Direct Instruction: A Half Century of Research Shows Superior Results

What if I told you that there is a method of education which significantly raises achievement, has been shown to work for students of a wide range of abilities, races, and socio-economic levels and has been shown to be superior to other methods of instruction in hundreds of tests? Well, the method is Direct Instruction and I first told you about it in Heroes are Not Replicable. I am reminded of this by the just-published, The Effectiveness of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research which, based on an analysis of 328 studies using 413 study designs examining outcomes in reading, math, language, other academic subjects, and affective measures (such as self-esteem), concludes:

…Our results support earlier reviews of the DI effectiveness literature. The estimated effects were consistently positive. Most estimates would be considered medium to large using the criteria generally used in the psychological literature and substantially larger than the criterion of .25 typically used in education research (Tallmadge, 1977). Using the criteria recently suggested by Lipsey et al. (2012), 6 of the 10 baseline estimates and 8 of the 10 adjusted estimates in the reduced models would be considered huge. All but one of the remaining six estimates would be considered large. Only 1 of the 20 estimates, although positive, might be seen as educationally insignificant.

…The strong positive results were similar across the 50 years of data; in articles, dissertations, and gray literature; across different types of research designs, assessments, outcome measures, and methods of calculating effects; across different types of samples and locales, student poverty status, race-ethnicity, at-risk status, and grade; across subjects and programs; after the intervention ceased; with researchers or teachers delivering the intervention; with experimental or usual comparison programs; and when other analytic methods, a broader sample, or other control variables were used.

It is very unusual to see an educational method successfully replicate across such a long period of time and across so many different margins.

Direct Instruction was pioneered by Siegfried Engelmann in the 1960s and is a scientific approach to teaching. First, a skill such as reading or subtraction is broken down into simple components, then a method to teach that component is developed and tested in lab and field. The method must be explicitly codified and when used must be free of vagueness so students are reliably led to the correct interpretation. Materials, methods and scripts are then produced for teachers to follow very closely. Students are ability not age-grouped and no student advances before mastery. The lessons are fast-paced and feedback and assessment are quick. You can get an idea of how it works in the classroom in this Thales Academy promotional video. Here is a math lesson on counting. It looks odd but it works.

Even though Direct Instruction has been shown to work in hundreds of tests it is not widely used. It’s almost as if education is not about educating.

Some people object that DI is like mass-production. This is a feature not a bug. Mass-production is one of the few ways yet discovered to produce quality on a mass scale. Any method will probably work if a heroic teacher puts in enough blood, sweat and tears but those methods don’t scale. DI scales when used by mortals which is why it consistently beats other methods in large scale tests.

Many teachers don’t like DI when first exposed to it because it requires teacher training and discipline. Teachers are not free to make up their own lesson plans. But why should they be? Lesson plans should be developed by teams of cognitive psychologists, educational researchers and other experts who test them using randomized controlled trials; not made up by amateurs who are subject to small-sample and confirmation bias. Contrary to the critics, however, DI does leave room for teachers to be creative. Actors also follow a script but some are much better than others. Instructors who use DI enjoy being effective.

Quoting the authors of the meta-analysis:

Many current curriculum recommendations, such as those included within the Common Core, promote student-led and inquiry-based approaches with substantial ambiguity in instructional practices. The strong pattern of results presented in this article, appearing across all subject matters, student populations, settings, and age levels, should, at the least, imply a need for serious examination and reconsideration of these recommendations (see also Engelmann, 2014a; Morgan, Farkas, & Maczuga, 2015; Zhang, 2016). It is clear that students make sense of and interpret the information that they are given—but their learning is enhanced only when the information presented is explicit, logically organized, and clearly sequenced. To do anything less shirks the responsibility of effective instruction.
Hat tip: Robert Pondiscio at Education Next.


I said it many times. Interesringly enough, no onecares when I say DI is effective. A double standard.

"Students are ability not age-grouped": effectively forbidden in much of the US on race grounds?

Because race sensitivities and resentments, and their political exploitation, are much more important than teaching the individual child.

In India we ensure representation of some castes by reducing the marks to be scored by them to be eligible for admission to institutions.Not by teaching them to improve standards but to lower standards for them!

To you apparently.

Without grouping by [ability/stage they are at] it cannot work. The teacher has to be walking the group of students through the same steps at the same time. Or at least the students have to stay reasonably close to each other step-wise. So they all need to be around the same level of ability.

So you cannot use this in US public schools. In fact they are going in the exact opposite direction, now it's not unusual that each student in almost 1/4 of the class has an individual learning plan (IEP) and woe betide the teacher who doesn't tailor the teaching specifically to each one of those kids.

It would be interesting to think about the cases where it really matters if the student learns, and how seldom “student led and inquiry bases” methods are chosen.

I think about the scuba and skydiving training I received, and can imagine pilot or EMT training.

Or military training. It's done almost completely by DI. The instructors don't have years of training and education in educational methods like Education majors. Some, but not all, go through the Instructor Trainer Course which is about equivalent to a semester in college and focuses on how to effectively present material: posture, voice, hand gestures, pace, visibility of slides, etc.

Yours is an excellent insight.

How about surgery? Nursing?

"Or military training. It’s done almost completely by DI."

Yes indeed, the U.S. Military mode of training/education has been extremely efficient and successful for many decades. It is highly focused and unburdened by the massive ideological B.S. drowning the American civilian education system. The Military educates/trains tens of millions of ordinary people in a vast array of subjects, including extremely complex technical and managerial skills... and almost anything you can find in the civilian world. Instructors are also ordinary people efficiently educated to perform that (temporary) function. College degrees in "Education" are totally unnecessary and counter productive. No need for PhD's.

The US Air Force vigorously developed and applied this "Direct Instruction" back in the 1960's -- designated as "Instructional Systems Development".

American civilian education system largely follows the loosely structured medieval model of a heavily teacher-dominated "education" process with little concern for what students 'need' to learn long term, nor an effective feedback-loop to correct/improve the process.

