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Direct Instruction: The Rodney Dangerfield of curriculum

 

Did you hear the one about a curriculum with fifty years of research that actually demonstrates its effectiveness? There’s a new meta-analysis in the peer-reviewed journal the Review of Educational Research that looks at over five hundred articles, dissertations, and research studies and documents a half-century of “strong positive results” for a curriculum regardless of school, setting, grade, student poverty status, race, and ethnicity, and across subjects and grades.

Ready for the punchline? That curriculum is called “Direct Instruction.”

Hey, wait. Where’s everybody going? I’m telling you, Direct Instruction is the Rodney Dangerfield of education. It gets no respect.

I know what you’re thinking. “Direct Instruction? DISTAR, Corrective Reading and Reading Mastery? Basal programs? Scripted curriculum? That stuff’s been around since the Earth cooled. It’s not just old school, it’s the oldest school. Who cares about ‘DI’ when there’s so much cool, cutting edge, and disruptive stuff going on education? This is the age of ed tech, personalized learning, and competency-based progressions. The future is here and it’s OER, social media integration, virtual reality, and makerspaces. Direct instruction!? You gotta be kidding me. See you at SXSW EDU!”

Hold on and look again. The central assumption of DI is that every child can learn and any teacher can succeed with an effective curriculum and solid instructional delivery techniques. When a student does not learn, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with the student, DI disciples insist. It means something is wrong with the instruction. “Thus, the theory underlying DI lies in opposition to developmental approaches, constructivism, and theories of learning styles,” write Jean Stockard and Timothy W. Wood of the University of Oregon, lead authors of the new meta-analysis, “which assume that students’ ability to learn depends on their developmental stage, their ability to construct or derive understandings, or their own unique approach to learning,”

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