Academic journal article Education Next

Eighth-Grade Students Learn More through Direct Instruction

Academic journal article Education Next

Eighth-Grade Students Learn More through Direct Instruction

Article excerpt

Should teachers stand in front of the class and present the material to be learned? Or should learning be more dynamic, with students solving problems, either on their own or under the teacher's guidance? Which approach yields the most student learning?


Opinion on this question is deeply divided. "The sage on the stage" versus "the guide on the side" is how the debate is often framed. Proponents of the former ruled the education roost throughout the 19th century, but in the 20th century a child-centered doctrine, developed by John Dewey in the gardens surrounding the University of Chicago's Laboratory School, then refined at Columbia University's Teachers College, gained the high ground, as "inquiry-based" and "problem-solving" became the pedagogies of choice, certainly as propounded by education-school professors. In recent years, the earlier view has staged something of a comeback, as KIPP and other "No Excuses" charter schools have insisted on devoting hours of class time to direct instruction, even to drill and memorization.

As an instructor myself, I've had trouble making up my mind. I can cover a lot of ground in classes where lectures consume about two-thirds of the time. But those classes get less enthusiastic student evaluations than some smaller classes where students are encouraged to solve problems through discussion. I, too, like those problem-solving classes. They require less preparation and are easier to teach.

So I can easily understand why progressive pedagogy has proven popular. It's more enjoyable for all concerned, even if sometimes you worry that you are not teaching very much.

The question of which approach works best for student learning has seldom been a topic for careful empirical inquiry. So when Guido Schwerdt and Amelie Wuppermann figured out a way to test empirically the relative value of the two teaching styles (see "Sage on the Stage," research, page 62), it is worth trumpeting the findings. …

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