Indeed. My experience teaching things to current and former officers is that they excel if given discrete, specific steps with clear indications of when and what action to take. When more conceptual material is presented, some have a bit more trouble, though it's often more in the "How does this matter to me and how I do my job?" side of things. NETs and other things I've sat in on tend to be awful. The way they really learn is by doing. This sentiment is expressed almost universally in my experience.

Another point: From the description above and the examples given, it seems like DI is built to teach people how to do discrete tasks. Trades, building things, learning how to use a piece of software, the chain rule, etc. are all things that seem well suited to DI. But I wonder how well more conceptual or creative things would work with this. Critical thinking, etc. These are notionally what secondary and post-secondary education should be about. (Of course in most cases and for most people, they're not.) I wonder if that disconnect is one of the reasons people don't want to adopt it.

You're assuming that other methods of teaching can teach creativity and critical thinking. I'm skeptical.

I suspect you learn critical thinking in a topic simply by just learning more about that topic. Same with creativity. In other words, creativity and critical thinking are domain specific. For example, the most brilliant composers don't seem to turn out to be equally brilliant writers (and examples of people who exhibit high artistic skill in more than one domain are rare).

So, I suspect DI could be helped to develop creativity and critical thinking, simply by teaching you about a topic because creativity and critical thinking aren't really general skills any more than moving fast is the same skill for a runner and a swimmer.

> But I wonder how well more conceptual or creative things would work with this

They don't work with formal education at all. As formal education systems around the world keep demonstrating. The partial exception being universities to the extent that they throw kids into the deep end and expect them to act like little independent researchers. That is, when they give people practice at developing their own conceptual, creative skills.

What formal eduction can do is teach people a whole lot of little, useful things, which they have as ready building blocks for their own creations but which would be hard to develop independently. This includes tricks in algebra and geometry, technical features of language, facts about places and historical events.

Ok, so the US military is extremely well managed, innovative, and the model for all US industry?

Ie, zero waste, fraud, abuse, zero cost overruns, and objectives delivered ahead of schedule and under budget?

Well, compared to the US education industry, by those metrics ...

You clearly don't understand the organization of our military. All of the functions you criticized are mainly run by DOD civilians led by elected and appointed officials cow towing to political concerns and in over their heads. It is the US civilian government that is the wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Yeah, the US military is the epitome of well managed and well trained operations. It isn't merely our technological advantage but the professionalism of our soldiers that are the envy of the world. Foreign soldiers can't believe how dedicated and tireless our troops are. Our forces are a cult of victory not seen since Sparta.

I must say that I really don't get what DI really is after the explanation (scientific, lab, blah blah blah...) but my take away is simple: all children are largely programed to learn from birth. If educators simply provide the information in a comprehensible form all kids will actually learn it. Part of making it comprehensible is to break the complex into simple parts (and then build the complex back up as we all know the whole is generally greater than merely the sum of it's parts).

Of course that will be a bit of an ego blow to many educators -- they really are merely a messenger for the most part and not some great sage imparting wisdom and knowledge. Most educators don't want to seem themselves in that light.

"In the 2002 Census of Governments, the United States Census Bureau enumerated the following numbers of school systems in the United States: 13,506 school district governments. 178 state-dependent school systems."

A strength and a weakness. You may have one big idea, but you have to sell it 13,506 times in a market of many other ideas.

Maybe it is a bit of a contradiction for a libertarian to think this should happen easily or at once.

Please explain what you are talking about. I don't get it at all. Is there some relation to the comment you are replying to?

Actually, I think you could apply it to nearly every other comment here. Right or wrong, any system needs to be sold to a large number of similar but different organizations.

Its learning by rote, and systematic. Some teachers don't like this. They prefer to be free to do as they please. "Don't make me teach to the test!" This has nothing to do with a desire to not be judged by any metrics.

Kumon probably falls into this system.

"Teaching to the test" literally means teaching the specific questions that the test will ask. Essentially cheating.
DI is not teaching to the test. But some districts really do teach the test - that's how bad they are. DI would be an extreme improvement over the lessons offered by those school districts.

So, requiring the student pass a specific test before advancing to the next lesson, requiring repeating the same lesson over and over until the test is passed is NOT teaching to the test?

No. That's not even what standardized testing does. Nobody gets held back if they get low scores on standardized tests. The tests are mainly used to assess the performance of schools and the teachers in them.

Nothing improves without metrics.

As I mention above, there are thirteen thousand school districts. Without national metrics they can all say "we're the best." With national testing we learn which are deceiving themselves.

how is it that you are wrong about everything?

I'd largely agree with you on the idea that an individual educator isn't as responsible for imparting knowledge as society likes to think.

Circling back a little bit to the idea that "It’s almost as if education is not about educating." -- the role of a *teacher* is more than to educate. In that sense, I think credit is due to the good teachers and mentors (and I would hope you have some you can remember from your childhood) that help build children up into adults.

There are schools with no teachers. The kids learn just fine and in fact have very good life outcomes. Many were failing in traditional schools. They even teach themselves (each other) to read.

Sounds fascinating — could you share some examples?

I wonder if direct instruction continues to be better over time. It seems as though the less centralized program where teaching is personalized provides more opportunities for creative destruction and innovation than direct instruction would. While direct instruction that takes these advances into account might well be superior to personalized instruction a reliance on it might result in fewer future advances and inferior instruction over the long haul.

Creative destruction doesn't really work in this context because the individual teacher who's developed an amazing new approach can't necessarily scale it and may not even have an incentive to do so. I saw exactly one time when an instructor I had in grade school was observed by outsiders with the explicit purpose of trying to replicate her success. She happened to be really, really good at getting mediocre students to pass an IB/AP Psych test. And she was legit good at it. Extremely high pass rate, and the students in there weren't necessarily the top of the class.

Anyways, I have a hard time imagining the mechanisms for creative destruction at work in our current educational ecosystem.

A lot of education is packaged and scaled. Professional certifications. Proprietary education. Military training and education. But you are correct that these often have very few competitors.

