of employment for those with under-developed basic skills has declined markedly in the last 20 years. There are far more positions requiring communication skills and fewer in which the primary responsibility is physical labour. This trend is evident in the Workplace 2000 finding that although 40% of existing jobs can be performed by individuals with limited basic skills, only 27% of newly created positions allow such latitude.
A very high proportion of individuals with under-developed education skills are unemployed. About 80 percent of adults with at least a university degree are in employment compared with 65% of those who were high school graduates, to only 43% of those who did not complete secondary school (Snyder & Hoffman, 2002). It is anticipated (Hecker, 2001) that, at least until the year 2010, professional and related occupations and service occupations will produce the most rapid growth, thereby supplying the most jobs over that period. Obviously, educational attainment will assume even greater significance.
Those currently employed are more likely to be in part-time work, more frequently made redundant, and having been so - are less likely to find new employment. The gap between the median earnings of college graduates and high school graduates has also widened (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).
In the Condition of Education (U.S. Department of Education, 2002a) report, it was noted that health and welfare are also strongly related to education levels. Problems in the understanding and practice of good nutrition and mental health, access to health services, and the appropriate use of medical services are all characteristic of those with poor literacy. Further, the less well educated are involved in more workplace accidents. Lyon (2001a) reported that about 50% of those with a history of substance abuse have reading problems. Forty three percent of those individuals at the lowest literacy skill level live in poverty (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).
Among the prison population, seventy percent demonstrate literacy at the two lowest levels of reading proficiency (National Institute for Literacy, 1998). Lyon (2001) made the chilling observation that in some U.S. states the accommodation needs of their prisons ten years into the future can be reliably predicted by the current fourth grade rates of reading failure. This relationship between basic skill deficits and crime is not confined to the U.S.. In Great Britain, Parsons (2002) pointed to a “close link between poor literacy, numeracy and crime” (p.3). Indeed, 48% of all current prisoners exhibit problems in reading, whilst 65% demonstrate difficulties in numeracy.
Concern about national decline?
It was not only a concern for democracy that elevated education-for-all to the status of a national priority. The completion of secondary school was originally the province of the middle class, it being seen as unnecessary for individuals who would inevitably spend the working life in an unskilled occupation. It was the increased desire of those in poorly paid and often unsafe employment that their children have the opportunity for a better life that helped lead to education’s rise in status. The issue of how well the education industry meets the challenges set for it by universal education has long been a source of controversy. The issues have concerned the community’s perception of the absolute level of success, and whether the level is improving or in decline.
It is tempting to attribute the recent rapid increase in technology as a major factor in altering the employment mix between those entailing mostly physical abilities and those requiring predominantly intellectual qualities. Yet, as long ago as 1984, Kirsch and Guthrie indicated that the demands of the workplace for literacy skills was obviously increasing, and that jobs without a strong literacy requirement were becoming rare. Similarly, in A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) it was argued that the literacy demands of an increasingly sophisticated society were exceeding supply.
Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983).
There is a current public perception that either educational outcomes for students have continued this suggested decline or that the education system is now unable to meet rising community and employer expectations. Only 36% of Americans in 1999 expressed either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the public schools. In 1988, the proportion was 49%, and in 1973 it was 58% (Public Agenda, 2002).
Concerns about public education are not new; however, their focus in recent times has shifted. Concerns that have arisen over the last ten to twenty years include apparent national and state test score declines, unflattering international achievement comparisons, the failure of funding increases to produce discernible results, high school dropout rates, and a perception that schooling and work are insufficiently closely aligned (Levin, 1998).
Recently in a report to the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Snow (2002) noted that U.S. students are falling behind students in other comparable countries because their under-developed basic skills limit their attainment in the challenging subject-specific demands of the secondary school curriculum.
What evidence is there to justify concern?
It is not solely a perception by the public that there are serious problems in the education system’s capacity to meet community expectations. Numerous surveys and reports have reached similar conclusions. The U.S. Department of Education reported in 1999 that across the nation 40% of fourth-graders failed to demonstrate even partial mastery of the literacy levels required for school success, and among high-poverty schools that figure rose to 70%. Only one of ten students in high-poverty schools read at the Proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Similar results were presented in the Nation's Report Card: Fourth-Grade Reading 2000 (U.S. Department of Education, 2001a) in the finding that only32% of students could be considered proficient.
Lyon (2001a) has observed that of those who receive special assistance because of early reading problems, only two percent will complete a four-year college program. Further, more than three quarters of the approximately 15 percent of children who prematurely leave school ascribe major significance to the difficulties experienced in learning to read. The extent of their basic skill deficit is evident in the USDOE (1999) finding that 60% of the unemployed lack the basic skills required in order to successfully trained for high tech positions.
It is not only literacy that is of concern. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reported that U.S students were performing unsatisfactorily against many other countries.
“In mathematics a score at the 75th percentile in the U.S. was below the 25th percentile in Singapore. The problems we must address affect not only our average students, but even those who are above average. … What we can see in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study is that schooling makes a difference. Specifically, we can see that the curriculum itself - what is taught - makes a huge difference” (Schmidt, Houang, & Cogan, 2002, p. 2-3).
The basic attainment of many high school graduates fall below community expectations. Most employers and college professors say that high school graduates generally display poor or only fair basic skills, such as written expression, spelling and maths (Johnson & Duffett, 2002). The American Management Association Survey on Workplace Testing (American Management Association, 2001) found that about one third of assessed applicants lacked the basic skills necessary to perform the jobs they sought, and 85% of the companies did not hire such applicants.
Even at the tertiary level, problems in the basic skill levels of entrants were of concern, noted The Condition of Education Report (U.S. Department of Education, 2002a). Whilst the problems are not restricted to entrants from minority groups, such candidates do tend to do less well than their peers. A report by the U.S. Department of Education (2002b) indicated that, on average, black tertiary students receive lower academic scores than do their white counterparts. Numerous universities have found it necessary to institute programs of teaching basic skills, in particular, literacy to their newly enrolled students. However, their attempts are not expected to have a great impact. Partly because of these worrying issues in higher education, and also because of the increasingly diverse population in schools, there has been an elevated pressure on elementary and secondary schools to improve their instructional effectiveness.
The problems with basic skills begin early but become entrenched
Of course, it is not as though the issues surrounding both premature school discontinuation and the under-developed basic skills in some college entrants suddenly arise late in their school careers. Binder (1996) describes as "cumulative dysfluency" the gradual loss of contact with the curriculum that eventuates when students whose basic skill deficits should have been evident to astute observers in the early grades are left to their own devices, or enrolled in ineffectual programs. As complexity increases in secondary curriculum subjects such as science and history, some students reach a ceiling - the requisite advanced abilities in comprehension and reasoning failing to develop in concert with the demands. Lewis and Paik (2001) make a similar observation that adequate development of basic skills is essential if students are to find success at whatever the grade and in any school subject.
It appears that problems in basic educational skills, commencing early in an individual’s life, can have snowballing negative effects, and the consequences are felt over a lifetime and in numerous domains of the individual’s life. By what mechanism might this occur?
Anatomy of decline
Several studies, such as that by Farkas and Beron (2001), have noted that students entering school with under-developed vocabularies are highly likely to fail in their basic skill development, yet they also found the effects could be countered by intensive early school-based assistance. Lyon (2001b) points out that such vocabulary deficits are more likely among disadvantaged children whose parents may be unable to provide them with the early literacy experiences that provide many other students with a flying start. These experiences include reading to children, but even earlier major differences in language were noted by Hart and Risley (1995) in the amount and quality of conversation between parents and children from professional, working class and welfare families.
Arguably, the area of literacy development, and in particular, initial progress in reading, represents the fulcrum upon which students’ educational progress balances. The Matthew Effect is not only about the progressive decline of slow starters, but also about the widening gap between slow starters and fast starters. There is ample evidence (America Reads, 2001; Ceci, 1991) that students who do not make good initial progress in learning to read find it increasingly difficult to ever master the process. Stanovich (1986, 1988, 1993) outlined a model in which problems with early phonological skills lead to a downward spiral where all other school skills and even higher cognitive skills are eventually affected by slow reading development.
Stanovich (1986) used the label Matthew Effect (after the Gospel according to St. Matthew) to describe how, commencing at the initial stages of reading, the rich tend to become richer and the poor become poorer. Children with a clear understanding of the sound structure of spoken words (phonological awareness) are well placed to make sense of our alphabetic system. Their rapid development of spelling-to-sound correspondences allows the development of independent reading, high levels of practice, and the subsequent fluency that is critical for comprehension and enjoyment of reading.
Moats (1996) also argued that it is largely the initial insensitivity to word structure that undermines students’ capacity to learn the code of written English. This fundamental deficit consequently inhibits the learning of word meanings, reading comprehension, spelling, written expression, and even the motivation to engage in subsequent language-based learning. In their study, Chapman, Tunmer, and Prochnow (2000) reported a negative self-concept among struggling readers arising within the first two years of their schooling.
The decline for children without good phonological awareness is exacerbated because they do not participate in reading as much as do their peers. Allington (1984) in a study of Grade 1 students noted vastly different reading-exposure ratios. In his study, the number of words read per week ranged from 16 in the less skilled group to 1933 in the upper group. Exacerbating this problem of differential exposure is the finding that struggling readers are often presented with reading materials that are too difficult for them (Stanovich, 1986). Slow, halting error-prone reading of difficult material, unsurprisingly, militates against comprehension and leads to avoidance of reading activities and further disadvantage.
There is evidence that vocabulary development from about Year 3 is largely a function of volume of reading (Nagy, 1998; National Reading Panel, 2000; Stanovich, 1988a). Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimate that, in school, struggling readers may read around 100,000 words per year; whereas, for keen mid-elementary students the figure may be closer to 10,000,000, that is, a 100 fold difference. For out of school reading, Fielding, Wilson and Anderson (1986) suggested a similar ratio - indicating that children at the 10th percentile of reading ability in their Year 5 sample read about 50,000 words per year out of school, while those at the 90th percentile read about 4,500,000 words per year.
Language skills such as vocabulary knowledge, general knowledge, syntactic skills, and possibly even memory, rely heavily on reading for their development. These skills impinge on most areas of the curriculum and hence what began as a narrow deficit becomes progressively larger, amplified by the negative motivational consequences of failure. Contrary to the hope that initial slow progress is merely a maturational lag to be redressed by a developmental spurt at some later date, typically even relatively minor delays tend to become increasingly major over time (Stanovich, 1993). A study by Juel (1988) reported a probability that a poor reader in Year I would still be so classified in Year 4 was 0.88, a finding supported by the Jorm, Maclean, Matthews and Share (1984) longitudinal study. A performance difference in reading of 4 months in Year I had increased to 9 months in Year 2 in favour of the phonemically aware group (who had been matched in kindergarten on verbal IQ and sight word reading), over a low phonemic awareness group.
From Lyon (1998), a sobering reminder of the importance of identifying and intervening early in a student’s educational career.
However, we have also learned that if we delay intervention until nine-years-of-age, (the time that most children with reading difficulties receive services), approximately 75% of the children will continue to have difficulties learning to read throughout high school. To be clear, while older children and adults can be taught to read, the time and expense of doing so is enormous.
The notion that even intellectual development can be markedly influenced by literacy attainment is not new but empirical research is increasingly supportive (Ceci, 1991; Fletcher, Francis, Rourke, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 1993; Stanovich, 1993). Further support from a longitudinal study in New Zealand is provided by Share, McGee and Silva (1989), and Share and Silva (1987). They matched reading disabled and non-disabled groups on their vocabulary scores attained at age 3. At age eleven, marked differences were noted in vocabulary, listening comprehension and general language skills in favour of the non-disabled group. Using a hierarchical multiple regression, they demonstrated that the changes in IQ between ages 7 and 13 were predicted by changes in reading over that period. Growth in reading ability between the ages of 7 and 13 accounted for a significant proportion of the IQ score variability even after attributing variability due to IQ and reading ability at age 7.
