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  • Writer's pictureThings Education

Direct Instruction is not…

just speaking at your students.

Hello and welcome to the 62nd edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.


Direct Instruction. Wow! It’s taken us more than two years and more than 50 editions to write about Direct Instruction. We know that Direct Instruction is a favourite among teachers around the country. At the same time, it seems that there are a few myths about this pedagogical approach. We write today to bust these myths.


Myth 1: Direct Instruction is teachers just reading out content from textbooks.

This is probably the biggest myth surrounding Direct Instruction – that teachers can just read out or summarise from the textbooks. That’s all Direct Instruction is. 


This is not so. Direct Instruction should include a teacher taking the content from the textbook or any reference material and breaking it down into smaller chunks of information. These chunks of information must be small enough that the students are able to understand and digest the content that is being taught. For example, in teaching Indian History, telling students that the British did not invent the caste system but exploited it is a big and nuanced point. Just stating it outright as a line from the textbook is not as helpful for the students as actually exposing the students to 2-3 examples of how the British exploited the caste system for their own gains, and then making the same conclusion.


Direct Instruction can also include analogies, explanations and examples from outside the textbook. If these help with explaining a concept, all of these should be included in Direct Instruction classrooms. These approaches are especially useful when teaching more abstract concepts. Using analogies or hands-on activities to move from the concrete to the abstract should definitely be a part of Direct Instruction classrooms. For example, in a Science class, teachers can get students to use clay to make models of atoms to show ionic and covalent bonds as the 'concrete' part, and then move to the more abstract concept of chemical bonding.


Myth 2: In Direct Instruction, teachers have to show a worked example to the students, and students will understand the procedure.

This is another common misconception. “I have shown them how to do this… they should know the process now.” Teachers feel that having shown a worked example is enough for students to know or understand the procedure. 


Yes, modelling the procedure is important. But how we model it and how we scaffold the modelling is just as important. Think of a Mathematics teacher modelling the procedure for long division. While modelling the procedure is important, it is equally important what a teacher says while showing the procedure on the board. The teacher needs to verbalise each and every step and thought that they have as they show each step of the process. Apart from verbalising, another form of scaffolding that is important is what is called backward fading. If the process of long division has 7-8 steps, the teacher should model and verbalise each and every step for the first few examples. As the teacher feels that the students may be getting the hang of things, they need to continue modelling, but only model the first 5 of the 7-8 steps, and let the students complete the last few steps of the procedure. And going forward, the teacher should reduce the number of steps modelled and let the students complete the process by themselves, eventually. This type of scaffolding is key in ensuring that students know and understand the procedure of long division or any other procedural skill that they are trying to build.


Myth 3: In Direct Instruction, the onus is on the teachers to provide information, and so they should not ask too many questions to students.

Honestly, we don’t know why this myth exists – Direct Instruction means no questions to students.


While explaining backward fading, we wrote that “…as the teacher feels that the students may be getting the hang of things…” How does a teacher feel that the students are getting the hang of the process? Or how does the teacher know that the students have understood a concept that was being taught? Questions are useful as checks for understanding, irrespective of the pedagogical approach one takes. Apart from questions being used as a check for understanding, they can also be used to create active learning experiences for the students. Again, irrespective of the pedagogical approach, students can be actively involved in the learning process. For example, in a Direct Instruction class in Literature, the teacher can ask the students to reflect on the emotional conflict that the main character of the play felt. There can be scaffolding to allow students to think about their responses. But questions can be asked.


Myth 4: There are no activities in a Direct Instruction classroom.

This is directly related to the previous myth. If I can’t ask questions, can I really ask students to do some activity in the classroom


The short answer is – yes. Activities that allow students to actively engage with the content and help them learn better can be a part of a Direct Instruction class. For example, a Direct Instruction class on understanding electric circuits can have a teacher explain the electric circuits, its parts and its functioning. After this, the teacher can ask students to create their three unique circuits to ensure that a bulb lights up. Again, here the teacher is scaffolding this activity by asking questions to students, giving them clues and sometimes modelling the activity for the students.


Myth 5: Direct Instruction classes should begin with the core content straightaway.

Direct Instruction does not need transitions or hooks or gauging of students’ prior knowledge – this is again a myth.


Direct Instruction lessons do not preclude teachers from having an engaging hook to get and keep students’ attention. And teachers should gauge students’ prior knowledge irrespective of the pedagogical approach.


So Direct Instruction need not be only teachers speaking and students listening passively. There are multiple ways to get students to actively participate in Direct Instruction classes. We have Direct Instruction strategies across all subjects which are not lecture-based but have hooks, discussion prompts, steps for scaffolding and activities when needed, at TEPS.school. Please go check it out!

 

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Edition: 3.10

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