I think you're probably underrating informal transmission of ideas and practices and the power of success itself as an incentive. Not to say that taken as a whole this would overcome the advantages of direct instruction but I don't think it's reasonable to say that creative destruction only occurs in markets.

What are you talking about?

'The method must be explicitly codified and when used must be free of vagueness so students are reliably led to the correct interpretation.'

Nice to see that MRU follows that prescription. You certainly would not want someone having an incorrect interpretation of fair trade products, for example -

More obsessive posting by prior. It seems as if you fail to realize that you are obsessive, even though it's been pointed out by multiple posters, dozens of times over a period of years.

Well yeah, he's (mildly) mentally ill. The thing is, prior surely takes every reply pointing this out as proof he's getting to us. And he's not wrong.

Thinking about this, perhaps the resistance to using Direct Instruction has a lot to do with its potential to be applied through automated systems, where educators fear being potentially replaced by technology. As for whether that's a real thing, we could get a sense of how accepted DI is among educators by measuring how widely DI tools like the Khan Academy's resources are being applied in classrooms, particularly in subjects that students report having difficulty in learning (algebra, etc.)

I'm worried about exact opposite - that this turns teachers into puppets performing according to a rigid script. Nobody is going to enjoy that kind of teaching for very long. We should ask Alex whether he'd consent to retrain himself as a scripted content-delivery presenter, if cognitive psychologists designed a means-tested and optimized teaching script for his courses.

Rather than forcing teachers to be puppets, it would be much more ethical to just replace teachers with actual puppets. And yes, it would be great to have them. I just don't want the puppets to be made of meat and to have the ability to grasp their own alienation.

Yes, see its all about the teachers, and not the children.

Won't someone think of the teachers?

Just like when I get my car fixed, my first priority is always "is the mechanic fulfilled by his job? Is he self-actualizing?"

Other research has found that variation in teacher quality can sometimes explain educational outcomes. Thus, thinking of the teachers is actually important! Have DI methods been tested on representative populations of teacher that would have tried different styles? If not, the evidence in favor of DI would just be saying that it is massively better than whatever it's been compared with. So if a new car repair technique comes out and it's supposedly way better than what your mechanic does, but he says, "it's way better than what other people usually do but it's not better than what I do," he might well be right.

How many teachers think they are above average?

(Probably the same number as in any other profession.)

But what if the variation in teacher quality is in how they are presenting the material? (And really, what else could it be?) And what if the bad teachers could copy the good ones? (They actually do this in Japan, where teachers getting better results critique the presentation of those getting worse results)

"We should ask Alex whether he’d consent to retrain himself as a scripted content-delivery presenter"
By recording his classes to video- didn't he already just do that?

This sounds like a very promising technique, but in this post, Alex ignores a fundamental issue. It's not his fault; everyone does it, and the research methods we employ (parameter tests focused on changes to the mean) push people into making this error without even thinking about it.

People do many things differently, including think and learn. Methods that are effective for some subpopulation may be less effective for other subpopulations. The researchers here show that, on average, DI is much more effective than the methods compared against it in the literature. That's fantastic! To me, that suggests that for some kids, this approach will be massively better and more conducive to their learning than other kids. And judgin by the reported results, this is probably a large group. Perhaps a plurality or even a majority of students!

But it probably won't be effective across the board.There will probably be large subsets of students that find this approach frustrating an ineffective. (Why do I say this? Because it's true of literally every teaching method.) This should be investigated so that remediation can take place and methods identified for helping students that don't take well to DI.

Having said all that, this sounds extremely promising. I'm interested to learn more about this technique and how broadly it can be applied. My experience as a college instructor leads me to believe that the key to teaching large groups of people is understanding and being able to explain concepts in many ways. If you go through enough of them, most folks will eventually cotton onto something. If you only teach it one way, some group of students will get it immediately while the rest scratch their heads. Unfortunately, you rarely get the chance to explain things three times in lecture, so the "alternatives" tend to come up more when you're answering questions about how to do problems in class or afterwards in office hours.

I don't think anyone is missing this point, especially since public education is (almost by default) aimed at the average student. Alex explicitly addresses this when he talks about scalability. There are many methods and we see the success that some extraordinary teachers have with particular methods. But given constraints of public education systems and their inherent inability to provide personal education to each individual student, you want something that does well on average and that almost all teachers can implement. That this approach is effective on average and easily scalable is a feature, not a bug.

If its the most effective for the most people, then it should be used in most schools.

If we had vouchers, you could then take your special child, who simply can't learn by rote, to the special child school.

(I'm being harsh, but I actually agree with you: and modern math textbooks tend to teach concepts in multiple ways to do just what you ask)

Until we have school choice, we're still going to need to be teaching in bulk, so to speak.

A false choice, and also the wrong criteria. There's no reason teachers can't take multiple approaches within the same school or same classroom. Given all the time that's wasted these days, you could easily try two or three approaches without slowing things down.

Also, your assumption that we should optimize curricula and instruction for some imaginary median student seems inconsistent with the notion that schools should be at least somewhat effective for everyone. If this method worked great for 80% of the student population but the remainder got nothing from it, that's not an indication that it should be adopted exclusively.

You seem to have a lot of faith in the ability of today's schools to optimize their instructional quality. Given that most teachers cannot master one method, why would they be able to master 2 or 3.

"If this method worked great for 80% of the student population but the remainder got nothing from it, that’s not an indication that it should be adopted exclusively." If the choice is between today's system and a system that works for 80 percent of the student population, I'd universal adoption of direct instruction is a no brainer.

What you want is a system with more flexibility where 100 percent of students can be served equally well. That's a laudable (if fanciful) goal. What Harun suggests is that vouchers would allow the flexibility for students to go to the school that provided the best teaching method for them. I am a bit more skeptical about how much a free market can do to provide the universal education that lawmakers will impose as a requirement, but that is probably better than a bureaucrat trying to to optimize the distribution of teaching methods by allocating resources for particular schools/classrooms.

Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

"What if I told you that there is a method of education which significantly raises achievement, has been shown to work for students of a wide range of abilities, races, and socio-economic levels and has been shown to be superior to other methods of instruction in hundreds of tests? " - sounds like over-reaching claims...sounds like an AlexT post. Let me research DI...
"What is important about Direct Instruction is that it works far better than many other approaches. John Hattie’s review shows us that DI has twice the effect size of inquiry-based teaching, four times the effect size as problem-based learning and ten times the effect size of whole language."

So DI -- apparently it's "Asian Style Rote Learning by Repitition -- 'works' twice as good as the nearest competitor, but, as Bryan Caplan would agree, if kids are over-educated anyway, and let's say they get 12 years of mandatory education instead of say six, then DI is not more effective (in toto) in a 12 year curriculum than is the next closest competitor, "inquiry-based teaching".

I'm throwing into AlexT's face the same thing anti-patent types throw at me: "if patents are so great, why do people invent even without patents"? Likewise, here, if DI is so great, why haven't people adopted it already and why do they get by with inferior techniques? Ergo, we don't need DI in a 12 yr program. And as I say above, DI is taught in all Asian schools (except the part about segregating people by ability), it's called "rote learning". That's why Asian kids are good at memorizing stuff (they do good in organic chemistry for example, or med school).

"“if patents are so great, why do people invent even without patents”? Likewise, here, if DI is so great, why haven’t people adopted it already and why do they get by with inferior techniques?"

That only makes sense if you believe that our current educational system somehow hit upon the perfect method of education via the usual bureaucratic and political process, which seems unlikely to me. People 'get by' with inferior techniques because thats what the government offers and most parents cant afford a private alternative.

"if DI is so great, why haven’t people adopted it already and why do they get by with inferior techniques?"


And people HAVE adopted it, almost everywhere those labor unions or similar cartels have no influence.

Nice link, shows education lobbies have a lot of clout. But look at #5, #6 on the chart: Las Vegas Sands (a casino!) and " Carpenters & Joiners Union" LOL! Those Joiners are joiners to the Democrats cause. What the heck does a joiner do? Joints? Amazing.

Sands was run by Steve Wynn, an ardent Republican who, until recently, ran GOP finances. It will be interesting to see if their donations decline.

Count how many labor unions are on the list. Then look at how many liberal billionaires there are.

The "evil" Koch Brothers rank only 33rd.

Also prominent are developers. Notably underrepresented are Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Defense contractors. Banks rank low. NRA is ranked 94th.

I'm guessing a "joiner" is someone who fastens pieces of wood together, like with dovetail fittings or metal brackets.

It is not just the Sands business. Adelson Drug Clinic fund he Republicans. Why? So do the Chicafo Cubs? Why? And Bloomber funds Democrats. Why? In Brazil, as in Japan, business help all parties proportionally to their sizes. Everyone can draw the water from the well.

"So DI — apparently it’s “Asian Style Rote Learning by Repitition — ‘works’ twice as good as the nearest competitor, but, as Bryan Caplan would agree, if kids are over-educated anyway, and let’s say they get 12 years of mandatory education instead of say six, then DI is not more effective (in toto) in a 12 year curriculum than is the next closest competitor, “inquiry-based teaching”."

This is nonsense. If it is twice as effective then students can learn twice as much or learn the same in half the time. Caplan's point about over-education is that students are not actually learning anything., so it certainly does not argue against something that makes students learn more in the same amount of time. Why don't you email him and ask?

By the way what is your basis for saying DI is "Asian-style rote learning"? That's not my takeaway at all

"(they do [well] in organic chemistry for example, or med school)."

Ray could benefit from some rote learning.

The only place using DI at scale is IDEA Public Schools, a fast-growing network of public charter schools in Texas (>60,000 students, >80% poor, >90% Hispanic). IDEA students complete college at FOUR TIMES the average rate for similar students. IDEA's two founders, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama, began as teachers in a traditional public school. They discovered DI on their own, and left to start their own school (in 2000) after their district refused to use it. This would seem to confirm the radical notion that competition is a necessary condition to improve K-12 education. Without Texas' charter school law, IDEA would not exist, and no large-scale DI implementation would exist. More on DI here:

Thanks. DI reminds me of law school. In law school, you get tested on the footnotes, which are obscure, not the main "black letter law". But on the state bar exam, you get tested on the 'black letter law'. Consequently, law school does not teach you how to pass the bar exam, and nearly all law school students (actually, all students that I know of) take a bar exam refresher course before taking the state bar exam. I'm pretty sure that these bar exam refresher courses are using some variant of DI, which gets the job done.

In fact, the daughter of one DI trainer told me her mom taught her using DI and that she (the daughter) used DI methods to prepare for the bar exam in NY, which she passed on the first try. See Clear Teaching, p27 for the anecdote.

That's pretty good, the NY bar I think, without Googling it, is something like the California bar and has a less than 50% pass rate. I know a guy who was Law Review (i.e., one of the best law students) and failed the bar numerous times. He could not reduce his answers to cartoon answers of the kind required during the bar exam, where the bar review people actually tell you to underline the keywords in your answer. Cartoon answers work since the bar examiner graders are actually practicing lawyers who don't have a lot of time to read answers, from what I've been told, so you have to get to the point.

NY bar has about 70% pass rate consistently. 80% for graduates of accredited schools

The remarkable thing about DI is how ubiquitous it is, without practitioners ever hearing of the label DI. It is practically the norm in training programs and quite common in education.

It is actually a form of self teaching. The "instructors" are little more than facilitators, often without true expert knowledge.

"you get tested on the footnotes"

Obviously you have no clue what you are talking about.

If DI is so great, why aren't more large charter school companies using it?

There are a number of very large, for-profit companies that could make untold fortunes on charter schools if DI could produce reliably better results in a manner that cost no extra money and was reasonably easy to implement.

Charter school teachers do not have the sort of power to nix corporate strategy. So what gives?

"Materials, methods and scripts are then produced for teachers to follow very closely."

Finally acknowledging that "teachers" are and should be called "presenters." When they try to "teach," that's when all goes astray. They begin to teach what THEY want students to learn rather than what is in the child's best interest. They also attempt to teach what they think they're good at and avoid or do a poor job teaching things they're not good at.