The Hoskyn and Swanson (2000) meta-analysis also offers support for this perspective, noting the development of generalised cognitive deficits in older children with a history of significant reading problems. This apparent cognitive decline is thought to be consequent upon the absence of normal language stimulation (e.g., vocabulary) provided by facile and regular reading.
The implications of these findings are both disturbing and instructive. That there is increasing agreement about a specific cause of most inadequate reading progress is encouraging. Early intervention has the potential to preclude failure with its attendant personal and social cost. That an initially modular deficit rapidly broadens into generalised language, intellectual, and motivational deficits is worrying for those attempting to alleviate the reading problems of students in mid-elementary school and beyond. In these cases, the consequences of the reading failure may remain even if the cause of the reading problem has been successfully addressed. For teachers trying to provide effective remedial assistance to such pupils the Matthew effect help explain (a) why progress is often painfully slow, (b) a lack of significant change in general classroom performance consequent upon improved reading, (c) why only presenting a dedicated phonemic awareness program with older children may not necessarily have a great impact.
What to do about it?
Many researchers (Adams, 1990; Ball, 1993; Ball & Blachman, 1991; Blachman, 1994; Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1989; Catts, 1991; Cunningham, 1990; Felton, 1993; Foorman, Francis, Novy & Liberman, 1991; Hatcher, Hulme & Ellis, 1994; Juel, 1993; Simmons, 1992; Stanovich, 1986, 1988b, 1992, 1993; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994), have noted the cost-beneficial effects of early intervention, and stressed the importance of primary prevention - for a variety of reasons - from pragmatism to social justice.
Although early intervention has long been regarded as logical - even programs as intensive as Head Start for disadvantaged children have not achieved the outcome success that was sought. The reasons may relate to the varying quality of educational programs offered, and to the difficulty in overcoming very early language disadvantage. More recent efforts may overcome some of the deficits of former initiatives as they are informed by up-to-date research.
In the Condition of Education (U.S. Department of Education, 2002) report it was noted that there has been an increase in enrolment rates for three to five year old children in childhood education programs, and there has also been a recognition that these programs, when well designed, can help compensate children for a language disadvantage in early childhood (Hart & Risley, 1995). This initiative involves increasing the educational elements in preschool programs that have formerly been considered an inappropriate forum for such activities. This emphasis shift has been endorsed by the wife of the incumbent President Bush in 2002 as she launched the first White House summit on early childhood education, seeking a national impetus to begin systematically teaching children important early learning skills even before they are old enough to read. Such early intervention initiatives are crucial if the community expectations are to be met. Without such large-scale programs, the trajectory for students with early disadvantage is sadly predictable.
The value of empirical research since the beginning of Head Start has been in the narrowing of the focus of the early intervention for reading - from a broad range of "readiness" activities to a specific emphases on (1) phonemic awareness as a screening tool and an possible intervention focus, and (2) the critical role of systematic, explicit phonics in initial reading instruction (National Reading Panel, 2000). Further, the evidence indicates the value of effective systematic instruction as a means of enhancing the learning of basic skills for all students, not only for those with disadvantage.
Who are the students who do not perform to expectations? Aren’t they learning disabled?
According to the Office of Educational Research & Improvement (2001) almost 40% of students nationally read below a basic level, that is, they struggle to comprehend even the simplest of texts. For minority group, these figures are even more alarming - 63% of African American fourth-graders, 60% of children in poverty and 47% of children in urban schools fell into this category. In New York State in 2001, only 30% of students passed the eighth-grade English test (Hartocollis, 2002), and nearly 65 percent of students were unable compute at grade level (Campanile, 2002).
Apart from the debate about whether a learning disability category really exists or whether it serves a useful function (U.S. Department of Education, 2001b), there is consensus that such a category can account for the failure of no more than about 5% of the population (U.S. Department of Education, 1995). In fact, there is concern that the expanding learning disability category may serve to mask the major issue in educational failure. "Learning disabilities have become a sociological sponge to wipe up the spills of general education. It's where children go who weren't taught well" (Lyon, as cited in Colvin & Helfand, 1999). According to the Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002) about 50% of those in special education programs are identified as having a specific learning disability, a category that has expanded by 300% since 1976. Of those students 80% are so classified because they haven’t been effectively taught how to read. Further, few children placed in special education programs make adequate progress or close the gap on their peers in literacy and school attainment.
The Commission further reported that students’ with disabilities failure to complete high school occurs at twice the rate of their non-disabled peers, and enrolment rates in higher education remain 50 percent lower than enrolment among the general population.
So, it appears that the educationally disadvantaged include those in the minority groups that one would anticipate – those in poverty, minority race groups, those with disability, and those with English as a second language. Yet, the figures suggest that a proportion of struggling students do not arise from those groups, but appear unexpectedly.
When the head of the reading programs at the federal government's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, G. Reid Lyon testified to the Senate Committee (Lyon, 1998) he pointed out that half of the children reading below the basic level in California were from the homes of parents who were college graduates.
In fact, the children of college-educated parents in California scored lowest with respect to their national cohort. These data underscore the fact that reading failure is a serious problem and cannot simply be attributed to poverty, immigration, or the learning of English as a second language.
Similarly, for mathematics - the TIMSS study observed that even bright students were lagging in comparison with those in other countries. Interestingly, the countries that did very well in math and science had “a common, coherent, rigorous curriculum” (Schmidt, Houang, & Cogan, 2002, p. 16).
Why instruction is important
What lessons have we learned in recent times about how to improve education rather than simply engage in the process of frequent change. Education has always been at the mercy of new ideas, but without wide-scale assessment and scientific research it was not been possible to detect whether any changes enhance or inhibit student progress. Even the belief that education can alter a student’s life trajectory has been questioned (Jencks et al., 1972). The Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966) and other studies deflated many in the educational community when it was reported that what occurred in schools had little impact on student achievement. It was been argued that the effects on educational outcomes of genetic inheritance, early childhood experiences and subsequent family environment vastly outweigh school effects. That being the case, there would be little point in stressing a particular curriculum model over any other since the effects would be negligible compared to other variables outside a school’s control.
From a different perspective, others have argued that student progress is self-determined and that teachers should only act as facilitators. Within this model, teachers are expected to react appropriately to student-initiated direction, rather than expect students to respond to a curriculum presented in a pre-planned manner. One response to such a belief is to seek the provision of large sums of money to reduce class sizes so that teachers have more time to devote to each student in this manner. However, the evaluation (Jepsen & Rivkin, 2002) of a large scale initiative in California (costing over $1 billion per year) indicated that a class reduction of ten students per grade increased the number of students exceeding national median tests score by only about 4 percentage points in mathematics and 3 percentage points in reading. These modest gains disappeared when large numbers of inexperienced teachers were employed to achieve the requisite class-size reductions.
In contrast to these perspectives is a strong body of research exemplified in the Sanders and Rivers (1996) finding that students who had were in classes with effective teachers for three years in a row achieved 50% more learning than those in classes with poor teachers over the same period.
Haycock, K. (1998). Good teaching matters ... a lot. In Good teaching matters: How well-qualified teachers can close the gap. The Education Trust, 3(2). [On-Line]. Available: http://www.edtrust.org/main/documents/k16_summer98.pdf
Another finding was that children in first year classes in which teachers lacked strong classroom management skills were at far greater risk of subsequent aggressive behavior. A range of studies should direct our attention to classroom instructional processes as a major variable impinging on student achievement. Based upon his analysis of empirical findings available since the 1970’s, Jencks has altered his view, and now argues for the potential of education to significantly reduce inequality in student achievement (Jencks & Phillips, 1998).
Through further research and powerful statistical methods such as multilevel structural equation modelling, it has become apparent that teacher inputs including the financial aspects of teaching, for example, salaries, special tax incentives, higher degrees, have not been shown to strongly influence student achievement (Wenglinsky, 2000). The major school influence on student achievement is now, clearly, classroom practice. Despite the evidence for this link, a great deal of policy continues to be devoted to issues outside of the classroom (Lyon & Fletcher, 2001; Wenglinsky, 2000).
A major concern with educational attainment is the gap between the affluent and the middle class, compared with those less advantaged – those from low income and minority groups. Social objectives of equality cannot be achieved whilst there are glaring gaps in the attainments of different segments of a society. A generally accepted social value is that such groups should be assigned sufficient assistance to enable their full participation in the economic and social riches of the nation. This goal has resisted attainment over a long period, though in recent times has there been a concerted multi-level attack on inequality at the school and preschool levels. Such initiatives have been partly driven and informed by the failure to make much headway with the teaching models most prevalent during the 1990’s.
In fact, the achievement levels of minority and low-income students declined during the 1990’s in comparison with those of other students (Haycock, 2001; Office of Educational Research & Improvement, 2001). The reading performance of the nation's fourth-graders may appear to have remained relatively stable across the last decade. However, whilst the 2000 national average reading scale score was similar to that of 1992, the reading of higher performing student improved and that of the low performing students declined, thereby increasing the gulf between them (Office of Educational Research & Improvement, 2001). Adding to the early disadvantage suffered by low income and minority children is the finding that they are far more likely to be saddled with lower quality teachers (Wayne, 2002).
Despite this depressing outcome, there are pockets of hope, emanating from schools and districts that address the issue of teaching effectiveness. A year long study in Boston noted that the best 30% of teachers evoked in their students six times the learning growth as did the lowest 30% of teachers (Boston Public Schools, 1998). Similar research in Tennessee and Texas highlighted the cumulative nature of these effects and their presence regardless of student background or attainment levels (Sanders & Rivers, 1996).
Of course, there were also other important elements in the comprehensive reform of schools serving disadvantaged students. According to the Report of the Education Trust (1999), successful schools ensured increased time was devoted to reading and math. A recognition that many teachers have had little training in effective teaching practice ensured that funds were made available to enable carefully focused professional development. In order for school and district accountability, comprehensive monitoring of student progress and consequences for inadequate teaching were incorporated. The provision of additional school and home-based student support helps ensure that students at risk do not remain unassisted. These elements of effective school reform have their most powerful effect in ensuring effective practices are employed in the classroom.
An increasing number of schools taking advantage of the research into effective teaching practices are adopting Direct Instruction programs.
When Thaddeus Lott became principal of Wesley Elementary, a school in an area of extreme disadvantage, only 18% of third-graders were at or above grade level in reading comprehension on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Within five years that proportion had increased to 85%. In 1996, 100 percent of the third-graders passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) in reading (Palmaffy, 1998).
In poverty-ridden City Springs Elementary School literacy levels have improved from among the district's lowest to its fifth highest (Viadero, 2002a). In some of the most disadvantaged schools in Houston, Direct Instruction reading with pupils in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade, under the auspices of the Rodeo Institute for Teacher Excellence, have produced consistent and strongly accelerated growth throughout the program duration (Viadero, 2002a).
What is necessary for optimism to be realised?
Schools of education are increasingly accused of failing to produce teachers skilled at effective instruction in literacy and math (Ingersoll, 1999; National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999). Part of the difficulty may reside in the inability of education courses to attract students with strong college entrance scores, and subsequently to retain these individuals within the teaching profession (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). However, increasingly the curriculum of teacher training institutions is receiving critical scrutiny. It has been argued that these institutions are failing to prepare teachers adequately (Carnine, 2000; Moats, 1994).
