This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
Direct Instruction: Helping Those with and Without Learning Problems by Betsy Chen
The last thing someone with a specific learning disorder wants to happen is be singled out as “slow” or “stupid” in their class. They don’t want to fall behind in school, while their classmates are swimming in the sea of knowledge, and they feel trapped and drowning in an ocean of confusion and despair just because they learn a tad bit slower than the rest. Those with learning disabilities often feel ashamed in class, or become anxious because they don’t understand a concept or they can’t read as well as others.
But what if there was a method that could not only aid those with learning disorders by bringing them up to their age appropriate educational level, help at risk children learn better, and improve the overall academic achievement, self esteem, and problem solving skills? But more importantly a teaching method that can be used in one single classroom that works well with a wide, diverse range of children and all learning capabilities?
Turns out there is, and the answer is called Direct Instruction. Direct Instruction was first introduced in the 1960s by Siegfried Englemann. Englemann originally didn’t intend to create direct instruction but happen to develop the method when working for an advertisement company where he was assigned to observe advertising methods that targeted children. Englemann began to do research and experimented on how children were able to learn and retain information effectively. After sometime researching with his own children he developed Direct Instruction. Direct Instruction is a teacher driven teaching method. Teachers guide, set the pace, and model for the students. They are given specific scripts with prompts, and questions for the students that increase their involvement and encourage plenty of interaction between both the teacher and her students.
Children are first grouped by their academic ability, which eliminates potential academic learning gaps that may hinder some children’s learning ability and self-esteem by constantly surrounding them around faster learners. Grouping the children with others of the same academic ability allows them to learn at a pace that they are comfortable with alongside their peers, which can act as a learning reinforcer and enhance self-esteem when surrounded by others of similar learning pace.
Teachers use wide range of visual aids and offer many cues and instructions to children, along with explanations of expectations of the sequence of events prior to the implementing Direct Instruction, so confusion is eliminated. The teacher sets the pace for the student’s answers and responses. Pace is usually set as very quick with about 10-14 responses per minute, alternating quickly between teacher and student. The fast speed allows the children to achieve fluency in the skill. Fluency based instruction is also widely used at specialty clinics when working with children with learning disorders. Numerous Studies have also shown that increasing fluency also increases application of the skills—as fluency is achieve then generalization of the skill follows.
Children also respond in groups, allowing others that may not know the answer to correct themselves later when the question is presented again, which also saves the child from potential embarrassment, as compared to answering incorrectly with no other students to muffle his incorrect answer. The teacher also never leaves a child behind—meaning they only continue to the next part of the lesson after hearing all students reply correctly in unison.
Complete mastery of a lesson must be achieved before each group is able to move onto the next lesson. Children are also individually assessed periodically to make sure they are learning at the same pace as their peers.
But what is best of all? It works on all levels of learning. Imagine a child with a learning disorder, no longer falling behind, no longer sitting quietly afraid to answer because he does not know the answer, and no longer feeling incompetent. Imagine a classroom moving together as a unit, with self-esteems soaring sky high, and children developing crucial problem solving skills that they can use to apply to future academics.
Numerous studies have shown that Direct Instruction is extremely effective for children with learning disorders among a wide range of subjects. The biggest study of all, Project Follow Through, was the most extensive educational experiment to date in order the assess the best way to instruct at-risk children, which measured academic skills, problem solving skills, and self esteem among various teaching methods, also found that Direct Instruction was the way to go.
So why is Direct Instruction not taught in all school systems if studies have consistently shown its effectiveness? Many argue that it prevents the child from being creative, it does not allow them to learn from their mistakes, or it’s “boring”. But how can a child be creative in the first place if they do not have the basic skills to read, write, and do math? Doesn’t creativity flourish better after these basic skills are mastered? As for learning from their mistakes, many studies have shown that mistakes are actually remembered more than corrections. Mistakes can also become associated with anger, anxiety, and sadness to some children, especially if the mistakes are amplified in front of an entire class. And for Direction Instruction being boring. The children will have much more fun when they realize their potential and just how smart each of one of them is after getting all the answers correct. Self-esteem will skyrocket, and soon learning will be fun and exciting for them.
Many parents and even school boards have their minds set on how a classroom should be taught. Conventional classroom teaching methods have dominated the United States with their very old fashioned way of “learning from your own mistakes” thinking. The blame is almost always placed on the child and their learning abilities. Having that mindset simply causes more reluctance to change. All children can flourish when given the opportunity. Even with intensive research and studies slapping them across the face, many still cling to their old ways of thinking.