I don't mean to say that "teaching" is bad. My wife home schools our daughters. But in that situation, the parents are the undisputed masters, and my wife isn't afraid to admit when she doesn't know something.

I hope your wife is smart, since home schooling is limited by the intelligence of the teacher. For example, if she doesn't believe in evolution, then your daughters will think that "Intelligent Design" and a literal reading of Genesis is an acceptable scientific 'theory'. Though I love the Philippines, I would not trust a Filipino teacher to school my kids, should I have any. A study was done a while ago and it showed Indians, Filipinos, and a few other SE Asians (probably a few Brazilians too, TR, are you reading this? :) ) are the most ignorant people yet the most sure of their opinions. Very true in the developing countries, that's why you get all this nonsense about the Jews running the USA (I had a guy tell me the other day that Al Gore is a Jew who runs the USA. I could not bring myself to even argue with him, no use).

My wife is brilliant. Smarter than me. But she quickly and voluntarily decided to be a stay at home mom and leave a successful career. Her traditional values kicked in. The girls were in Catholic school, but then my wife decided to try home schooling more out of boredom and thrift than anything else. Saving tuition money for college, and she spends more time with them.

We are Catholic, although I was raised a Jew. She certainly teaches about both evolution and creation. We don't find the two to be mutually exclusive. Rather, we see the Biblical accounts as a metaphor from thousands of years of oral history. We also believe in the Divine spark and a purpose for humanity. We have friends who are more ardent creationists than we are who have scientific careers, including medicine and biology. I think it's prejudicial to believe a creationist can't function in science without cognitive dissonance.

@Willitts, yes, IM Ken Regan is a Creationist but he's a computer scientist, which doesn't really count, and there's a dude who's a PhD in biology / geology (forget which) that was a believer in Creationism that got sued professionally but won. As long as you can separate your religious from your professional beliefs, it's fine.

Bonus trivia: the hot topic in evolution these days is epigenetics: can the environment influence the genes? Neo-Lamarckism? Google blind cave fish, it's an eye-opener!

"She certainly teaches about both evolution and creation. We don’t find the two to be mutually exclusive."
Yet, they are.
"Rather, we see the Biblical accounts as a metaphor from thousands of years of oral history."
And out goes the Bible inerrancy.
"We also believe in the Divine spark and a purpose for humanity."
Whatever it may mean.
"We have friends who are more ardent creationists than we are who have scientific careers, including medicine and biology. I think it’s prejudicial to believe a creationist can’t function in science without cognitive dissonance."
Yet, they can't. Neither can a Spiritualist or a Shintoism (believing in the divine origin of Japan). Evidently, one can memorize facts and believe whatever one wants to believe. As famous French writer Bernier pointed out, some good Soviet scientists wanted to defect because the materialist establishment did not allow them to hold séances.

No, they're not.

A metaphorical Bible is not errant. If you recall from scripture, mankind didn't exist and didn't observe much of creation. And nothing in the Bible states that God explained to man what he missed. Inerrant and literal are not the same thing.

The tales of the creation and the parables of Jesus weren't meant to be taken literally any more than a joke about a priest and a rabbi walking into a bar means that a priest and a rabbi actually walked into a bar.

That man has a purpose has meaning unto itself. In a universe without purpose, the universe is ambivalent between me loving my children and eating them. Our lives are no more consequential than two asteroids colliding. I'm sorry you feel your life is that empty.

Yes, people can believe God created the universe and that his plan unfolded along the lines of revealed science. The laws of the physical universe are entirely consistent with, and indeed reliant upon, a divine will and orderly creation. It could be no other way.

"If you recall from scripture, mankind didn’t exist and didn’t observe much of creation. And nothing in the Bible states that God explained to man what he missed. Inerrant and literal are not the same thing."
God inspired Moses to write about happened in the beginning. The real God created a real Bible about the real World He really created.

"since home schooling is limited by the intelligence of the teacher"

This would seem applicable to public schooling as well. A bit disheartening when those going for a grad degree in education have (by far) the lowest GRE scores.

I might also add that Direct Instruction is the method used in the military.

Let us be blunt: usually, teachers do not want to teach.

I used to blog extensively about Direct Instruction. Finally gave up.

It simply doesn’t mesh with the precious little snowflakes view of parents these days.

I do not have experience, but I doubt parents care about teaching method. Some may ressent the outcomes of evaluations and such, but I doubt that, from their point of view (or the students', by he way), DI is so different from what goes on at class anyway.

There is a huge market for helping students with grade and high school courses that range from games, books to after school classes. With parents willing to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars. I don't see why a booming DI app or other market wouldn't form if this is a magic bullet.

It is a fair and thoughtful question. And I don't have an answer. Although I wonder how much better an approach must be before it corners the "helping students" market. Also there may be limits. Maybe DI must be much like a chore to work (not suitable for gamefication, maybe a parent who buys an educational game won't buy a boring app or book - just because it has better outcomes doesn't mean children will not complain). Also, as much as America has a paralel education system, it is not like the Asian examination hells (I think it is not even like Brazils examination hell - as Erza Vogel pointed out, Americans test for native intelligence, and there is a limit for how much it can be improved, while most countries test for specific knowledge). Isn't Asian education (particularly cramming schools) basically DI by another name?
But my point was a different one: I was reacting to the idea that parents would object to DI at the public schools their children go to. I doubt they would even notice the difference.

Alex, How are you using DI in your classroom instruction?

Alright Alex, I hope you're scrapping your syllabi right now and having cognitive psychologists write you a teaching script so you could just memorize and perform it next semester for optimal results. What? You're not? What kind of a self-entitled special snowflake are you anyway? It's almost as if you don't care about teaching.

It at least possible that at the level Alex is teaching, DI is not as effective.

Seems reasonable to me that the best technique for a 4th grader might be different from the best technique for a grad student.

This! I think it's fundamentally mistaken to push a teaching approach that's good at a college level, down to elementary school.

I had a high school teacher who tried to implement college-level teaching style in the classroom. It was a massive failure.