Lyon (1998) reported that current teacher education methods represent a major hurdle to effecting classroom change across the nation. He points out that many teachers lack even basic knowledge about the vital underpinnings of effective instruction, in particular, literacy teaching, and notes the importance of ensuring in the future that colleges of education provide adequate education of teachers at both pre-service and in-service levels.
The preparation of teachers and the teaching of reading in our nation's classrooms must be based upon research evidence of the highest caliber and relevance. Research that is used to guide policy and instructional practice should be characterized by methodological rigor and the convergence of studies demonstrated to be representative, reliable, valid, and described with sufficient clarity and specificity to permit independent replication (Lyon 1998).
Izumi and Coburn (2001) assert that schools of education are biased in favor of student-centered methodology when the evidence they assemble indicates that teacher-centered methods are more effective for students. The major concern for Stone and Clements (1998) is the deleterious effect upon student learning unnecessarily wrought by the focus upon student-centered practices endemic in teacher training institutions. They highlight the personal cost of inefficient practices to students’ career prospects and the financial and opportunity costs to the community.
Hirsch (1996) too argues strongly for education school reform.
We cannot afford any more decades dominated by ideas that promote natural, integrated project-learning over focused instruction leading to well-practiced operational skills in reading and mathematics, and well-stocked minds conversant with individual subject matters like history and biology (p. 236).
The impact of research on practice: A long-standing problem for education
The failure of research-based knowledge to have an impact upon educational decision-makers has impeded growth in that profession for a long time (Carnine, 1995a; Hempenstall, 1996; Marshall, 1993; Stone, 1996). Maggs and White (1982) wrote despairingly, "Few professionals are more steeped in mythology and less open to empirical findings than are teachers" (p. 131).
Lindsley (1992) was quite scathing in addressing the general question of why effective teaching tools aren't widely adopted. He considered that teachers have been seduced by natural learning approaches.
Most educators have bought the myth that academic learning does not require discipline--that the best learning is easy and fun. They do not realize that it is fluent performance that is fun. The process of learning, of changing performance, is most often stressful and painful (p. 22).
Gable & Warren (1993) noted that the potentially valuable role of behavioral science in education, has been largely ignored by decision-makers and even by many practitioners. They noted Carnine's (1991) lament that decision-makers lack a scientific framework and are inclined to accept proposals based on good intentions and unsupported opinions. Carnine (1995b) also points to teachers’ lack of training and direction in seeking out and evaluating research. For example, he estimates that fewer than one in two hundred teachers are experienced users of the ERIC educational database.
Heward (in press) argues that the failure of the profession to attend to research has led to ten misconceptions about teaching that have become entrenched, and lead to ineffective approaches to teaching struggling students.
1. Structured curricula impede true learning. 2. Teaching discrete skills trivializes education and ignores the whole child. 3. Drill and practice limits students' deep understanding and dulls their creativity. 4. Teachers do not need to (and/or cannot, should not) measure student performance. 5. Students must be internally motivated to really learn. 6. Building students' self-esteem is a teacher's primary goal. 7. Teaching students with disabilities requires unending patience. 8. Every child learns differently. 9. Eclecticism is good. 10. A good teacher is a creative teacher (p.7).
From a different perspective, Meyer (1991, as cited in Gable & Warren) blames the research community for choosing restricted methodology (e.g., single subject design), and for being too remote from classrooms. She argued that greater teacher interest would not eventuate until the credibility of research was improved. On the other hand, perhaps it is the tendency of empiricists to place caveats on their findings (as opposed to the wondrous claims of ideologues and faddists unconstrained by scientific ethics) that makes teachers and decision-makers wary.
Fister and Kemp (1993) considered several likely obstacles to research-driven teaching, important among them being the absence of an accountability link between decision-makers and student achievement. Such a link was unlikely until recently, when regular mandated state or national test programs results became associated with funding. They also apportion some responsibility to the research community for failing to appreciate the necessity nexus between research and its adoption by the relevant target group. The specific criticisms included a failure to take responsibility for communicating findings clearly, and with the end-users in mind. Researchers have often validated practices over too brief a time-frame, and in too limited a range of settings to excite general program adoption across settings. Without considering the organizational ramifications (such as staff and personnel costs) adequately, the viability of even the very best intervention cannot be guaranteed. The methods of introduction and staff training in innovative practices can have a marked bearing on their adoption and continuation.
Fister and Kemp (1993) also argued that researchers often failed to meet their own criterion by not incorporating research-validated staff-training procedures and organizational analysis in their strategies for promoting program adoption. Their final criticism involved the rarity of the establishment of model sites exemplifying excellent practice. When prospective adoptees are able to see the reality rather than the rhetoric of a program they are more likely to take the (often uncomfortable) steps towards adoption. In addition, it is possible to discuss with on-site teachers the realities of being involved in the innovation.
Woodward (1993) pointed out that there is often a culture gulf between researchers and teachers. Researchers may view teachers as unnecessarily conservative and resistant to change, whereas teachers may consider researchers as unrealistic in their expectations and lacking in understanding of the school system and culture. Teachers may also respond defensively to calls for change because of the implied criticism of their past practices, and the perceived devaluation of the professionalism of teachers (in that other professions are determining their teaching practices). Leach (1987) argued strongly that collaboration between change-agents and teachers is a necessary element in the acceptance of novel practice. In his view, teachers need to be invited to make a contribution that extends beyond solely the implementation of the ideas of others. There are some positive signs that such a culture may be in the early stages of development. Viadero (2002b) reports on a number of initiatives in which teachers have become reflective of their own work, employing both quantitative and qualitative tools. She also notes that the American Educational Research Association has a subdivision devoted to the practice.
Hence there are three groups with whom researchers need to be able to communicate if their innovations are to be adopted. At the classroom level, teachers are the focal point of such innovations and their competent and enthusiastic participation is required if success is to be achieved. At the school administration level, principals are being given increasing discretion as to how funds are to be disbursed; therefore, time spent in discussing educational priorities, and cost-effective means of achieving them may be time well-spent, bearing in mind Gersten and Guskey's (1985) comment on the importance of strong instructional leadership. At the broader system level, decision makers presumably require different information, and assurances about the viability of change of practice (cost being fundamental).
Perhaps because of frustration at the problems experienced in ensuring effective practices are employed across the nation, we are beginning to see a top-down approach, in which research-based educational practices are either mandated as in Great Britain (Department for Education and Employment, 1998) or a pre-requisite for funding as in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2002c). Whether this approach will be successful in changing teachers’ practice remains to be seen. In any case, there remains a desperate need to address teachers’ and parents’ concerns regarding classroom practice in a cooperative and constructive manner.
Over the past 20 to 30 years there has developed a consensus among empirical researchers about a number of issues crucial to education, and a great deal of attention is now directed at means by which these findings can find fruition in the classroom (Gersten, Chard, & Baker, 2000). Carnine (2000) asks why it is that education has appeared impervious to effective practices, and examines what it would take to make education more like medicine – a profession now (though it wasn’t always so) strongly wedded to research as a powerful contributor to practice. Perhaps it would be instructive to consider how other professions, like medicine, have addressed the issue of a research/practice synthesis.
The term "evidence-based medicine" was popularised during the 1990s. The intention was to enable practitioners to gain access to knowledge of the effectiveness and risks of different interventions before choosing whether or not to implement them, using as a guide reliable estimates of benefit and harm.
The intent of evidence-based medicine is to make available to practitioners the complex information from a large number of individual studies. Practitioners would not have the time (and perhaps expertise) to enable the drawing of appropriate conclusions about risk/benefit estimates.
Donald (2002) described 4 main steps. One, pose a structured question about the target population, outcomes, and the intervention of interest. Second, perform a literature search for the data relevant to the question. Third, assess the data, based upon established criteria for methodological rigor and relevance to the question. Fourth, describe and analyze the resulting data to answer the relevant question.
The contrast with the manner in which a teacher is trained to address a student’s spelling problem is indeed stark. Unfortunately, in another parallel with education, fewer than 10% of studies are usually able to be included because of the methodological failings of much of the medical research. Despite the current imperfections, there is strong support within the medical profession for this direction, because it offers a cooperative system that will be in a constant cycle of improvement, thereby providing better health outcomes for their patients. It is further instructive to consider the profession’s preparedness to surrender their clinical creativity in the interests of their patients.
In a similar vein to the medical profession, the American Psychological Association (Chambless & Ollendick, 2001) introduced the term empirically supported treatments (ESTs) to clinical psychology as a means of focussing attention on the issue of effective psychotherapy. Through examination of research evidence the Division 12 (Clinical Psychology) Task Force on Psychological Interventions arrived at three classes of interventions that could be applied to any treatment for any particular psychological problem. The criteria for a treatment to be considered well established was efficacy through two controlled clinical outcomes studies, or a large series of controlled single case design studies; the availability of treatment manuals to enhance treatment fidelity and reliability, and the provision of clearly specified client characteristics. A second level involved criteria for probably efficacious treatments – criteria requiring fewer studies, and/or a lesser standard of rigor. The third category comprised experimental treatments, those without sufficient evidence to achieve probably efficacious status.
Initially included as well-established treatments were 22 treatments for 21 different syndromes and seven probably efficacious treatments for seven disorders. With a couple of exceptions, all the well-established treatments were behavioral or cognitive-behavioral. The exceptions were family education programs for schizophrenia, and interpersonal therapy for bulimia and for depression. Similarly, all but one probably efficacious treatment were behavioral, the exception being brief psychodynamic therapy.
The EST emphasis on empiricism also has obvious implications for other fields, such as education, in which decisions about the choice of approach have not previously been based upon any mutually agreed criteria. There are interesting similarities between the response of some psychotherapists to the EST initiative and that of some educators to the “reliable replicable research” criterion for federal funding in literacy programs in the USA.
Some of the objections raised have been that ESTs should be ignored because this effort has been the work of a powerful lobby of biased individuals within the APA. Critics view qualitative rather than quantitative research as the appropriate approach to research into psychotherapy. To be considered a well-established treatment requires a treatment manual, and their use (it has been argued) leads to poor quality psychotherapy by diminishing personal judgement. Another perspective rejects ESTs because every client has different needs, and the use of single treatments based upon problem analysis cannot be meet their needs. Some have asserted that there is no discernible difference in efficacy among the various forms of psychotherapy, thus ESTs are not relevant. Finally, some consider EST research as irrelevant to clinical practice as it originates in controlled clinical settings, and does not translate well to the real world. The degree to which documented treatments can be implemented in settings outside of those from which they originated are now being assessed in large scale effectiveness studies under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The criticisms emanating from some in the education community (Goodman, 1998) to the drive towards research-based practice are remarkably similar.
Research and commitment in education
The first obvious signs that education was taking a similar path was in the USA in 1998, when the Reading Excellence Act (The 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, 1998) was introduced because of the unacceptably low reading achievement of students in U.S. schools. It acknowledged that part of the responsibility for the parlous state rested with methods of reading instruction, and that policies had been insensitive to developments in the understanding of the reading process. The Act, and its successors, attempted to bridge the gulf between research and classroom practice by mandating that only programs in reading that had been shown to be effective according to strict research criteria would receive federal funding. This reversed a trend in which the criterion for adoption of a model was that it met preconceived notions of “rightness” rather than that it was demonstrably effective for students, a situation in which process was more highly regarded than was student outcome.
Federal funding will be available only for programs with demonstrated effectiveness evidenced by reliable replicable research.
Reliable replicable research” means objective, valid, scientific studies that: (a) include rigorously defined samples of subjects that are sufficiently large and representative to support the general conclusions drawn; (b) rely on measurements that meet established standards of reliability and validity; (c) test competing theories, where multiple theories exist; (d) are subjected to peer review before their results are published; and (e) discover effective strategies for improving reading skills (The 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, 1998).
