What is DI?
Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminating misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning.
Its creators, Siegfried Engelmann and Dr. Wesley Becker, and their colleagues believe, and have proved, that correctly applied DI can improve academic performance as well as certain affective behaviors. It is currently in use in thousands of schools across the nation as well as in Canada, the UK and Australia. Schools using DI accept a vision that actually delivers many outcomes only promised by other models.
Direct Instruction operates on five key philosophical principles:
- All children can be taught.
- All children can improve academically and in terms of self image.
- All teachers can succeed if provided with adequate training and materials.
- Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster rate than typically occurs if they are to catch up to their higher-performing peers.
- All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students’ misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.
Why does DI work?
There are four main features of DI that ensure students learn faster and more efficiently than any other program or technique available:
Students are placed in instruction at their skill level.
When students begin the program, each student is tested to find out which skills they have already mastered and which ones they need to work on. From this, students are grouped together with other students needing to work on the same skills. These groups are organized by the level of the program that is appropriate for students, rather than the grade level the students are in.
The program’s structure is designed to ensure mastery of the content.
The program is organized so that skills are introduced gradually, giving children a chance to learn those skills and apply them before being required to learn another new set of skills. Only 10% of each lesson is new material. The remaining 90% of each lesson’s content is review and application of skills students have already learned but need practice with in order to master. Skills and concepts are taught in isolation and then integrated with other skills into more sophisticated, higher-level applications. All details of instruction are controlled to minimize the chance of students’ misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.
Instruction is modified to accommodate each student’s rate of learning.
A particularly wonderful part about DI is that students are retaught or accelerated at the rate at which they learn. If they need more practice with a specific skill, teachers can provide the additional instruction within the program to ensure students master the skill. Conversely, if a student is easily acquiring the new skills and needs to advance to the next level, students can be moved to a new placement so that they may continue adding to the skills they already possess.
Programs are field tested and revised before publication.
DI programs are very unique in the way they are written and revised before publication. All DI programs are field tested with real students and revised based on those tests before they are ever published. This means that the program your student is receiving has already been proven to work.
The implementation of Direct Instruction and the five key philosophical principles will introduce a crucial element in the school system: change. Teachers will generally be required to behave differently than before and schools may need an entirely different organization than they previously employed. Even staff members will be called upon to alter some operations. The popular valuing of teacher creativity and autonomy as high priorities must give way to a willingness to follow certain carefully prescribed instructional practices. Remaining the same, however, are the importance of hard work, dedication and commitment to students. And, it is crucial that all concerned adopt and internalize the belief that all students, if properly taught, can learn.
Additional Readings on Direct Instruction
Clear Teaching by Shepard Barbash
Direct Instruction: The Rodney Dangerfield of Curriculum by Robert Pondiscio