It was only 5 years later that I realized what that teacher had been doing. "Oh, here is why he would just talk at us."

I could image high school students being able to learn in such a method, but not just dropped into it without any context.

What was the usual method at High School?

I assume this is a hoax.

No, it is not. DI's superiority has been known for a long time.

"Some people object that DI is like mass-production."

So, effective, efficient and responsible for massive gains to human welfare, then.

Not willing to spend $36 for one day access to the downloadable .pdf, and being personally inclined to concur with anything that sticks a thumb in the eye of the educational credentials industry, I'll instead indulge another personal inclination to question meta-anything. The wikipedia entry on meta-analysis helpfully points out a variety of possible problems in such studies. But more than that, it would appear that a lot is lost, in many cases more than what is gained, whenever anyone goes about aggregating anything that is not actually fungible. Arnold Kling has done yeoman work in questioning agmygregate demand - aggregate supply neoclassical economics, only outshone, perhaps unintentionally,by Alex's recent macroeconomic manifesto purporting to show regulations have no effect on the economy, The US public opinion shaping industry marching in lockstep to produce a uniform depiction of the world has led the great David Burge to wisely and accurately observe that "Journalism is about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving." And the endless appeals to authority based upon polls of recipients of government grants to generate models predicting catastrophic anthropogenic climate change to justify expanded government control of every aspect of life, has led the likes of President Obama to say, with no apparent shame, things like "97 percent of climate scientists agree: Climate change is real and man-made." No. Mood-affiliated or not, emotionally well-balanced or not, it seems more pragmatic to prefer simply allowing people to individually decide what works best for themselves and indulge biases against one-right answer finders of The Truth. Choice should be preferred to top-down decision-making unless there is strong reason not to, Countries with meaningful school choice nearly all out-perform the United States:

Of course, what many college students (and adults) seem to lack are critical thinking and reading skills. Ray makes an interesting observation about law students: law schools don't prepare them for the bar exam, so they take a prep course, modeled after DI, in order to pass the exam. It's true. I took a prep course. And it's also true that some law schools teach to the bar exam. No, not the elite schools, for they teach critical thinking and reading skills in the legal context. If you were to hire a lawyer, would you prefer one who was taught black letter law or one who was taught critical thinking and reading skills? When I was younger, I taught continuing legal education courses sponsored by our state bar. Whenever I strayed from my outline (which was the black letter law) and used hypotheticals to show the lawyers how to use the black letter law, I would get lots of critical reviews for failing to follow my outline. I thought the criticism odd, because I was giving them my secrets on how to use the law to their clients' advantage, but all they wanted to know was the black letter law. What they didn't know, what their clients don't know, is that a little knowledge can go a long way . . . . to a disastrous result. On the other hand, if a client had come to me with a scheme to avoid US taxation by apportioning income to a file drawer in a tax haven, I would have been amused (hey, it comports with black letter law, doesn't it?) but I certainly would not have staked my professional reputation on it. In today's world, critical thinking and reading skills can be a great disadvantage. It's DI for today's world.

The linked video is obnoxious. Skipped to roughly the start of every minute trying to find where they start describing the method. Every segment until 7m was people repeating how great DI is and how children will go on to do great things and its very scientific and at its core is a proven method blabla. Is this supposed to be an advertisement targeted at willing listeners, or propaganda you force teachers to watch? Because I think anything with a 7-minute intro that says nothing would fail badly at being the former.

Can't say much about the method itself, seems nice but haven't looked into it at length.

Alex's post is a great example of missing DI. He should have told us right after the lede what DI is.

Why am I not surprised that public school teachers are resistant to using teaching methods that require discipline and hard work?

Actually all you need is the incentive. If you reformulated math into terms of, say, "mastering DI modules 1001-1500' you could then pay teachers based on how many modules the students master during that time period. You would find after a while most would take too it and you would get teachers maximizing for module mastering.

Are you really saying that teaching all students at the same time with DI, using a script and provided materials, is **more** work than something like TQE (task-questioning-inquiry based learning) where the teacher is creating a task, cirrculating the room to work with students in groups to solve the problem, creating all the supplemental materials to scaffold to the level of the task, managing the room while simultaneously working with the low group on remediation while the high group works on enrichment and the medium group does independent practice, and managing 5 different IEPs in a group of 25? Because I've taught both ways an DI is far easier.

Even though Direct Instruction has been shown to work in hundreds of tests it is not widely used. It’s almost as if education is not about educating.

Or more precisely it is a secondary purpose.

To be blunt, children are a danger to themselves and others because they are immature. Maturity requires the input of time, hence the school system is about setting things up so that children can be monitored for a good 12 years or so in order to achieve the release of mature humans 'into the wild'. The education aspect, leaving this period with knowledge of specific useful things, is a bit like lunch. It's a secondary purpose.

So it sounds like direct instruction is ideal for post school education (say teaching people how to use a new programming language, fly a new type of plane, program a new robot for the factory) where the purpose is to acquire new knowledge in as little time and energy as possible. But don't forget, instruction in education is a bit like popcorn is to the movie. It's something to eat during the movie, it's primary purpose isn't to fill your stomach very fast. Inventing a type of popcorn that will fill your stomach instantly by eating one kernel misses the point.

To make this work for school you have to envision a change where the time eating goal is accomplished by something other than purposefully slowing down the instruction to fill things up. For example, perhaps team based competitions where teams spend the year learning individual instruction modules as part of some long game that has multiple ways to win.

Keeping children -- especially teenaged boys -- out of trouble is a valuable goal.

What's wrong with imparting knowledge to children while they are being supervised?

Because learning is often difficult and a struggle. You can't force someone to learn, and keeping the inmates docile makes managing them easier than trying to force them to act in a certain way.

Nothing, but time must be filled.

For Confirmation class, we had some 'volunteer duty'. It consisted of wrapping Christmas gifts for the poor. It was scheduled for two hours in the Church basement. Only problem, we wrapped everything in a half hour. Because it was scheduled for two hours and most people had their parents coming to pick them up based on that time, they made us sit around and wait. We got grumpy and they got angry at us for being grumpy but the extra hour and half of sitting around didn't do anything to help the poor.