In recent times, Congress and President Bush have offered unequivocal support for an emphasis on what works in U.S. classrooms. The recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) makes clear its concern that scientifically based research underpins instructional practices, and No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2002c) is equally explicit that educators’ classroom activities must be demonstrably effective in teaching children.
The National Research Council's Center for Education (Towne, 2002) suggests that educators attend to research that embodies these six principles, Research should: (1) pose significant questions that can be investigated empirically; (2) link research to theory; (3) use methods that permit direct investigation of the question; (4) provide a coherent chain of rigorous reasoning; (5) replicate and generalize; and (6) ensure transparency and scholarly debate. The Council’s message is clearly to improve the quality of educational research and reaffirm the link between scientific research and educational practice. Ultimately, the outcomes of sound research should inform educational policy decisions, just as a similar set of principles were espoused for the medical profession.
Given that adherence to research based teaching now has financial implications, it may be that the education profession elects to adopt, if not wholeheartedly embrace, evidence based practice. So what areas of research are apposite?
In considering instruction, there are at least two major areas of interest. One is the curriculum design itself, and the other concerns the manner in which the curriculum is presented to students. Research findings with a wide range of students from the gifted to learning disabled, intellectually disabled, and disadvantaged children have demonstrated that not all students respond similarly to instruction. Forms of instruction that may be adequate for some students may not be so for others (Adams, 1991; Tunmer & Hoover, 1993; Yates, 1988). Given that differences in teacher behavior are reflected in student outcome, an area that is receiving increasing attention is that of the quality of instructional presentation students receive.
Rosenshine (1979) used the expression direct instruction to describe a set of instructional variables relating teacher behavior and classroom organization to high levels of academic performance for elementary school students. High levels of achievement were related to a number of variables – among them being the amount of content covered and mastered. Hence, the pacing of a lesson becomes relevant as a means of optimizing coverage to enhance learning. A high academic engaged time is positively associated with achievement. It refers to the percentage of the allotted time for a subject during which students are actively engaged. A range of studies (Rosenshine & Berliner, 1978) highlighted the reduction in engagement that occurs when students work alone as opposed to working with a teacher in a small group, or as a whole class. Thus, strategies that increase the proportion of student’ academic engaged time are likely to be beneficial.
A strong focus on the academic was found to be characteristic of effective teachers. Non-academic activities, though perhaps enjoyable or directed at other educational goals, were consistently negatively correlated with achievement. In Rosenshine's (1980) review of studies it was clear that an academic focus rather than an affective emphasis also produced classrooms with high student self-esteem and a warm atmosphere. Less structured programs and teachers with an affective focus had students with lower self-esteem. Teacher-centered rather than student-centered classrooms had higher achievement levels. Analogously, teachers who were strong leaders and did not base their teaching around student choice of activities were more successful. Solomon and Kendall (1976, as cited in Rosenshine, 1980) indicated that permissiveness, spontaneity and lack of classroom control were " … negatively related, not only to achievement gain, but also to positive growth in creativity, inquiry, writing ability, and self esteem for the students in those classrooms" (p.18).
The instructional procedure called demonstration-practice-feedback (sometimes, model-lead-test) had strong research support. This deceptively simple strategy combines in one general model three elements of teaching directly related to achievement. It comprises an invariant sequence in which a short demonstration of the skill or material is followed by guided practice, during which feedback is provided to the student (and further demonstration offered if necessary). The second phase usually involves response to teacher questions about the material previously presented. It would appear that the overlearning this phase induces is particularly valuable. The third phase, that of independent practice, is later evaluated by the teacher.
Medley's (1982) review indicated the efficacy for low SES students of a controlled practice strategy involving low cognitive level questions, a high success rate (above 80%), and infrequent criticism. The popularity among many teachers of high cognitive level question implicit in discovery-learning models is difficult to justify empirically. These high level questions require students to manipulate concepts without having been shown how to do so. Research on discovery approaches has indicated a negative relationship with student achievement. Winnie's (1979) review of 19 experimental studies on higher order questions supported this point very strongly, as did Yates (1988).
In summarizing the findings of research into those teacher variables with a positive impact on student learning, Rosenshine & Berliner (1978) provide this definition for direct instruction.
Direct instruction pertains to a set of teaching behaviors focussed on academic matters where goals are clear to students; time allocated for instruction is sufficient and continuous; content coverage is extensive; student performance is monitored; questions are at a low cognitive level and produce many correct responses; and feedback to students is immediate and academically oriented. In direct instruction, the teacher controls the instructional goals, chooses material appropriate for the student's ability level, and paces the instructional episode (p.7).
Ellis, Worthington, and Larkin (1994) described effective teaching as the classroom behaviors based upon the execution of a set of ten principles:
Principle 1: Students learn more when they are engaged actively during an instructional task.
Principle 2: High and moderate success rates are correlated positively with student learning outcomes, and low success rates are correlated negatively with student learning outcomes.
Principle 3: Increased opportunity to learn content is correlated positively with increased student achievement. Therefore, the more content covered, the greater the potential for student learning.
Principle 4: Students achieve more in classes in which they spend much of their time being directly taught or supervised by their teacher.
Principle 5: Students can become independent, self-regulated learners through instruction that is deliberately and carefully scaffolded.
Principle 6: The critical forms of knowledge associated with strategic learning are (a) declarative knowledge, (b) procedural knowledge, and (c) conditional knowledge. Each of these must be addressed if students are to become independent, self-regulated learners.
Principle 7: Learning is increased when teaching is presented in a manner that assists students in organizing, storing, and retrieving knowledge.
Principle 8: Students can become more independent, self-regulated learners through strategic instruction.
Principle 9: Students can become independent, self-regulated learners through instruction that is explicit.
Principle 10: By teaching sameness both within and across subjects, teachers promote the ability of students to access potentially relevant knowledge in novel problem-solving situations.
More recent support for the power of specific teacher behaviors to enhance the learning of students arose from the meta-analysis of Swanson, Carson, and Sachse-Lee (1996) that examined 78 group intervention studies published between 1967 and 1993 on students with learning disabilities. The mean effect size score was 0.91 for interventions employing these strategies known collectively as direct instruction, a large effect according to the Cohen (1988) convention. Swanson and Sachse-Lee (2000) performed a similar meta-analysis, but of single-subject-design intervention research for students with learning disabilities and noted that the most important variance (15%) related to high effect sizes came from those studies that included the direct instructional components of drill-repetition-practice-review, segmentation, small interactive groups, and the use of strategy cues. In addition to these factors, a study by Swanson, Hoskyn, and Lee (1999) had noted the importance of designing instructional sequences such that they evoked a high proportion of correct responses. Of course, these principles are also characteristic of Direct Instruction programs across the full range of curriculum areas. An additional advantage of employing these effective teaching principles is the finding that they also enhance the learning of normally achieving students (Vaughn, Gersten, & Chard, 2000).
For those students at-risk of the Matthew effects, the environmental contribution to their learning becomes the major potential influence on their subsequent progress. Left to their own devices, their slow rate of progress will ensure the existing attainment gap is maintained or enlarged. The only opportunity for them to regain lost ground on their normally achieving peers is for acceleration of learning to occur.
What can the environment offer?
We can provide efficient instruction in necessary language, math, and reading skills. Unless at-risk children learn more than their affluent peers learn during the same period, they will remain behind. Therefore, the format must be highly structured and permit teachers to present large amounts of practice in a fraction of the time than would be possible through a more natural setting and incidental interactions (Engelmann, 1999a).
To enable Direct Instruction programs to alter the educational trajectory of at-risk students Engelmann focused attention upon the tasks that students need to master rather than upon the qualities or otherwise of the learners. He made use of the principles for presenting curriculum described above, but added a to this a focus on the logical analysis of the curriculum itself, to enable unambiguous teaching and accelerated learning.
History of Direct Instruction
The person most responsible for the development of the Direct Instruction model is Siegfried E. Engelmann, born in Chicago in 1931. He completed a philosophy major in his Arts honors degree at the University of Illinois, before working as an investment counsellor for 5 years. He then commenced a foreshortened career in advertising in which the campaigns designed to be attractive to children aroused his interest in how children learn. Engelmann’s subsequent magnificent and enduring passion for instruction was further piqued through his experiences in teaching his fraternal-twin sons, Owen and Kurt.
The Direct Instruction model lauded in Follow Through had its beginnings in the early 1960's through the work of Carl Bereiter and Siegfried Engelmann at a preschool associated with the University of Illinois. Carl Bereiter was engaged in research on accelerating intellectual development in young children. When he happened to see the film of some of the family maths teaching sessions in 1963, he was sufficiently impressed to offer the unqualified Zig a position on his team. The group also included Jean Osborne, who has played a long and important role in the history of Direct Instruction programs. Engelmann accepted the position but immediately sought to have their research formalised into that of a functional preschool, rather than continuing with a series of experimental projects.
They were particularly interested in what impact the early and systematic teaching of academic skills to children from economically deprived circumstances could achieve. The underlying belief was that cognitive growth could be stimulated by careful instruction, and progress could be achieved at an accelerated rate compared to that achieved by relying on everyday environmental events and genetic propensity as the spurs toward learning.
Together they published Teaching Disadvantaged Children in the Preschool (Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966). It created considerable controversy in a field dominated by Piagetian concepts of developmental levels as the determinant of the timing of exposure to educational experiences. The notion of withholding instruction until students have reached appropriate levels of readiness was not one that Bereiter and Engelmann endorsed. To them, disadvantaged children could not afford the luxury of such educational profligacy. In fact, Engelmann’s first formal report to Bereiter of his activities related to a project entitled “Accelerating intellectual development in young children”. When asked what he was doing, Engelmann replied “I’m teaching formal operations to children who flunk concrete operations. Is that accelerated enough for you?” Bereiter acknowledged that indeed it was.
He has produced programs in every area you can think of that are the most intelligent designs and the most powerful contribution to this country’s education that any single person has ever produced. And for that I am most thankful (Becker, 1994).
Of course, Zig is also renowned as an extraordinary teacher, connecting with children and evoking cooperation in even the most obdurate.
“This boy didn't have a yes/no response and had never performed correctly on even the most basic discrimination tasks. He didn't even respond to commands other than opening his mouth to eat when he saw food on a spoon. He blinked and scrunched his lips real tight ... that was about the sum total of his observable behaviors. In about 5 minutes or less, Zig taught him how to indicate yes and no with facial gestures he taught him. In about another 5 to 10 minutes Zig had him doing color and shape discrimination accurately. Everyone was in awe ... they had never seen Zig before and knew very little about him. This is 100% true. Zig was very cool ... he handled the whole thing sort of like ... "OK. So what do we have here? Kid can't communicate with the rest of the world and hasn't been taught anything in his entire 10 years on earth... ok let's get crackin!" ... No muss, no fuss ... no psycho babble voodoo ... he just started presenting, correcting ... teaching ... and boom ... he even started joking with the kid, getting him to smile and even a strained laugh or two. Related to the kid within a minute or so and shaped him up from there ... modified to meet the unique individual needs of this learner. Just identified what he wanted to teach and used standard DI/behavioral techniques to do it.” (Alan McGaughey, personal communication, 2002, June).
