5 REASONS WHY DIRECT INSTRUCTION IS THE BEST TEACHING METHOD FOR YOUR STUDENT

By Michael Roberts, Managing Director | 27 October 2021

One of the core elements of Mastery Schools Australia is our extensive use of a teaching method and educational programs that consistently deliver the best learning outcomes for all students. It is called Direct Instruction. I first implemented Direct Instruction at Broadbeach State School in 2014. Since then, Broadbeach has become the best performing state school on the Gold Coast. I have personally observed thousands of students achieve beyond what anyone believed that they could by being taught by Direct Instruction. Below are 5 reasons why it is so great!

1. RESEARCH HAS SHOWN DIRECT INSTRUCTION TO BE MORE EFFECTIVE THAN OTHER TEACHING STRATEGIES.

One large study that parents really should know about is Project Follow Through, completed in the 1970s in the United States. This was the largest educational study ever done, costing over $1 billion, and covering 170,000 children in 170 communities. This project examined a variety of programs and educational philosophies to learn how to improve education of disadvantaged children. Desired positive outcomes included basic skills, cognitive skills (“higher order thinking”) and affective gains (self-esteem). Multiple programs were implemented over a 5-year period and the results were analysed by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Abt Associates (Cambridge, MA). The various programs studied could be grouped into the three classes described above (Basic Skills, Cognitive-Conceptual, Affective-Cognitive).

The program that gave the best results in general was true Direct Instruction, a subset of Basic Skills. The other program types, which closely resemble today’s educational strategies (having labels like “holistic,” “student-centred learning,” “learning-to-learn,” “active learning,” “cooperative education,” and “whole language”) were inferior. Students receiving Direct Instruction did better than those in all other programs when tested in reading, arithmetic, spelling, and language. But what about “higher-order thinking” and self-esteem? Contrary to common assumptions, Direct Instruction improved cognitive skills dramatically relative to the control groups and also showed the highest improvement in self-esteem scores compared to control groups. 

2. DIRECT INSTRUCTION ALLOWS TEACHERS TO TAILOR INSTRUCTION TO THE STUDENT’S NEEDS.

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the practice of Direct Instructions. Many people associate Direct Instruction with teachers standing in front of an entire class and lecturing the students on whatever they are supposed to be learning. This misconception could not be further from how Direct Instruction truly works. When done well, students are grouped based on their skill level (rather than grade level). Students work closely with an instructor and have multiple opportunities to practice and demonstrate mastery of a skill before they are moved to a higher-level group. This allows students to learn at their level and instructors to monitor closely where each student is in relation to his or her learning target.

3. TEACHERS WHO IMPLEMENT DIRECT INSTRUCTION HAVE A STRONG UNDERSTANDING OF THE STRENGTHS AND CHALLENGES OF HIS OR HER STUDENTS.

Everyone would agree with the statement that students have unique abilities and strengths and each student learns at a different pace. Yet, most classrooms go through units and learning targets at one particular speed, leaving some students bored and ready to move on while other students are lost and frustrated because they have not understood a key concept that the class has already passed. Direct Instruction allows students to progress at their own natural pace. As the year progresses the instructor begins to get a feel for each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses and is able to help the students with their particular challenges.

4. DIRECT INSTRUCTION IS EFFICIENT

One of the strengths of Direct Instruction is its efficiency. In a Direct Instruction maths class, there might be three groups of students working on three different concepts, ensuring that each student is working at his or her level simultaneously as his or her peers. Students know the target they are trying to hit. When they demonstrate they are ready to move on they are allowed to go to the next concept/learning target. Because the work is neither too hard nor too easy and because the learning targets are clearly identified, students stay engaged and progressing. When students understand the objective and obtain it their confidence grows and they are encouraged to keep progressing.

5. DIRECT INSTRUCTION IS BUILT ON ASSUMPTIONS THAT WE HOPE ALL EDUCATORS BELIEVE TO BE TRUE

 Direct Instruction operates on five key philosophical principles:

  1. All children can be taught.
  2. All children can improve academically and in terms of self-image.
  3. All teachers can succeed if provided with adequate training and materials.
  4. Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster rate than typically occurs if they are to catch up to their higher-performing peers.
  5. All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students’ misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.

A teaching method that assumes all students can be taught, all students can improve both academically and in terms of self-image, and that teachers succeed when they are supported with adequate training and materials is one that most people should support. Unfortunately, the educational establishment has either ignored or opposed Direct Instruction for the past 50 years, much to the detriment of students.