If DI rapidly increases the speed of knowledge acquisition then the 'time eating' aspect of school, which is probably just as an important goal, has to be compensated for.

More material can be covered. I mean, seriously? Are we dreading the fact DI may be too much efficient?! Come on, China and South Korea don't see to have problems keeping teenaged hooligans busy 18 hours day sevens days a week.

True but China and South Korean 8th graders do a bit better than US 8th graders. They aren't typically doing Calculus III while our 8th graders are still perfecting multiplication tables. Nor have I heard about any company that compensated for a shortage of $200K top level engineers by taking $35K per year janitor staff and running them through a few months of DI modules. That implies to me that there's a rapid cut off where marginally more DI yields less benefit.

Challenge on to Alex and Tyler. If DI is the magic bullet why not repurpose Marginal University as a DI structured app? $50 bucks for the app and you master everything a 4 year econ grad should plus some. Eliminate the $400 textbook costs right off the bat!

Sure, but I was answering the doubt concerning what to do if DI is so efficient kids have nothing to do (the given example was running out of gifts for the poor to wrap at Sunday School) and become hard to distract. I doubt school will run out of material to cover soon. And my Asian point is, kids can be kept quiet for hours day after day if there is the political will to impose that on them. One must be vigorous. The grandchildren of the Red Guard can be controlled and so can, say New Yorkers. If one wants to mold children, one must crush them first.

"children are a danger to themselves and others because they are immature. Maturity requires the input of time, hence the school system is about setting things up so that children can be monitored for a good 12 years or so in order to achieve the release of mature humans ‘into the wild’."

Absolutely disgusting. School as a prison for children who are a "danger." Do you have any empirical basis whatsoever for believing that? For millennia, children played all day unsupervised and did just fine. Better then fine- they were happier and had much fewer mental health issues. Today in hunter-gatherer societies, children still play all day unsupervised. Play is how children learn the things they need to know to be successful as adults. You're going to sentence your own children and millions of others to dull prison because if they actually learned things they might run out of things to do while in their prison?

"You’re going to sentence your own children and millions of others to dull prison because if they actually learned things they might run out of things to do while in their prison?"
Ys, but for their own good.

Do you think Charlie Brooker comes to MR when he's running low on ideas for Black Mirror?

Only if he intends to write about crazy people taking over an asylum. Nowadays, it is all rants all the time here.

Just seems like the "high test scores above all else, don't even bother looking at other outcomes" mentality would be fertile ground for at least a couple black mirror episodes.

I'm guessing your asylum quip was meant to be self deprecating? You easily have twice as many posts as anyone else on this discussion.

No. I have fewer posts than the Decos, Raywards, Mulps and Lopez of the world.

It is disgusting that we lock children up for our own good. That doesn't mean it's not happening.

Ir is for their own food, actually.

In what way is it good for them?

Does Alex teach every class by strict DI methods?

If not, why not?

A lot of time and effort goes into developing the DI. If good proven DI exists for Alex's course material then I agree this is a reasonable question. For primary school subjects it makes great sense but as the number of students decreases the efficiency of DI drops.

I would consider reformulating textbooks to be a combination approach.

Imagine you reverse the order of how most textbooks work. For example, you have the quadratic equation introduced and derived in a chapter and then it shows how it applies to a selection of sample problems. Then you do a bunch of each type of problem. Suppose instead the DI method is used to make students practice the equation first. Then after mastering the 'mental reflexes' of using it, is the actual equation derived and discussed at the end.

When most people learn a more physical skill like carpentry or cooking, they first do tasks and only later is the theory aspect discussed.

Let's ignore the things proven to work and adopt your ideas instead.

How well are they working now?

Did anyone even watch that promotional video? Thirty kids sitting at desks with their hands clasped just repeating exactly what the teacher has told them to repeat? Would any of you with children actually subject your child to anything so mind-numbing?

No, that's not what the video shows. Seriously did you watch the same video I did. It shows kids doing assignments, writing on the whiteboard, kids leading, kids repeating what the teacher said, etc.

3:17 - Teacher: Does the NEXT morphograph begin with anything except I? Class: Yes

Anyone who has ever taught kids knows that they are very good at figuring out how to answer questions the way we want them to. You could take out the words and all the kids would know that the answer is "yes" just by the tone of her voice.

The video then goes on to describe how all this "core knowledge" will help the students become even better students. Do we really believe this type of knowledge dumping is going to prepare students for the world 20 years from now?

Where did you see kids leading? Direct Instruction lauds itself on not even taking ideas from teachers, why would students be allowed a say in the curriculum?

For goodness sake, the 'individual turn' cited as a way to 'ensure all students are engaged' was a kid saying "Whose, w-h-o-s-e. whose". Better get that kid a sedative or he's liable to jump out of his seat with excitement and focused energy!

So are the studies all wrong?

Yes, if it is for their own good. I mean, we innoculate children , don't we?


Sometimes, we make hard decisions because they are the right thing to do.

Innoculating children isn't a hard decision to make.

This is an honest question so please don't take it the wrong way, do you think that schools have any ability to enhance a child's future success other than through the skills that are quantifiable in standardized tests? We're going to assume for the sake of this argument that standardized tests actually are a good indicator of future reading/math/writing success, a dubious assumption in my opinion, but a necessary one for this discussion.

"This is an honest question so please don’t take it the wrong way, do you think that schools have any ability to enhance a child’s future success other than through the skills that are quantifiable in standardized tests?"
No. Maybe some socialization.Without them, we would need a way to make kids interact wih tjeir peers in a safe habitat.

Kids interacting with their peers is what happens naturally if you do nothing, you don't have to make them do it

Not saying they're wrong, just wondering if they need to be looked at a little more critically. Educating human beings is not the same thing as mass-producing a car, even if some aspects of mass-production can have positive results.