“I had that incredibly fortunate experience as well. To keep it short … 15 year old girl, had never responded to her own name when her own mother spoke it. Imagine a fifteen-year old newborn, and you have the idea. Imagine thousands of dollars of testing, all with the same bleak summary: she is completely incapable of learning. After about 1 ½ hours, this girl would turn her head and look straight at Zig when he said her name. She would sit down when he told her to, and stand up when he told her to. When he told her to come over to him, she did. After each task, Zig would hug her and she’d get a gigantic smile on her face. And … when her mother said the girl’s name, the girl turned and looked at her mother. The mother couldn’t stop crying. Either could I. Anyone who saw any of this and wasn’t dead also couldn’t stop crying. There was one exception. Zig didn’t cry. As Alan described, he was … “OK, so what do we have here?” It was another day at the office for Zig.” (Robert Dixon, personal communication, 2002, June).
To many in the field at the time, the Engelmann/Bereiter ideas and practices were simplistic and likely to be harmful to children’s development. How little has changed in the last 35 years! Despite the rancour that surrounded them, their systematic approach to the design of instruction and attention to detail produced remarkable success with their young charges. In their preschool, disadvantaged four and five year old children in small groups were provided with intensive, carefully sequenced, teacher-directed verbal instruction for two hours per day.
Because of the success at the Bereiter-Engelmann Preschool, a Carnegie Foundation grant became available. However, Carl Bereiter had elected to take a position at the Ontario Institute of Studies, and Engelmann did not have the academic qualifications to direct the preschool program. He enlisted as co-director Wes Becker (who was also at Illinois), a well respected authority in behavior analysis and its applications to classroom management. Wes was more than an educational researcher however. His careful explication of the principles of teacher attention, classroom rules, and reinforcement contingencies, whilst never having received the attention they deserved in general education classrooms, do have an important role in all of the Direct Instruction programs. He produced more than 100 papers, four textbooks on educational psychology, an important book for parents, Parents are Teachers (Becker, 1971) and was co-author of several levels of the Corrective Reading series. Wes was also a major figure in the data analysis associated with the huge Project Follow Through.
Accompanying Wes was one of his former undergraduate students, Doug Carnine. It was shortly after these events in 1967 that Engelmann and Becker were invited by the Office of Education to develop a program appropriate for children from kindergarten to Grade Three. Thus was the Direct Instruction model selected to participate in the Follow Through study.
The University of Illinois was not prepared to offer Engelmann a staff position and there were also other difficulties with the sponsorship, so the group contacted 13 universities known for an expressed concern for disadvantaged children, offering to bring with the group their $1.5 million per annum grant. Presaging the negative attitudes to Direct Instruction in academic and education circles that were to remain a feature, only two universities responded – one of which voted unanimously to oppose the acceptance of the group behind the Direct Instruction model.
So it was that in 1970, partly through the intercession of Barbara Bateman at the University of Oregon, the group with the grant headed for Eugene, Oregon. Enlisting Wes and Doug was a most felicitous occurrence, as they brought with them skills and interest in behavior analysis – subsequently one of the important components of the teaching programs that began to be published from 1968 under the acronym, DISTAR (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading, later also known as Direct Instruction System for Teaching and Remediation, reflecting a wider curriculum interest).
Project Follow Through was the largest controlled comparative study of teaching methods ever attempted. It commenced in 1967 as part of the War on Poverty with the intention of firming the largely temporary gains observed with the early intervention Project Head Start. Follow Through employed planned variation to enable comparison of a variety of teaching models – ultimately to indicate which should receive funding to improve the outcomes for disadvantaged school children. Of the nine models, Engelmann's Direct Instruction achieved the best outcomes across a range of variables, including reading, math, language, spelling, and self image.
Siegfried Engelmann has written 18 books, 27 book chapters and monographs, and 47 articles. Instructional programs include 20 in reading, 8 in spelling, 18 in mathematics, 10 in language, and 3 in writing. Engelmann has also part-authored 7 educational videodiscs, 8 achievement tests, and a game. In 1984, Western Michigan University celebrated Engelmann's contributions with an Honorary Doctorate. In 1994, the American Psychological Association presented Zig Engelmann with the Fred Keller Award of Excellence. He is currently a professor of special education at the College of Education at the University of Oregon.
Doug Carnine was a college senior when he co-authored DISTAR Arithmetic 1, and he continued to collaborate with Engelmann in the next two levels in addition to the subsequent revisions. He also acted as a field supervisor and teacher trainer, developing the DI teacher-training program at Eugene. When Wes Becker moved in 1978 from his position as Director of the DI Follow Through model, Carnine took over the post.
He is currently Professor of Education at the University of Oregon and is Director of the National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators (NCITE), a body devoted to promoting community understanding of the importance of research-based educational strategies. He has written many research papers and essays, and made innumerable conference presentations. He has co-authored several books on Direct Instruction (Carnine & Silbert, 1979; Silbert, Carnine, & Stein, 1981), and, with Engelmann, the seminal Theory of Instruction (1982, 1991). In 2002, Doug was among 10 individuals nominated by President Bush to serve on the National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board.
There have certainly been other important figures in the development of Direct Instruction programs, among them Jerry Silbert, Bob Dixon, Gary Johnson, and Susan Hanner.
Direct Instruction model
The Direct Instruction programs share a common teaching style readily observable to any classroom visitor. The instruction usually occurs in small groups involving a teacher directing activities with the aid of a script, and students actively involved in responding to a fast-paced lesson during which they receive constant feedback. Programs are designed according to what, not whom, is to be taught. All children at a similar level of attainment work through the same sequence of tasks directed by a teacher using specified teaching strategies. Individual differences are allowed for through different entry points, reinforcement, amounts of practice, and correction strategies (Gregory, 1983). A visitor’s first impression is often one of surprise at the teacher’s rapid pace and the students’ high rate of participation.
There are a number of important characteristics of Direct Instruction programs (Becker, 1977). It is assumed that all children can learn and be taught, thus failure to learn is viewed as failure to teach effectively (Engelmann, 1980). Children who are behind must be taught to learn faster - this implies a focus on features of teaching designed to improve efficiency. These features derive from the design of instruction, and from process variables such as how the curriculum is implemented. Curriculum is designed with the goal of "faultless instruction" (Engelmann, 1980), that is, sequences or routines for which there is only one logical interpretation. The designer's brief is to avoid ambiguity in instruction--the focus is on logical-analysis principles. These principles allow the organisation of concepts according to their structure and the communication of them to the learner through the presentation of positive and negative examples.
Engelmann and Carnine (1982) argue that the analysis of cognitive learning comprises three separate elements: the Analysis of Communications, Analysis of Knowledge Systems, and the Analysis of Behavior.
The Analysis of Communication addresses the issue of how to communicate the essential attributes of a generalization (e.g., concept, operation) unambiguously and efficiently to the learner.
The Analysis of Knowledge Systems examines knowledge structures noting that those with similar characteristics can be taught effectively by employing similar instructional routines. These two analyses are logical analyses.
The Analysis of Behavior is empirical, providing feedback from students about how adequate have been the first two analyses.
Engelmann (1980) highlighted four design principles:
1. Where possible, teach general-case strategies, that is, those skills that when mastered can then be applied across a range of problems for which specific solutions have not been taught (e.g., decoding regular novel words). These generalizations may be taught inductively by examples only, or deductively by providing a rule and a range of examples to define the rule's boundaries.
2. Teach the essentials. The essentials are determined by an analysis of the skills necessary to achieve the desired objective. There is an underlying assertion that, for reading, it is possible to achieve skilled reading by analysis and teaching of subskills in a cumulative framework. Advocates of a whole language perspective would disagree with the possibility, or desirability, of teaching in this manner.
3. Keep errors to a minimum. Direct Instruction designers consider errors counter-productive, and time-wasting. For remedial learners a high success rate is useful in building and maintaining motivation lost through a history of failure. This low error rate is achieved by the use of the instructional design principles explained in a ground-breaking text (Engelmann & Carnine, 1982), and by ensuring students have the pre-skills needed to commence any program (via a placement test).
4. Adequate practice. Direct Instruction programs include the requirement for mastery learning (usually above 90% mastery). Students continue to focus on a given task until that criterion is reached. The objective of this strategy is the achievement of retention without the requirement that all students complete the identical regimen. The practice schedule commences with massed practice, shifting to a spaced schedule. The amount of practice decreases as the relevant skill is incorporated into more complex skills.
Advocates of Direct Instruction argue that this feature of instruction is particularly important for low-achieving students and is too often paid scant regard (Engelmann, 1980). Although this emphasis on practice may be unfashionable, there is ample supporting research, and a number of effective schools are increasingly endorsing its importance (Rist, 1992). "The strategies that have fallen out of style, such as memorizing, reciting and drilling, are what we need to do. They're simple - but fundamental - things that make complex thinking possible" (p. 19).
Direct Instruction curricula are organized around big ideas (Kame’enui & Carnine, 1998).
Big ideas are those concepts, principles, or heuristics that facilitate the most efficient and broadest acquisition of knowledge. They are the keys that unlock a content area for a broad range of diverse learners. ... Students, from the brightest to the most challenged, are likely to benefit from thorough knowledge of the most important aspects of a given content area. (Kame’enui & Carnine, 1998, p. 8)
The generalization of knowledge to areas other than those taught is correctly considered a higher-order skill – one more sophisticated than fact repetition (despite the importance of the latter). Big ideas are intended to enhance the generalization of knowledge to other areas, and offers a schema into which students can assimilate new learning. A crucial element in teaching for generalization involves the degree to which the possibility and manner of generalization are made clear to students. This feature is readily evident in Direct Instruction programs, and examples are provided later in this chapter and others.
Criticisms of Direct Instruction
Despite the long history of empirical support for Direct Instruction, unsurprisingly there have also been criticisms. These have been based on a number of different grounds, and are of varying credibility.
1. Direct Instruction is an IBM (the former publisher) conspiracy to oppress the masses (Nicholls, 1980).
2. Direct Instruction causes deleterious side effects, such as rigid thinking and delinquency (Schweinhart & Weikart, 1997; Schweinhart, Weikart & Larner, 1986). Further, its "side effects may be lethal" (Boomer, 1988, p.12).
3. Its view of the reading process is wrong (Gollash, 1980).
4. It is incompatible with other more important principles:
Whole Language (Barnes, 1985).
Normalization (Penney, 1988).
The wholistic nature of reading (Giffen, 1980; Goodman, 1986).
A naturalistic educational paradigm (Heshusius, 1991).
Flexible reciprocal child-teacher interaction (Ashman & Elkins, 1990).
Teacher professionalism and creativity (McFaul, 1983).
5. The success of Direct Instruction is illusory, based on tests that do not measure real reading (Cambourne, 1979).
6. Other approaches are more effective, for example, Whole Language (Weaver, 1991), discovery learning (Bay, Staver, Bryan & Hale, 1992); or as effective as Direct Instruction (Kuder, 1990; O'Connor, Jenkins, Cole, Mills, 1993).
7. It may be inappropriate for certain sub groups.
(a) Those in special education (Heshusius, 1991; Kuder, 1991; Penney, 1988).
(b) Those with certain learning styles, for example, those with an internal locus of control (McFaul, 1983; Peterson, 1979).
(c) Those of high ability (Peterson, 1979).
8. Its use is best restricted to basic skill development (Peterson, 1979).
9. It is best used in conjunction with other approaches (Delpit, 1988; Gettinger, 1993; Harper, Mallette, Maheady, Brennan, 1993; Spiegel, 1992; Stevens, Slavin & Farnish, 1991).
10. Students might not find it acceptable (Reetz & Hoover, 1992).
11. Teachers do not find it acceptable. The model's highly structured scripted lessons are viewed as demeaning to trained teachers, reducing their creativity (Barnes, 1985).
12. It over-emphasizes basic skills to the detriment of higher order goals – drill and kill (Barnes, 1985).
13. The emphasis on the teacher's responsibility for learning outcomes threatens those teachers holding the view that student performance is largely determined by the child's genetic or family history (Barnes, 1985).
