Direct Instruction: Its Contributions to High School Achievement

By Kozioff, Martin A.; LaNunziata, Louis et al. | High School Journal, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Direct Instruction: Its Contributions to High School Achievement


Kozioff, Martin A., LaNunziata, Louis, Cowardin, James, Bessellieu, Frances B., High School Journal


This paper describes the design principles, instructional practices, and specific curricula of Direct Instruction--one example of focused, systematic, explicit instruction. At a time when public schools are increasingly held accountable for students' achievement and for closing and preventing the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged and white/ advantaged students, Direct Instruction provides highly effective programs whose implementation fosters beneficial change in students' engagement and achievement, in teachers' skill at instruction and evaluation, and in the social organization of schools (e.g., strong shared mission and teacher teaming). Information in this paper will assist high school teachers and administrators to: (1) integrate Direct Instruction programs (e.g., in math, science, history, reading, and writing) in high school curricula; (2) use features of Direct Instruction (if not commercial programs) in virtually any high school classes to ensure strong student involvement and content mastery; and (3) make important contributions to district-wide school reform that involves the introduction of Direct Instruction beginning in early elementary grades and continuing through high school.

I. Introduction

For several decades the field of education has been strongly influenced by an orientation called constructivism--which includes so-called progressive, child-centered, holistic, and developmentally appropriate philosophies and practices. Constructivist principles inform the curricular and licensure standards promulgated by organizations such as the National Council for Teachers of English, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. In addition, constructivist principles engender and legitimize curricula in reading (e.g., whole language; Goodman, 1986), math (Davis, Maher, & Noddings, 1990), science (Brookes & Brookes, 1996), early childhood education (DeVries & Zan, 1994), and schools of education. However, public schools are increasingly criticized because: (1) a large percentage of students (from elementary schools through high schools) are not proficient in reading, writing, and math; and (2) there are unacceptable discrepancies in achievement between white/affluent students and minority/disadvantaged students. In addition, schools of education are cited for failing to produce teachers skilled at effective instruction in literacy and math (Ingersoll, 1999; National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999).

The critique of public schools and schools of education has led scholars, state legislatures, and consumer groups to examine constructivism itself. Examples of the critique of constructivism can be found in Bianchini, 1997; Chall, 2000; Grossen, 1998; Hirsch, 1996; Johnson and Immerwahr, 1994; Nola, 1997; Ravitch, 2000; Stone, 1996; Suchting, 1992; Zevenbergen, 1996; and Zolkower, 1995. The major criticisms of constructivism include the following.

1. The design principles underlying constructivist "inquiry" curricula and "developmentally appropriate" "best practices" are at odds with the large body of experimental research on learning (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1998; Brophy & Good, 1986; Catania, 1998; Rosenshine, 1986; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986).

2. Constructivist "inquiry" instruction relies heavily on students "discovering" concepts, rules, and cognitive strategies in the absence of carefully tested sequences of instructional units and explicit instruction from teachers; with minimal teacher correction of errors; and without an emphasis on distributed (planned) practice to the point of mastery--to ensure fluency, retention, and independence. Therefore, constructivist "best practices" fail to foster in students strong and broad sets of competencies; favor affluent children entering school well-prepared by literate parents; and (ironically) instead of yielding equality and social justice, exacerbate the unequal distribution of knowledge and life-chances (Delpit, 1988). …

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