I don't think the question is whether or not Direct Instruction is beneficial in helping students attain high test scores, I think the question is whether or not high test scores should be the sole factor in deciding a school's curriculum. I guess it boils down to whether or not you believe that schools should be a place where students learn not only about reading and math skills, but also so-called "soft skills" (communication, team-work, curiosity) which by definition are much more difficult for researchers to quantify.

To me, the Direct Instruction exhibited in the Thales video might improve reading scores, but to the detriment of all of those other skills. If you have to ask why I would think that, then you've clearly never spent much time in a primary classroom.

DI for 4 hours, recess for 4 hours?

At a certain level of competence, DI ain't so hot. When the subject simply has the vagueness and complexity and infinite permutations contained within, DI needs to be shored up using other pedagogies.

I simply cannot imagine teaching H1 Project Work (for example) using DI. That would be a disaster in the making.

DI is pretty much how Physics is taught (in France where I learned it and probably in most places too). You start by learning building blocks: that light can be described as a wave, Maxwelll's electro-magnetic equations, a simple antenna model et soon you can derive complex equations showing that blue scatters more than red and therefore the sky is blue.

Teachers are "amateurs"? What - and academic psychologists are professionals who never get anything wrong? Not a good moment to be making that claim. For me what's most striking about this method is how close it is to traditional teaching.

Some predictions:

- DI works better for low achievement, low IQ students than for high IQ students, in terms of how much better they do using DI compared to other methods; thus it will appear to "close the gap."

- Students taught with DI will not do so well with problems that were not explicitly taught, but which are related to those explicitly taught.

- Three years after DI, students will, on standardized tests, be indistinguishable from those students who did not use DI, however competent or incompetent their amateur teachers were.

DI, in short, is a teach-to-the-test, close-the-gap gimmick. You don't want to graduate 50 students who passed a math test. You want to flunk out 25 students and pass the 25 who can deal with the chaos of a normal class and still succeed. In the end, the particulars of the math or other subject matter are not important. The ability to deal with a fluid, ill-defined life situation is. Schools should be sorting and ranking students by this ability, not pretending that everyone is the same.

"In the end, the particulars of the math or other subject matter are not important. The ability to deal with a fluid, ill-defined life situation is. Schools should be sorting and ranking students by this ability, not pretending that everyone is the same."
Evidently, who cares about educating citizens about Mathematics. What is it good for? Believe or not, most of us want children to learn Math, not keep "those guys" away. And I do not think dog whistles have a place at the school band.


See comment above about IDEA charter schools in Texas using DI at scale. 60k students, 80% poor, 90% Hispanic whose students COMPLETE college at 4x the rate of similar students.

IDEA may well be better than many of the public schools its students would otherwise attend, I actually don't know.

Edward Fuller is probably IDEA's most reasonable critic, and should be considered. This article does a fair job of explaining the criticisms.

"DI, in short, is a teach-to-the-test, close-the-gap gimmick."

Evidence? Doesn't it let kids achieve their potential by removing the requirement that kids stay with their own age group and instead putting them in a class at their academic level?

It seems like if inquiry-based learning and DI are both good at what they do, we should expect DI to score better on objective tests, for the simple reason that if children are learning the same amount in both cases, but in one case you force the learning onto tracks that are relevant to the tests, then obviously that track will look better!

As an aside, I'd expect nearly all "inquiry-based learning" attempts to be fake, in part because of the pressure to meet standard metrics on a standard schedule. This leaves little time for genuinely open-ended learning. It also requires teachers to have a broad and deep knowledge of the subject area, and probably can't handle low teacher:student ratios.

Rather than just hand waving, let us look at some credible hard data. The testing organization was from Belgium under the supervision of OECD.

As to Direct Instruction led to rote learning, the OECD PISA project has investigated creative problem solving (CPS), i.e. testing on how students can tackle vague and ill-defined problems where they have to think outside the box to seek new knowledge to solve the problems. A plot of the PISA CPS vs the standard PISA scores,

That showed the lies about high PISA scored countries are not creative. Where are the creativeness from the innovative teaching methods?

Or more to the point. The PISA CPS project has split the CPS problem solving score into two parts, the student directed new knowledge acquisition and knowledge utilization. The testing platform has the extra info for solving the problem only if the students know what are needed and explicitly ask for them. Can rote learning do that? As can be seen from the results,

the students from the East Asian countries performed much better than others in student directed new knowledge acquisition, that specifically showed the lies about their 'rote learning'. Their ability to utilize the knowledge were also better than most students from other countries. What ultimately count was the composite of the two sub-scores in the first chart chart above.

Two recent examples shows the great divide. The 11 yo in China were tested with this question,

"""If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship's captain?"""

This separate out those that turned in a blank sheet from those that were able to offer some credible reasoning,

"""The total weight of 26 sheep and 10 goat is 7,700kg, based on the average weight of each animal, in China, if you're driving a ship that has more than 5,000kg of cargo you need to have possessed a boat license for five years. The minimum age for getting a boat's license is 23, so he's at least 28."

Most people from the internet just whinge whinge whinge. Sad.

Compare that to the situation in UK GCSE test (for 16 yo?) where the answer was given, the task was mechanically to derive it. And some of the students just moan moan moan.

hey.. but, We knew that. School is to learn to------ socialize-------- and to allow both parents to work. Also ... to read write & basic math. That;s the bare minimum and many graduate with that at most...... As we all know since it's impossible on the US to repeat a year because you didn't reach basic passmarks.....
With that alone the US school system would improve a lot. (failing a year because you don't wanna learn... that... and maybe a fine or time in community service for not passing,,,, for both parents and students). But... Again.... goals are not realistic in regular school. Learning the basics -WELL- is MORE than enough if you repeat that in many ways and expand on the logics behind those basics. Wanna specialize? There could be some DI optional courses for the ones who want to excel.

"Many current curriculum recommendations, such as those included within the Common Core, promote student-led and inquiry-based approaches." While researching my book on the Common Core, I found very few (0?) examples of this being the case; virtually every ELA exercise is kids reading a short passage and then providing text-dependent and text-specific answers. The Common Core gives children very few opportunities to lead or do inquiry.

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