14. The lesson structure requires a routine that can be boring for teachers. Students too may become bored either for the same reason, or because of the teacher's resultant lack of enthusiasm (Barnes, 1985).
Of the literature critical of the model, much is based on philosophical issues concerning reality and power, or on theoretical issues such as a different conception of the nature of the learning process, the role of teaching, and issues of measurement. Of the few empirical studies in which alternative approaches have proved equivalent or superior, issues of treatment fidelity have arisen. For example, it is not always made clear whether the model described is the Direct Instruction model or a direct instruction variant of unknown rigor. When the Direct Instruction model is used it is rarely specified whether the program presenters have the training necessary to follow the approach faithfully. Further the relative rarity of such findings compared to the vast literature supportive of the approach allows some sanguinity about such exceptions. Tarver (1998) and Engelmann (1996b, 1999b) present strong rebuttals of the criticisms.
Problems of acceptance in education
Despite its impressive research support (detailed in a subsequent chapter), Direct Instruction has made relatively little impact in regular or special education. Maggs and White (1982) wrote despairingly. "Few professions are more steeped in mythology, and less open to empirical findings than are teachers" (p. 131). Their lament emphasizes the general lack of acceptance of research-based programs in education, of which Direct Instruction is but one example. Murphy (1980) considered that behavioral consultants are well placed as the agents of change in introducing Direct Instruction programs, but are generally naive about the politics of change in organizations, and thus unskilled in influencing decision-makers. He suggested that an improved understanding of organizational contingencies would enhance the likelihood of successful implementation.
Solity (1991) notes some aspects of Direct Instruction unappealing to teachers; however, he views the problem within the wider context of the negative view many teachers have of behavioral approaches in general. He considers the method of introduction of behavioral concepts as crucial to acceptance, and cites examples of "softer" language being more acceptable. It is a common misunderstanding that Direct Instruction belongs among the behavioural approaches to instruction.
Fields (1986) posits the "practicality ethic" as the key characteristic of programs likely to be readily adopted. Can a recommended course of action be easily translated into practice in the classroom? Is the consultant’s recommendation congruent with the teacher's philosophy or goals? How difficult in time and effort is implementation? Fields sees problems for Direct Instruction in each of these areas and recommends fall-back positions: accepting levels of implementation - from the ideal (school-wide adoption designed to lift overall student achievement) through to a simple adoption of an active teaching style, that is, practising some elements of direct instructional strategies in a teacher's classroom.
Hempenstall (1996) offers the alternative that a pilot program successfully provided for a few, or even one, student in a school may become the springboard from which subsequent more extensive program installation follows. In his view, consultants should "get their hands dirty" by assisting with timetabling problems, being available to support the teacher(s), providing both hard and soft data to ameliorate inevitable resistance, and being a hands-on support to the teacher to assist program fidelity. He ascribes particular significance to ensuring lesson regularity given the less clearly successful outcomes that ensue from irregular scheduling. This is especially relevant given the competing demands on schools to assign priority to interesting but educationally marginal activities, such as visiting dance troupes. He considers the absence of an easily accessible Direct Instruction teacher-training infrastructure as a major hurdle to replicating the impressive results obtained when programs are faithfully implemented.
Gersten and Guskey (1985) argue that teachers' methods have evolved largely through experiences in their own classroom, and a model that requires a significant change from that practice will evoke reluctance. In their studies, teachers' philosophies that were generally antithetical to Direct Instruction became more accepting following successful program implementation. Hence attitude change followed rather than preceded behavior change. They argue that trying to change attitudes through, for example, presenting research data alone is unlikely to be successful. Consonant with Hempenstall's (1990) position, they argue that a well-organized pilot program in the school, run by a respected teacher with good consultant support, is likely to produce gains difficult to ignore in children personally known to the teachers. The salience of change in children known to teachers, combined with strong instructional leadership from the school administration, increases the likelihood of a change in teacher behavior. As in Gersten and Guskey's study, a teacher's initial reluctance may be transformed into a new energy-giving direction in teaching.
Interest in Direct Instruction has become much more widespread in recent years. An issue of Education and Treatment of Children (Becker, 1988) was devoted to Direct Instruction. The National Reading Conference in the USA has regular sessions on the pedagogical impact and appropriateness of Direct Instruction (Kameenui & Shannon, 1988). The Journal of Learning Disabilities (1991) devoted two issues (Vol 24, Nos 5, 6) to "sameness analysis" - an instructional design principle central to Direct Instruction (Engelmann & Carnine, 1982). Another special issue, this time of School Psychology Review, was edited by Carnine (1994) providing a similar focus on curriculum design features.
In recent years writers of texts on teaching (Becker, 1986), special education (Cole & Chan, 1990; Gable & Warren, 1993, Greaves & McLaughlin, 1993; Scruggs & Wong, 1990; Wolery, Ault & Doyle, 1992), and educational psychology texts (Joyce, Weil & Showers, 1992; Kameenui & Simmons, 1990; Tuckman, 1991) have included Direct Instruction as a legitimate approach to a range of educational problems. This represents the increasing academic acceptance of the model that until the mid-1980's was virtually ignored by researchers and writers other than advocates from, or influenced by, the University of Oregon. From one of the most respected writers and researchers on the problems of learning disability (a term coined by Kirk and Bateman in 1962) comes the highest praise. "The documented success of Siegfried Engelmann and his colleagues' direct instruction reading programs with thousands of hard-to-teach and high risk children is unsurpassed in the annals of reading history" (Bateman, 1991, p.11).
In the USA, the shift toward reliable, replicable research as a basis for educational decision making has led to a strong interest in Direct Instruction from states, districts and schools.
Despite the controversy and only marginal penetration, Direct Instruction research and program development has continued. The first programs focused on beginning reading and math and were published by Science Research Associates in 1968 under the trade name Distar (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading). When Distar Language was added the acronym was changed to Direct Instruction System for Teaching and Remediation.
Since the late 1960’s, the original curricula have been revised and many more added. There are now more than 60 programs, emphasising both sequential programs designed for all students in addition to remedial programs directed at specific skill areas. Together these curricula constitute a comprehensive school reform model known as the Direct Instruction Model one that has been implemented in more than 150 schools in the USA. Apart from whole school implementation, Direct Instruction materials have also been used in hundreds of other schools.
The model no longer has a sole emphasis on basic skills such as reading, spelling, maths, language, and writing--but has broadened its area of application to include higher order skills, for example, literary analysis, logic, chemistry, critical reading, geometry and social studies (Carnine, 1991; Casazza, 1993; Darch, 1993; Grossen & Carnine, 1990; Kinder & Carnine 1991). Use has been made of technology through computer-assisted instruction, low cost networking and videodisc courseware (Kinder & Carnine, 1991); and, researchers have tested the model in non-English speaking countries, for example, third world countries (Grossen & Kelly, 1992), and Japan (Nakano, Kageyama, & Kioshita, 1993). It has also shown promise in research on teaching a most challenging group of students--school aged children with TBI, traumatic brain injury (Glang, Singer, Cooley, & Tish, 1992).
Some major features of Direct Instruction relevant to successful implementation
There are a number of elements readily observable in all Direct Instruction programs that contribute to student progress, and thereby, to program success. A feature attracting attention in the research is not simply how large an average effect across a group that an intervention might obtain, but why do some students not progress, how can a teacher be alerted to it, and what can be done to rectify program casualties (Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994)?
In Direct Instruction programs, the teacher’s vigilance to each of the many responses of each student allows for the identification of any difficulties at the time they occur, rather than at the program’s conclusion. The program requirements for repeating tasks until mastery is achieved and the emphasis on fluency and accuracy are salient planning features designed to identify and reduce student lack of progress. The mastery tests provided for the program (either after a set number of lessons, or at mid-point and conclusion) also provide a safeguard against a student’s failure remaining unobserved throughout a program. Even motivational/attentional variations are addressable through an incentive program integral to some of the programs, such as the Corrective Reading.
There are also several safeguards against failure incorporated in the programs. One involves the use of placement tests to ensure that students do not enter programs for which they do not have the necessary pre-skills. This precludes the inhumane expectation that a heterogeneous group of students can each learn the same curriculum at the same rate.
Detailed within-program information is provided to teachers about how best to react to any incorrect student responses detected during the lesson. There are clear, scripted correction procedures specific to different tasks, designed to redirect students to the appropriate response. It typically involves an instantaneous correction sequence in which the teacher models the correct response, leads the student through the correct response, and finally tests the student for the correct response.
Teachers are exhorted at the conclusion of most teaching routines to repeat until firm. This is designed to provide additional practice when errors are noted, the practice intended to reduce error incidence in the future. If (despite correct placement) errors are continually made by the same one or two students, the teacher is faced with a dilemma - to slow the pace of the lesson, provide more practice of each task for the entire class, or, to continue at the pace comfortable to most of the class, and hope that the stragglers at least derive some benefit.
A more humane, though resource expensive option is to co-opt an aide or parent volunteer to pre-teach each lesson prior to the regular group lesson. This allows for individually appropriate pacing tailored to the student’s need, and allows the student to continue a rate of progress in concert with his peers during the group session. Usually this double-teaming has the effect of supporting the student in the critical early stages of foundation skill development, improving the student’s adaptation to the program structure, and increasing the student’s confidence to respond with the group. In the author’s experience a short burst of this added assistance allows for successful return to reliance on the group instruction alone.
Another instructional decision point occurs when most of the group makes an incorrect response. In this case, the teacher should examine instructional variables. Some of the causes could involve faulty (perhaps ambiguous) presentation, overly rapid lesson pacing, and, the presence or absence of pre-skills necessary for correct responding during the current task.
What is program fidelity? Features and teachers
A strong thread in Direct Instruction programs is the emphasis on instructional considerations in any attempts to increase the breadth of a program’s success. Both the early detection of problems (monitoring) and the planned response to detected problems should be critical foci in such attempts. As the Direct Instruction programs were carefully designed to allow continuous monitoring of student progress, a failure to present the curriculum in the prescribed manner (if the deviations are deleterious) should become readily apparent. Some of the deviations noted by the author in schools merely comprise unnecessarily verbose explanations, or interesting but largely irrelevant excursions into other topics. These minor deviations may detract from the elegance of the design, thus reducing efficiency, but they are unlikely to seriously jeopardise outcomes for most students. The exception involves students whose language development is insufficient to comprehend the teacher’s instructions.
Other departures from the prescribed program such as omitting some elements, such as individual turn-taking or complete tasks, may have a significant effect on the average group progress (if the departures are severe). Alternatively, the modifications may interfere with the progress of some (probably the most vulnerable) students, for it is the most vulnerable students who adapt least easily to ambiguous or incomplete instructional sequences. The early detection of difficulties in any given student is critical to the achievement of broadband success.
The designers argue that the Direct Instruction programs are in effect individual programs, but presented in a group format. For this efficiency to succeed, the teacher must observe each student’s responses. Only by first ensuring that choral responding is precise can the teacher detect and respond to incorrect responses. The teacher also requires well-developed powers of observation to systematically attend to each response of each student. The extent to which teachers can do this successfully depends upon several factors, such as hearing acuity, ability and determination to ensure their students achieve truly choral responding, and the group size.
The teachers’ manuals recommend various group sizes, in some cases up of 15 and in others, six. In the author’s experience, inexperienced Direct Instruction teachers are well advised to reduce the recommended upper limits until they become more skilled. The vigilance provided by teachers in attending to student responses is a major defence against any student’s failure in the program. Given that there can be students who do not progress as hoped, this may be an area in which additional training and monitoring of teachers should be a priority.
