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Direct instruction

Direct instruction (DI) is a general term for the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material to students. A particular subset of direct instruction, denoted by capitalization as Direct Instruction, refers to a specific example of the approach developed by Siegfried Engelmann and Wesley C. Becker. DI teaches by explicit instruction,[1] in contrast to exploratory models such as inquiry-based learning. DI includes tutorials, participatory laboratory classes, discussion, recitation, seminars, workshops, observation, active learning, practica, or internships.

DI relies on a systematic curriculum design, delivered by implementation of a prescribed behavioral script. On the premise that all students can learn and all teachers successfully teach if given effective training in specific techniques, teachers may be evaluated based on measurable student learning.

In some special education programs, direct instruction is used in resource rooms, when teachers assist with homework completion and academic remediation.[2]

Engelmann's Direct Instruction method and DISTAREdit

The term Direct Instruction applies specifically to a pedagogical model developed by Siegfried Engelmann in 1964 at the University of Illinois Institute for Research on Exceptional Children.[3]


DISTAR was a specific direct instruction model developed by Siegfried Engelmann and Wesley C. Becker. Engelmann and Becker sought to identify teaching methods that would accelerate the progress of historically disadvantaged elementary school students.[4][5]

DISTAR, an acronym for Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading, gained prominence during Project Follow Through, the largest educational study ever conducted in America.

Features of DI include:

  • Explicit instruction based on lesson plans, often with specific teacher "scripts."
  • Ability grouping. Students are grouped based on their rate of progress through the program.
  • Emphasis on pace and efficiency of instruction. Lessons are designed to bring students to mastery as quickly as possible.
  • Frequent assessment.
  • Embedded professional development/coaching. Program developers recommend careful monitoring and coaching.

Direct Instruction has been effectively delivered through peers to students with learning disabilities.[6] Peer delivery offers teachers new ways to use the curriculum.[6] The approach has also been examined as a model to assist students in a resource room with homework completion, bolster executive functioning skills and improve teacher efficiency.[2]

Success for AllEdit

Another popular direct instruction approach is the Success for All program, which uses scripted teaching to instruct elementary children in phonics intensive reading instruction program. What the teacher says is carefully scripted in the program. The program was designed by Johns Hopkins University professor Robert Slavin in the mid 1980s for failing schools in Baltimore. The program requires a dedicated 90 minutes of reading instruction each day in which the teacher must follow a pre-ordained lesson plan that has every minute filled with scripted instruction and specific activities designed to teach reading. Kozol criticized the program in his book, The Shame of the Nation, for being excessively dogmatic, utilitarian, and authoritarian.[7]


Debates about the efficacy of DI have raged since before the final results of Project Follow Through were published; however, there is substantial empirical research supporting its effectiveness. A meta-analysis published by Adams & Engelmann (1996), a chief architect of the DI program, finds a "mean effect size average per study...(as) more than .75, which confirms that the overall effect is substantial."

In some special education programs, it is used in a resource room with small groups of students. Some research has shown benefit with this model.[8]

Direct Instruction is used with students from every population segment (with regard to poverty, culture, and race). In Project Follow Through, the DI model was ranked first in achievement for poor students, students who were not poor, urban students, rural students, African American students, Hispanic students, and Native American students. Today, many of the Bureau of Indian Affair's highest-performing schools use Direct Instruction materials. The Baltimore Curriculum Project has many schools with Free and Reduced Lunch Rates above 75% serving student populations that are more than 90% African American. These schools have shown strong achievement gains using Direct Instruction.[9]

Meta-analysis of 85 single-subject design studies comparing direct instruction to other teaching strategies found the effects to be substantial for students with learning disabilities;[10] however, when qualified by IQ and reading levels strategy instruction (SI) had better effects for the high IQ group. For the low-IQ discrepancy groups, higher effect sizes were yielded for a Combined DI and SI Model when compared to all competing models. With the exception of handwriting, DI's effects were all above .8 (i.e., reading and mathematics).[clarification needed]

John Hattie's Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement (2009) summarizes the results of four meta-analyses that examined Direct Instruction. These analyses incorporated 304 studies of over 42,000 students. Across all of these students, the average effect size was .59 and was significantly larger than those of any other curriculum Hattie studied.[clarification needed]

