Heather F wrote:ElsieP I actually found your original criticisms of the book under discussion a bit unreasonable. I don't know anything like as much as you do about research into learning and I am aware that my support for direct instruction can blind me to its flaws. However...
"I can't face going through the sixteen elements of explicit instruction. (Sixteen? The author refers to the capacity of working memory being limited to seven plus or minus two bits of information (although s/he doesn't put it like that) but then expects teachers to bear in mind sixteen elements.) So instead I want to rant about the six principles of effective instruction (p.5)."
What on earth is wrong with outlining 16 points? I'm not expecting to recite them all back at the end so what has working memory got to do with it?
Working memory isn't just involved in memorising things. It's also involved with the number of bits of information we can handle simultaneously. Explicit instruction is presumably intended to be used by teachers who don't have a minute between the moment they arrive at school in the morning and the moment they go home in the evening. Sixteen points is simply unhelpful. I've had teachers wave files at me, crying "Look how many things I'm supposed to think about! Look!"
"1. Optimize engaged time/time on task. The more time students are actively participating in
instructional activities, the more they learn.
No, they don't. Learning vs time on task follows an inverted U-shape due to habituation and fatigue. Consolidation of new material takes place (fairly obviously) when the brain isn't focused on absorbing new material - ie during 'downtime'. That's why so many writers, scientists etc spend so much time walking, gardening, painting and so on."[/i]
Children have downtime whether or not ten minutes of extra instruction time or found. In many primary schools the only reading practice KS1 children get is 2 or 3 group reading sessions a week. In what way is advice to spend more time on instruction a mistake? I am fighting to get more curriculum time for my subject so my studnets can make more progress. In the meantime we are careful not to waste the time we have doing excessively time consuming projects with lima beans...
There's a difference between needing to allocate more time to an activity and making a general statement saying that the time taken in active participation in instructional activities is directly correlated with knowledge acquired. It isn't
. This is a well-researched area, but that hasn't stopped a fair amount of discussion about extending the school day, extending school hours to include Saturday mornings and using break times for teaching.
"2. Promote high levels of success. The more successful (i.e., correct/accurate) students are when
they engage in an academic task, the more they achieve.
There's some evidence for the benefits of error-free learning in some circumstances but the best predictor of persistence on task is actually variable reinforcement - ie a mix of success and failure. Different people respond differently to different reward schedules."
She never said error free, she said high levels of success. You can debate what the actual balance should be for each child but when dealing with a class or group situation 'high levels' sounds like a good rule of thumb.
Error-free learning is an instructional technique sometimes used with people with learning difficulties and patients with memory deficits. I was commenting on what the author said, rather than putting words into her mouth. What she actually said was "The more successful (i.e., correct/accurate) students are when
they engage in an academic task, the more they achieve."
That might be true for some individuals but in general is not borne out by research into reinforcement schedules. That is something that casinos are aware of, and teachers should be too.
3. Increase content coverage. The more academic content covered effectively and efficiently, the
greater potential for student learning.
The author hasn't defined 'academic' but otherwise this maxim is self-evident.
Well thats OK then... Not as self evident as it might seem though, from the experience of my own children's primary schools.
Find me a teacher who'd disagree with it. Knowing and doing are two different things.
"4. Have students spend more time in instructional groups. The more time students participate
in teacher-led, skill-level groups versus one-to-one teaching or seatwork activities, the more
instruction they receive, and the more they learn.
Doesn't that depend on a) the child and b) the task? One of the things that bothers me about educational 'methods' is that outcomes are often reported at group level. And there appears to be a growing popularity for meta-analysis. A particular method might be shown to be most effective for most children, and therefore it makes sense to use it in schools; that doesn't mean it is more effective for every child. There are lots of references in this chapter to children with 'learning disabilities' as if they all have a variant of the same condition - not that their learning difficulties might vary widely and require different approaches."
My problem here is I am not sure why a method that proves to work best for most shouldn't be the default teaching method. Then those that aren't learning this way can be identified and helped.
Because one default 'method' won't do the job. State education systems have been bedevilled by 'methods' since the year dot. Until teachers understand why
a method works with most children and why it doesn't work
with others, we'll go on lurching from one method to another ad infinitum.
"Scaffolding. Scaffolding is clearly a key component of explicit instruction but the author doesn't appear to be clear about how or why.
My first introduction to scaffolding came one weekend when my daughter (then 11) had a story to write for homework, but kept saying she couldn't do it and didn't want to talk about why.
As an intelligent user of scaffolding with my students this section makes me a bit cross. I really don't care if the analogy doesn't work very well. Because I am in sympathy with the author that doesn't bother me. The debate is over scaffolding. Your daughter was set a task and given support that was inappropriate for her and probably poorly designed in the first place. Just because scaffolding was used badly by one teacher is of no relevance to the debate. I often use scaffolding and would not have been so imbecilic as to set that task in that way for a child as you describe.
I had no intention of causing offence. I'm sorry. I was simply pointing out that my first encounter with it was from a teacher who must have been 'imbecilic'. I think she would have been mightily confused by the analogy used in this chapter. And with all due respect you are not writing a definitive text about scaffolding.
"In order to scientifically test an educational method you do need to test it. It isn't sufficient to cite supporting evidence only; you also need to look at cases where it doesn't work and figure out why. There might be a method you haven't thought of that works even better."
I believe those that devise DI programs do look cases where it doesn't work and refine their programmes accordingly.
I'd be genuinely interested to see how they do that.
Another method may work better, if one is found I'll use it. Should I ignore this method in the meantime?
No, I think you should be looking at what methods work best for what knowledge and skills and which children. You're a professional. I'm saying what I think about the rationale behind this method as set out in the sample chapter.
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[i]"I can quite see why explicit instruction could be effective in respect of some knowledge and skills"[/i]
And that is why it tends to be used for basic skill acquisition at primary level, not to teach creative writing.
Ok, I've got this far: D
nstruction is a package - one that started with basic skills but has now been extended. And then there's d
nstruction, that's a general method, but I'm not clear what it's used for. Now we have explicit instruction, which is different (?). You say it tends to be used for basic skills at primary levels but the authors give examples of its use at secondary level.
Could you clarify?
I know I have a that human tendency to be uncritical of material that I am in sympathy with and I think your contributions to this site are invaluable because you stop me being lazy and uncritical with information. That is a really good thing. However, I do think you were unduly critical of this chapter because it is not in sympathy with your own instincts.
It's nothing to do with my instincts. It's a lot to do with having learned a fair amount of psychology.
What worries me about this debate is that there's been an emphasis on evidence-based pedagogy, but all that anyone appears to be bothered about is evidence showing that one method is better than some others. No one seems in the least concerned that there might not be a robust evidence-base for the underlying theory on which the method is founded. I searched the contents pages of this book on the Amazon site and couldn't find anything about the underlying theory. The author appears to have made up her own explanations for why the method works.
Heather, I understand you feel my criticisms are unreasonable. But I feel I should point out that both my children had serious problems with one school (by the time we realised what was happening the damage was done) and my son experienced years of what I believe in the US is called 'LD hell'. I've been appalled at the quality of some of the educational research I've come across and the widespread ignorance of mechanisms of learning that are well-researched in other fields. I can understand why teachers might not be aware of them, but I don't think there's any excuse for researchers or for people who publicise their methods and expect people to adopt them. I'm an angry parent.