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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There's a Place for Direct Instruction

There is a place for direct instruction in school and life. Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School?, points out cognitive reasons why direct instruction works in some instances. The key is to not lecture all day or even for long periods of time, but to plan well for the short periods of direct instruction you employ in the classroom.

As I think of my first day of school lessons, I'm thinking about the habits I want to foster related to direct instruction. If student interrupt, call out, and loudly play with objects during direct instruction, the attention of the class (and teacher) become distracted thus extending the length and potency of that direct instruction. Therefore it's essential that children understand the expected behaviors for direct instruction. They need to know what's expected and why.

One part of my classroom is set up for direct instruction, student share, and quiet work. In this area, I will expect the follow behaviors for the following reasons:
  • Quiet voices as this is our quiet learning space, a space children and teachers use when they want to concentrate and share.
  • Listening because we can learn from each other, and when we give someone the opportunity to share his/her thinking, it's our responsibility to listen, and their responsibility to not talk for too long and to do their best to share with care.
  • Raising hands when you want to speak or share because that prevents calling out, and calling out just takes more time and disrupts the discussion.
  • Not raising hands when someone is speaking because it is a time taking distraction.
  • Respectful share because we want to invite the thoughts and ideas of others, and when our share is not respectful it takes everyone's attention away from the learning focus.
As we practice these behaviors during the first days of school I will remind students that the best learning is active learning, the kind of learning that they experience as problem solvers, collaborators, inventors, and creators. So when it's time for direct instruction, I'll try to make it pointed, meaningful, and brief so that everyone can profit from that instruction.

I'll also acknowledge that the pace of direct instruction won't be a fit for all. For some it will be too slow, and if that's the case it's okay to have their notebook out to grow the learning through drawing diagrams, writing notes, posing questions, or even, at some times, working on another learning quest. And for those for whom the direct instruction is too fast, I suggest that they talk to me about it so I can work to either change the pace or provide some pre- or post-teaching or instructional supports to help out.  

Willingham strongly notes that knowledge begets knowledge, and as educators it's our job to grow students' knowledge in multiple, responsive ways. One of those ways will be direct instruction because it's efficient, targeted, and successful at particular points in the learning cycle, points such as introductions, the "how-to" steps, correcting a common error, or relaying an important new fact or idea. Other learning behaviors such as cooperative work, problem solving, content creation, presentation, practice games, and thinking, writing, and reading are essential to the learning cycle as well. 

Apt choreography of all learning experiences and meaningful, productive protocols will create an atmosphere where everyone is an active learner who understands the expectations and elements that lead to individual and team learning success.