Direct Instruction is recognized as one of two effective models of comprehensive school reform and, in many cases, can be integrated into a tiered model system[definition needed] to address students with developing problems.[11] The findings from Project Follow Through, conducted in a variety of selected communities throughout the United States, suggested that Direct Instruction is the most effective model for teaching academic skills and for affective outcomes (e.g., self-esteem) of children. Recent large-scale studies (1997–2003), such as the Baltimore Curriculum Project, show that it is possible to help schools that are in the lowest twenty percent with respect to academic achievement steadily improve until they are performing well above average. In some cases, school achievement improved from the 16th percentile to above the 90th percentile.[9]


One three-year study of methods of teaching reading showed that highly scripted, teacher-directed methods of teaching reading were not as effective as traditional methods that allowed a more flexible approach.[12] Urban teachers in particular expressed great concern over the DI's lack of sensitivity to issues of poverty, culture, and race.[12]

The former president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), Anne Tweed, questioned whether direct instruction was the most effective science teaching strategy. In the December 15, 2004 NSTA Reports she concluded that "direct instruction alone cannot replace the in-depth experience with science concepts that inquiry-based strategies provide."[13]

Some critics also see DI as a betrayal of the humanistic, egalitarian foundations of public education, or as a "canned" or "teacher proof" curriculum deliverable via unskilled teachers.[14]

In Australia, where DI has been used in schools among several remote Indigenous Australians communities in Queensland, DI has been criticised for its high cost in return for at best modest improvements in literacy and numeracy levels, as well as its US-centric theme which is alien to indigenous Australian cultures.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [1] Explicit Instruction. LearnLab. Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center. Retrieved 2017-06-12.
  2. ^ a b Effective direct instruction practices in special education settings. Englert, Carol S. Remedial & Special Education, Vol 5(2), Mar-Apr 1984, 38-47
  3. ^ Engelmann, S. (2007) Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System.Eugene, OR: ADI Press
  4. ^ Englemann, S.E.(1968). Relating operant techniques to programming and teaching. Journal of School Psychology, 6, 89-96.
  5. ^ Kim, T. & Axelrod, S. (2005). Direct Instruction: An Educators’ Guide and a Plea for Action. The Behavior Analyst Today, 6.(2), Page 111-123
  6. ^ a b Marchand-Martella, & Martella (2002) An Overview and Research Summary of Peer-Delivered Corrective Reading. The Behavior Analyst Today, 3 (2), 214 -235
  7. ^ Kozol, Jonathan (2005). The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-5244-8.
  8. ^ Resource Room Teachers' use of Strategies that Promote the Success of Handicapped Students in Regular Classrooms Nancy K. Glomb and Daniel P. Morgan Journal of Special Education, Jan 1991; vol. 25: pp. 221 - 235
  9. ^ a b Rebar, M. (2007). Academic acceleration in first grade using the Direct Instruction model. (Report No. 2007-1). Cheney, WA: Eastern Washington University.
  10. ^ Swanson, H.L. & Sachse-Lee, C. (2000). A Meta-Analysis of Single-Subject-Design Intervention Research for Students with LD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 33, No. 2, 114-136 doi:10.1177/002221940003300201
  11. ^ Stewart, R.M., Martella, R.C., Marchand-Martella, N.E. & Benner, G.J. (2005). Three-Tier Models of Reading and Behavior. JEIBI 2 (3), 115-123
  12. ^ a b Ryder RJ, Burton JL, Silberg A. 2006. Longitudinal study of direct instruction effects from first through third grade. Journal of Educational Research, 99, 3, 179-191
  13. ^ Tweed, a. (2004). Direct Instruction: Is It the Most Effective Science Teaching Strategy? NSTA Reports, 15 December 2004. Retrieved 5 August 2013
  14. ^ From behaviorism to humanism: Incorporating self-direction in learning concepts into the instructional design process. Archived 2012-04-12 at the Wayback Machine In H. B. Long & Associates, New ideas about self-directed learning. Norman, OK: Oklahoma Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education, University of Oklahoma, 1994 (Roger Hiemstra & Ralph Brockett)
  15. ^ Misty Adoniou. What went wrong at Aurukun School? The Conversation, July 8, 2016. Retrieved September 21, 2016

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