Direct Instruction

Why is it important that the Standards Plus lessons are designed to apply direct instruction strategies?

Direct instruction is the backbone supporting strong evidence of effectiveness in Standards Plus lessons.  Since 1968, direct instruction has been the most widely scientifically researched and positively validated instructional method in education (Stebbins, 1997; Bock, 1977; Meyer, 1984; U.S. Dept. of Ed., 1987). The Standards Plus lesson format uses direct instruction related to the multi-step lesson plan researched and developed by Dr. Madeline Hunter (Cooper et. al., Classroom Teaching Skills, 1999; Joyce and Weil, Models of Teaching, 1972).  The quality of data gathered from numerous school sites and classrooms using Standards Plus lessons in varied school districts further supports the powerful reliability of direct instruction, particularly when the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) compels schools to close student achievement gaps.

According to Marzano (2004), 1 in 5 children come from economically-deprived environments that tend to limit academic achievement. Unfortunately, many economically-deprived students are coming to school without cognitive strategies (Payne, 2001). Children from multiple-disadvantaged backgrounds are not inherently less intelligent, and we should not expect them to achieve less (Barton, 2003; McClelland, 2002). In order to succeed, however, students must learn certain cognitive skills.

In a presentation to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (1990), Barak Rosenshine described outcomes from his research that revealed a unique approach to direct instruction. Rosenshine described how effective teachers overtly teach cognitive skills to children.  Effective teachers teach problem solving strategies, and they teach students to contextualize academic content. Direct instruction of cognitive skills helps students build learning scaffolds for these less-structured learning behaviors.

The following direct instruction strategies are consistent with Rosenshine’s scaffold concept, and they are incorporated into the Standards Plus lessons:

  • Anticipate difficult areas and directly teach appropriate problem-solving strategies.
  • Model learning behaviors by discussing how to apply problem-solving strategies.
  • Provide procedural facilitators (tools to help students learn strategies).
  • Provide appropriate problem-solving practice in varied contexts.
  • Regulate lesson difficulty (escalate after the learner “gets it”).

Unfortunately, many learners have not acquired basic and less-structured learning behaviors (Snow, 2003).  Rosenshine’s strategies are effective for teaching the less- structured skills because they help students build contextual scaffolds, learn procedural steps to apply problem-solving strategies, and acquire discrete learning behaviors. In Classroom Strategies for Helping At-risk Students (2003), David Snow calls this concept “strategic instruction” and he states that it is designed to teach students how to learn.

The Standards Plus lessons were designed to teach explicit content skills, and the lessons conform to the concepts described in the mainstream, direct instruction research. However, the Standards Plus program also includes direct instruction strategies and guided practices to strengthen Rosenshine’s “less-structured skills.” These include:

  • Problem solving skills
    • Embedded in many lessons
    • Explicitly defined on the Problem Solving Strategies cards
    • Defined as a content cluster in Mathematics
  • Oral and written language skills
    • Emphasis on academic language
    • Explicit instructions in functional reading skills
  • Learning skills
    • Modeled in teacher scripts
    • Emphasis on context of the content

Standards Plus practitioners frequently comment that students (and teachers) achieve unanticipated benefits from their interaction with Standards Plus lessons.  Often these benefits refer to unstructured learning behaviors similar in concept to those defined by Rosenshine (1990).  The anecdotal reports are validated by Rosenshine’s research in direct instruction, and data from schools that properly implement the Standards Plus program.