Several elements of program fidelity are critical. In a cumulative curriculum, it is essential that all tasks are mastered if students (especially the vulnerable) are to make progress. The in-program continuous progress evaluation is valuable in quickly detecting individual or group difficulty at any point. It is through such program features that problems of progress resistance can be addressed, and hence students spared the fate of participating in an ineffectual educational process.
In the long term, it may be that individual programming, enabling appropriate and immediate response to student difficulty, can more precisely be delivered through the use of computer-based interactive videodisc in conjunction with voice recognition software. In such a scheme, variations in student learning rates could be effectively and efficiently compensated for through differential presentation rates, error correction, and massed and spaced practice. Student responses could then determine the lesson structure that would, in turn, be capable of adjustment as the needs of the student alter.
Other program characteristics and effectiveness
There is a consensus that the earlier the intervention for at-risk learners the more rapid and widespread is the success (Berninger, Thalberg, DeBruyn, & Smith, 1987; Lyon, 2001a; National Reading Panel, 2000); however, by middle elementary and secondary school the students have already experienced some years of failure, and the habit of employing ineffective strategies is firmly ingrained. The effects of resistance born of failure can form obstacles to progress at least as difficult to overcome as the original source of the difficulty. For this reason, the Direct Instruction programs such as the Corrective Reading program include a motivational system based on assigning points for maintaining speed and error limits. Teachers’ comments suggest that this element of the program should not be underestimated in determining the program’s most effective elements. Numerous positive comments have been made about the student enjoyment and increased on-task behavior attributable to the points system. Additionally, the system has helped to capture the cooperation of many students initially negative about being involved in the programs.
One difficulty evident in much of the basic skills research involves ensuring students transfer their newly developed knowledge and skills to the task of everyday schooling. For this to occur, the students need to become aware that the new strategies and techniques are superior to the old. That is, they clearly make easier for the students those curriculum tasks that were formerly problematic. The use of big ideas that transfer across tasks are of great assistance in this process.
An element highlighted in research (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Swanson, 2001; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994; Wong, 2001) involves the time and intensity of a program. This is especially important for students described by Torgesen, Wagner, and Rashotte (1994) as treatment resisters. Longer interventions allow for greater content coverage and adequate practice, though of course there is no guarantee that all intervention designs incorporate effective teaching characteristics. Program intensity involves a combination of lesson length, lesson density, and lesson frequency. Lesson length for the Direct Instruction programs varies from about 10 minutes to about 45 minutes. This period allows for a reasonable content coverage in each session and for the integration of new knowledge into the existing structure. As the programs involve a cumulative sub-skills approach - the introduction of new skills, the practice of recently acquired skills and the amalgamation of these with the already-established core - requires careful lesson planning and sufficient time for this amalgamation to occur.
Program density involves the extent to which students are actively engaged in learning during the lesson time. Various concepts such as allocated time to a particular area, task, academic engaged time, and academic learning time have been employed to address the issue of student engagement. Of these, academic learning time is usually considered the most comprehensive and useful because it includes the amount of time allocated to an instructional area, the extent to which students are clearly participating in the instructional area, and the degree of success that they are achieving. An observational study by Allington, Stuetzel, Shake, and Lamarche (1986) noted that typically only about one third of the time allocated to instruction was actually spent in directly relevant activities, the rest consumed by management issues, waiting, transition, and absence from the room.
One way of promoting student engagement is to plan for overt responses. When students are producing overt responses it is apparent that students are participating, and their learning and hence, success, can be monitored. The additional advantage of overt responses involves the opportunity to provide corrective feedback, an instructional characteristic strongly related to effectiveness (Hendrickson & Frank, 1993; Swanson, 2001; Swanson, Hoskyn, & Lee, 1999).
Becker (1992) explains: "Underlying the visible features is a procedural structure built around the rule, 'Teach more in less time.' Procedures are favored which reduce wasted time and hasten the teaching of given objectives” (p. 72).
Another element of lesson density involves the proportion of correct to incorrect responses. Students who struggle with reading require high rates of success if they are to adopt new strategies, transfer new skills across tasks, and persevere with the new strategies. Teachers employing Direct Instruction programs have commented on the high success rates achieved daily – a consequence of careful lesson design and student placement at the appropriate program level. The author once counted 300 responses from a student in a 10 minute word attack segment of a Corrective Reading program lesson. This represents a very high intensity of participation; additionally, the success rate was very high, above 90%.
Lesson frequency is important, perhaps because of the need for spaced practice of newly mastered skills (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996). It has been noted that students, particularly those at-risk, readily forget what they have learned when lesson frequency is too low. If this occurs, additional time is spent in relearning rather than in incorporation activities. Frustration and disengagement are the possible negative outcome of under-scheduling. The program guidelines usually recommend five lessons per week, although this may not achieved by all schools. Although schools often allow for five sessions per week, almost inevitably other priorities intrude. These may involve activities such as school swimming programs and other sports, visiting guests and excursions. Often a period of school holidays (either 2 or 6 weeks) interrupts the lesson sequence. The effect of variable frequency impacts most notably on the students most at-risk. They are the students most likely to lose hard-won gains through forgetting (Schacter, 2001).
The total contact hours are also relevant. Each level of the Corrective Reading program, for example, entails about 50 hours of instruction.
Program fidelity: Teacher training
The Direct Instruction model as explicated in the massive Follow Through experiment paid significant attention to the issue of fidelity of implementation. The designers’ examination of implementation research had found moderate to high correlations between student outcome and degree of adherence to prescribed procedures (Engelmann, Becker, Carnine, & Gersten, 1988). The training program for their teachers involved several elements: presenting the rationale, demonstrating technique, providing practice and feedback in response to teacher performance, and, observing real classes - weekly for the first four months, then fortnightly. That process may take a year overall, with the degree of complexity of the skills to be introduced increasing over that period. In examining the training modules, it is evident that the model of teacher training adopted by the designers involves the same direct instruction principles as underlie the student skill development programs.
In the design of the delivery system, the focus is on those teacher behaviors that resulted in optimum student achievement. This concern for detail is also mirrored in the designers’ approach to field-testing instructional routines. In that process, theoretical principles of instructional design drive the initial development of content, but it is multiple-setting field-testing that determines the final design, by revising the programs based upon student performance in the trials. Another element in the program design is that the routines must be capable of presentation by the majority of teachers, whether superior, average or below average (Engelmann, 1996a).
For example, the Corrective Reading: Decoding (Level B) program underwent nine revisions before publication (Hanner & Engelmann, 1984). Engelmann (1996a) reports that at least four complete programs were never published because the field-testing indicated a lack of success with students. In another dozen or so published programs, the released product (after two revisions) contained only a small portion of the original program. Engelmann (Nadler, 1998) estimates that to design, field test and revise one grade level of an effective program would take an individual spending 6 hours a day at the task at least two years.
Engelmann (1988) argued that the average teacher needs to practise an exercise in a reading program at least a dozen times before the fluent orchestration of component presentation and correction skills is attained. These skills involve comfortable and facile use of the specified teacher wording, using lesson pacing appropriate to the example and to the student group, using signals in an unambiguous and natural manner, and providing adequate (but not excessive) reinforcement. In his view, this practice and associated feedback should not take place in the classroom but in less complex settings such as simulations with colleagues, etc. Such practice is considered important as a beneficial precursor (though not sufficient in itself) to the transfer of training to the real world of the classroom.
Engelmann’s experience has been that, without safeguards, fewer than 30% of the skills practised (outside the classroom) will be evident subsequently in classrooms. Thus, the provision of in vivo coaching was found to be especially important for the acquisition of skill. This is unsurprising given the increased salience to a teacher of observing a model performance in the teacher’s own classroom. Glang and Gersten (1987) commented on the value for teachers in seeing how their own students responded to the expert instructional techniques presented by the visiting supervisor. More recently, Gersten, Chard, and Baker (2000) have highlighted the importance of ensuring teachers have a good understanding of the principles underlying interventions if they are to implement effectively and sustain these practices in their own classes.
Program fidelity by design
In many schools, it has not been possible to provide the intensity and duration of teacher-training recommended by the authors. It has been noted in other studies that program fidelity can be a major contributor to the success or otherwise of an intervention. Schneider, Kuspert, Ruth, Vise, and Marx (1997) found that whilst differences in focus and duration (time allotted daily and overall program length) had a significant effect on outcome; as did the degree of pre-program and within-program teacher training.
A major difference in implementing the Direct Instruction programs compared to most experimenter-developed curricula involves the extent of within-program control of curriculum and delivery. The programs used in this study are very prescriptive - the teacher making few judgements about curriculum issues. The content and delivery are scripted, and the teachers’ role is transparent. The teachers’ skill entails classroom management, task presentation, and response monitoring (making decisions about the degree of repetition needed, or the need for error correction). Of course, when teachers are not employing Direct Instruction programs no such constraints apply. Interestingly, many teachers comment that their own teaching style begins to mirror that employed in their Direct Instruction classes because of the beneficial effects that they detect in their students. Their comments align with the criticism by Engelmann (1999a) that teacher training provides insufficient attention to instructional design.
Thus, one source of variation in “loose” programs may involve limitations due to the under-developed instructional abilities of some teachers. Another variation source in programs that provide only general lesson plans (or even less structured, topic areas) is the dramatic differences in the manner in which different teachers may choose to present the curriculum - the degree of teacher directed vs. self directed learning, the amount of massed and spaced practice, and the error correction opportunities, for example. Such variables are known to impact on student outcomes, and variation at this level can be confounded with the effects of program content.
The level of prescription in the Direct Instruction programs is valuable in reducing, though not eliminating, such teacher differences. It has been noted that there is usually reasonable consistency of results across different schools in the sense that the effects tend to be described as large (or at least moderate) by most schools (Engelmann, 1996a). This suggests that the designers’ intent of reducing the impact of teacher differences has been achieved to some extent. This is a non-trivial finding as the requirement of training in some programs has been a significant added cost to be considered in conjunction with program effectiveness. For example, in the Foorman, Francis, Beeler, Winikates, and Fletcher (1997) studies, teacher training involved between 30 and 90 hours initially, and subsequent twice monthly lesson observation.
It is understood that an increased level of initial training and subsequent monitoring of teacher presentation skills will increase student achievement levels. It is also likely that as teachers become more experienced their effectiveness increases. However, the reported improvements evoked by teachers who are inexperienced in the program are educationally and educationally significant even at low levels of support, an important finding in the real world of inadequate funding. Pressley and Beard El-Dinary (1997) make the point that designers cannot afford to be too precious when their excellent results are not precisely replicated when schools fail to exactly duplicate the procedures used in the evaluation studies. This is an example of effectiveness vs efficacy, an issue that has also bedevilled the field of psychotherapy evaluation. The concern that an efficacious program may be ineffective in schools is the major purpose behind the field trial-revision-field trial sequence described above (Engelmann, 1996a).
Another issue involves the emphasis on teaching for generalization rather than only for rote learning. Because some rote learning is required in many Direct Instruction programs (e.g., sound/symbol correspondences) has led some critics to presume that the programs can thereby be characterised as a “drill and kill” approach. Were it so, then the empirical success produced through the use of these programs could not occur. Even less likely is the well documented accelerated performance (with respect to normally achieving peers) that low achieving students regularly exhibit. In most skill areas, there is far too much content for memorization to be a viable strategy. Engelmann (1996) suggests that in a 15 minute session a teacher may accomplish instruction in either three rote items or one generalization. The latter enables appropriate student response to many tasks, whereas the former is limited to response to the three taught items.
