Direct Instruction (DI)

Direct instruction can be defined as a teaching and learning method that uses lectures and demonstrations of education materials.

Siegfried Engelmann is considered to be the ‘father' of this movement. He developed the method in 1964 at the University of Illinois Institute for Research on Exceptional Children. Engelmann and Wesley C. Becker later worked together to develop a specific direct instruction model known as DISTAR - Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading. This method was designed mainly for disadvantaged and at-risk students. In the 1980s, John Hopkins University Professor Robert Slavin produced another popular approach – Success for All, which was specifically aimed at failing inner-city schools in Baltimore.

Direct instruction suggests that the most effective way to teach is by giving guided and explicit instructions. It directly contrasts with other styles of education, such as more passive approaches or methods that encourage further research and exploration. The basis for this teaching method involves the use of strict lesson plans and lectures with little or no room for variation. Direct instruction does not focus on activities that use case studies, discussion, seminars or recitation. It follows several steps to guide students toward achieving clearly measurable learning results. The teacher controls the learning and monitors students over the instructional process, while the structure of the method passes through several stages.

During the first stage, which is referred to as the introduction, teachers have the task to gain the students' attention. The teacher will try to do this by informing them on the topic and presenting the main structure and goals of the lesson. The educator should explain why the student has to study this particular subject and what the expected outcome would be. This stage of direct instruction can either take the form of introducing new topics or building a connection upon what has been previously learned by students.

Once students are informed about the objectives of the lesson, the teacher starts to model the knowledge and skills that students will have to show at a later stage. The teacher explains any information considered to be important for the lesson, giving examples to make sure that students understand what is to be learned. The teacher may also ask key questions relative to the subject to check students' understanding. Presentations, multimedia or other visual materials can be used at this stage to encourage students to process information successfully.

After giving explanations and examples, the teacher needs to be confident that students have shown a positive response to the instructions. At this stage, students can engage in tasks and activities to practice the new lesson. Meanwhile, the teacher closely monitors the process and may offer help to students who have not understood the material. The closure of the lesson is the final step of the direct instruction process, allowing teachers to repeat the main points of the lesson. This step is designed to remind students about the goals of the instruction and to prepare them to complete independent practice activities, which the teacher will assign.

Direct instruction method involves homework, which is the independent practice students do after the lesson. It is designed to evaluate the learning outcomes and to give chance to students to demonstrate proficiency and competency. The independent practice will eliminate any prompts from the teacher and is meant to assess the degree of knowledge students have achieved. Moreover, homework will provide opportunities for students to work without being monitored by the teacher.

A process of evaluation, which shows the progress of a student, follows the direct instruction method. However, the evaluation could take place either during the instruction and the learning of the new material or after that as a culminating event under the form of additional projects or final tests. The evaluation allows the teacher to understand whether or not the students have mastered the new information, what the results of the lesson are and whether an additional revision is needed.

Direct instruction is viewed as one of the most successful teaching and learning methods at school. The method has widespread support of educators and has been adopted worldwide in public schools, although in some studies critics raise doubts about its effectiveness. In 2006, a three-year teaching and learning research survey revealed that other instruction methods, which were seen as flexible in their approach, were more effective than direct instruction.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Instructional Models in Reading
Steven A. Stahl; David A. Hayes.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Direct-Instruction Reading"
THE FIGHT about Reading
Goral, Tim.
Curriculum Administrator, Vol. 37, No. 5, May 2001
Behavior Modification: Contributions to Education
Sidney W. Bijou; Roberto Ruíz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Direct Instruction: A Behavior Theory Model for Comprehensive Educational Intervention with the Disadvantaged"
Increasing Second-Grade Students' Reports of Peers' Prosocial Behaviors Via Direct Instruction, Group Reinforcement, and Progress Feedback: A Replication and Extension
Cashwell, Tammy H.; Skinner, Christopher H.; Smith, Emily S.
Education & Treatment of Children, Vol. 24, No. 2, May 2001
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Early Exposure to Direct Instruction and Subsequent Juvenile Delinquency: A Prospective Examination
Mills, Paulette E.; Cole, Kevin N.; Jenkins, Joseph R.; Dale, Philip S.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 69, No. 1, Fall 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Direct Instruction in Math Word Problems: Students with Learning Disabilities
Wilson, Cynthia L.; Sindelar, Paul T.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 57, No. 6, May 1991
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Curriculum-Based Assessment and Direct Instruction: Critical Reflections on Fundamental Assumptions
Heshusius, Lous.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 57, No. 4, February 1991
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A Response to Heshusius' "Curriculum-Based Assessment and Direct Instruction: Critical Reflections on Fundamental Assumptions." (Response to Lous Heshusius, 57 Exceptional Children 315, 1991) (Point/Counterpoint)
Dixon, Robert C.; Carnine, Douglas W.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 58, No. 5, March-April 1992
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Contemporary Special Education Research: Syntheses of the Knowledge Base on Critical Instructional Issues
Russell Gersten; Ellen P. Schiller; Sharon Vaughn.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Direct Instruction" begins on p. 313
Charter Schools: Lessons in School Reform
Liane Brouillette.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Direct Instruction in Action at Wesley Elementary School" begins on p. 110
Off Track: When Poor Readers Become "Learning Disabled"
Louise Spear-Swerling; Robert J. Sternberg.
Westview Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "The Direct-Instruction Paradigm" begins on p. 40
Handbook of Learning Disabilities
Karen R. Harris; H. Lee Swanson; Steve Graham.
Guilford Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 24 "Direct Instruction"
Effective Programs for Latino Students
Robert E. Slavin; Margarita Calderón.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "Direct Instruction" begins on p. 24
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