Engelmann (1980) points out that generalization should be a logical outcome derived from an unambiguous and sufficient set of teaching examples. In inducing generalization, big ideas (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998) constitute a thread common to Direct Instruction programs. Big ideas arise from the analysis of a large area of knowledge in order to provide students with strategies applicable beyond the examples with which they are taught. It involves efficiencies in instruction – helpful for all learners, but essential if at risk students are to achieve the acceleration necessary for them to make gains on their more advanced peers. It is an example of the old saying Give me a fish and I can eat for a day - teach me to fish and I can eat for a lifetime.
Overview of di programs
Some programs are designed for regular classroom use – that is, for all students ready to learn a skill. The expectation is that though they are also beneficial for students at-risk, the efficiencies in design will enable all students to make accelerated progress. Bearing in mind that the instructional focus is on the logical analysis of the task rather than on learner characteristics, this expectation is unsurprising. Typically, these programs provide a complete sequence in the given skill area – from beginner to skilled. Examples are Reading Mastery, Spelling Mastery, Reasoning and Writing, Connecting Math Concept, Language for Learning.
Other programs are designed specifically for students who have received instruction but have not made adequate progress. Examples are Corrective Mathematics, Corrective Reading, Morphographic Spelling.
Reading Mastery (Engelmann & Bruner, 1983) is a six-level complete program that integrates decoding and comprehension, designed for regular classroom use or for struggling students. Apart from teacher directed phonemic awareness and decoding activities, there are student books containing classical and modern fiction, history, poetry, geography, meteorology, and oceanography. There is also a Fast Cycle version that splices Reading Mastery 1 and 2 into an accelerated single-year program.
A specially developed orthography reduces the number of correspondences to an attainable number (some programs attempt to teach up to 200 such correspondences) and allows for the introduction of interesting sentences while still controlling the text for regularity (albeit artificially). This orthography enables a range of irregular words to be decoded using the segment/blend strategy, thus providing for students both practice and a developing assurance that the strategy is a successful one, worth persevering with until familiarity produces whole word recognition. This feature is very important as students can be overwhelmed by the number of irregular words in uncontrolled text - the result being an inability to appreciate the value of the recoding strategy, and a consequent failure to focus on developing the skill.
In Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading: Decoding systematic instruction in letter-sound correspondence, blending and segmenting enables the decoding of words never before seen. Rather than the product of teaching being a relatively small number of associations between a whole word and its pronunciation, the use of this “big idea” allows a very large number of words to be decoded.
Grossen (1995) describes how a timeline is a big idea taught in Reading Mastery Level III.
The timeline concept is introduced with a rule about garbage piles: Things near the bottom of the pile went into the pile earlier. This rule is then used to analyze an archeological dig and a time line appears showing the "first thing" and the "last thing" to go into the pile. The figure below shows how the timeline concept integrates the rule about piles with the progressive development of the skeleton of the horse over time, and a historical perspective. Later when the children read about dinosaurs, Odysseus and the battle of Troy, or a future time machine, and so on, they use the timeline to place the occurrence of the event in perspective.
Horizons (Engelmann, Engelmann, & Seitz Davis, 2000) is a recent variant of Reading Mastery that addresses similar critical reading skills, but requires a higher level of readiness and has a five levels, from Grades K-4. It employs similar surface features, but uses standard print conventions with only three orthographic prompts.
Reading Mastery Plus adds a range of oral language activities to Reading Mastery for students requiring such assistance before commencing reading instruction.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Engelmann, Haddox, & Bruner, 1983) is also derived from Reading Mastery but is written for parents to use in a one-to-one tutoring situation. As with other Direct Instruction programs it is fully scripted so no lesson preparation is needed. Many parents have found this program has given them the capacity to enhance their child’s progress to a degree not experienced when their contribution was restricted to listening to their child read. The content emphasises the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness (rhyming, blending, segmenting) along with 44 letter sound correspondences. These selected correspondences allow for the decoding of 95% of the sounds in the students' typically available books, and close approximations for 98% (Grossen, 1995).
Funnix (Engelmann, Engelmann, & Seitz Davis, 2001) is a 120-lesson CD program for the home that teaches beginning reading skills. It assumes that the child is able to identify some letters of the alphabet, and the program emphasises the foundations of reading, from letter/sound associations, blending sounds, segmenting words, and reading stories. The parent monitors the progress, and provides corrections as in other DI programs
Rewards: Reading Excellence, Word Attack, and Rate Development Strategies (Archer, Gleason, & Vachon, 2000). This is a short (20 lesson) program for use in class, after school, or in summer programs. Its major contribution is in demystifying the decoding of multi-syllabic words – a hurdle on the path to fluent reading at which many students baulk.
The Corrective Reading: Decoding (Engelmann, et al., 1999) three level series is designed to enhance the accuracy and fluency of struggling students from mid-elementary to adult through carefully sequenced instruction in decoding, massed and spaced practice, feedback and review.
To assist students to read with understanding, the Corrective Reading: Comprehension (Engelmann, et al., 1999) series provides the vocabulary, information, reasoning, thinking and comprehension strategies needed for progress across the curriculum.
In Morphographic Spelling (Dixon, 1976), Spelling Mastery (Dixon et al., 1990), and Spelling Through Morphographs (Dixon & Engelmann, 2001) about 500 morphemes are taught along with three main rules for combining them. As a consequence, students are able to spell approximately 12,000 words.
Reasoning and Writing (Engelmann, Arbogast, Davis, Grossen, & Silbert, 2000) is a six-level program addressing clear and critical thinking processes to inform their writing. Apart from the basics of written expression, it teaches students to analyse information and apply the principles of logic so as to enable them to become critical consumers of information across a wide range of curriculum and life challenges. One of the big ideas involves the “ruling out game” – a hypothesis testing strategy that enables students to reach conclusions based upon clues and possibilities. This addresses the most common reasoning error – that of failing to rule out alternative possibilities in reaching a conclusion.
Expressive Writing (Engelmann & Silbert, 1983) is designed to address one of the major literacy hurdles for students. Much of what passes for instruction in this area really involves simply assessment of writing. The student is expected to learn by doing and from whatever delayed feedback a teacher may provide. This program explicitly teaches the processes of constructing and writing in differing formats, incorporating punctuation, sentence and paragraph construction, employing quotations, and editing.
Basic Writing Skills (Gleason & Stults, 1983). This curriculum careful instruction in the rules for constructing sentences and paragraphs, such as capitalization and punctuation, and other more advanced strategies for producing papers and assignments.
Language for Learning (Engelmann & Osborne, 1998) is designed for grades pre-k - 2. This curriculum teaches basic concepts, rules of language, forms of communication, and classroom skills needed for oral and written expression. It is especially valuable for at-risk, language delayed and intellectually disabled students, regardless of age.
Language for Thinking (Engelmann & Osborne, 1998) is designed for grades 1 – 3 builds on the achievements of Language for Learning addressing vocabulary building, memorization, constructing inferences, and grammatical analysis.
Journeys (Engelmann, Engemann, & Hanner, 2000) is for Grades: K – 3, and combines elements from programs such as Horizons, Language for Learning, and Reasoning and Writing to offer an integrated language arts curriculum. There is an initial emphasis on oral language, to ensure that receptive and expressive language skills are adequate to manage both the language of instruction and the vocabulary required for reading comprehension. Oral blending and segmentation activities assist in the development of crucial phonemic awareness skills. By the end of the series, emphases have included vocabulary development, and advanced decoding and comprehension strategies.
Maths and Science
Distar Arithmetic is a two level series for grades K-3, structuring basic math skills tasks to ensure understanding and control of basic operations. An important objective is to enable the solution of increasingly complex story problems. Emphasising big ideas, single strategies are applied to a wide range of problems to enhance understanding rather than sole reliance on memorization. As with many of the Direct Instruction programs, frequent in-program mastery tests are incorporated to ensure students progress in the critical skills.
Corrective Mathematics (Engelmann & Steely, 1997). This program offers carefully sequenced instruction in the basic operations, fractions, decimals, percents, and equations. It is especially helpful for students whose confidence in all things mathematical has been eroded by their failure to master the fundamental requirements.
Connecting Math Concepts is a six-level program addressing basic math concepts, rules, and operations, fractions, ratios, proportions, probability, coordinate systems, functions, and data analysis. Its distinctive contribution is in demonstrating how mathematical concepts are linked together, and its emphasis upon problem-solving strategies.
Core Concepts Videodisc Maths programs (BFA Education Media, 1991) teach fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, word problems, geometry, equations, roots, exponents, graphs, and statistics. Each of these programs makes use of big ideas for teaching problem solving, itself a crucial objective involving generalization. For example, a big idea for calculating the volume of a container involves teaching volume as a product of the base dimension and a multiple of the height (the multiple depending upon a simple rule set). This reduces the number of formulae to be memorised from seven to three.
A similar analysis in the Core Concepts Earth Science, and Core Concepts Understanding Chemistry and Energy Videodisc programs (BFA Education Media, 1991) produces efficiencies in teaching. For example, convection is an important concept applicable to a range of natural phenomena, and when understood, enhances the learning of this range. A focus upon this topic enables linking of the known to the as yet unknown, thereby accelerating learning.
Skills for School Success is a gem. There are 4 levels for grades 3-6, and 4 levels of Advanced Skills for School Success for grades 6-12. It is set out in DI format (scripted teacher's book and consumable workbooks), is inexpensive invaluable for disorganised students generally and students with LD in particular. Implementation as a whole school program would make life easier for both teachers and students. It covers not only organisational skills but very useful metacognitive routines for a range of potentially troublesome activities - such as: completing assignments, memorising information, answering chapter questions, proofreading assignments, previewing chapter content, reading expository materials, taking notes on written materials, taking notes on lectures.
Understanding U.S. History (Carnine, Crawford, Harniss, & Hollenbeck, 1994) assists the understanding of history by requiring students apply their new knowledge to current day situations. It first establishes a general strategy known as Problem-Solution-Effect to enable the analysis of historical events, processes, and periods. This strategy precludes the passive reading and memorization of isolated facts that bedevils much history teaching.
In this chapter, we have examined the role of effective instruction in basic skills in providing for students the opportunity to participate fully in society. There are clear economic and social implications for the individual in addition to those for the whole nation in ensuring this outcome for as many people as possible. The perception is that we can and must do better in this regard – that generally and especially for minority groups we are losing ground against the challenge.
It appears that the problem of student under-achievement commences early in a student’s career, and if not quickly, effectively and efficiently addressed, is likely to have markedly deleterious effects on many facets of the student’s future education and employment. Fortunately, there is evidence that certain approaches to instruction are capable of making a significant difference in student achievement. These approaches involve the careful logical design of instruction and effective implementation strategies.
The model of Direct Instruction is not new, although mainstream research has now caught up with and applauds the innovative techniques incorporated in the programs. Additionally, evaluation studies across a wide range of curriculum areas attest to the soundness of the approach. When the same fundamental principles are successfully applied across differing curriculum areas and across a variety of learner populations, the principles themselves are strongly supported.
These principles were developed primarily by Siegfried Engelmann, and the writing of the 60 programs involved assistance by many colleagues.
- What are the benefits of an educated society?
- What disadvantages accrue to individuals who fail to develop adequate basic skills?
- Educational achievement is a function of heredity and home environment. Discuss.
- Has there been a decline in student achievement over the past 30 years?
- What is the Matthew Effect?
- What evidence is there that some teacher behaviors are associated with increased student achievement?
- What is the proper relationship between educational research and teaching practice?
- What feature of Direct Instruction is especially distinctive?
- What are the main objectives of Direct Instruction program design?
- What reasons have been cited for the lack of acceptance of Direct Instruction in education?
- Discuss some of the issues important in program implementation in schools.
- In what curriculum areas are programs available? Nominate and explain some of the big ideas
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