Hundreds of studies over decades of research show Direct Instruction (DI), with its clear and explicit, teacher-focused, incremental learning, is highly beneficial for broad ranges of students. Let’s briefly define Direct Instruction and discuss some implementation tips to ensure your DI strategies engage your students and successfully impart essential knowledge.
DI is a teaching method that features teachers addressing students directly, giving explicit, guided instruction on new concepts and information. DI is among the best and most effective teaching strategies for many subjects and concepts, such as math formulas, vocabulary and grammar rules, step-by-step processes, and simple statements of fact that become foundational and are built upon through subsequent lessons.
Tips to Enhance the Benefits of Direct Instruction
Identify a clear, specific, and attainable objective.
Optimizing your implementation and delivery of teacher-directed instructional strategies begins well before you start a lesson. Give your lesson plans clear and explicit names that reiterate what you want students to learn, and make a point to introduce and explain that lesson plan title to students as you begin your introduction and review.
“Today, we’re going to learn ______, and by the end of our lesson, I expect you’ll be able to ______,” for example. Avoid using jargon or technical language that students may not understand yet. Establishing a clear and attainable objective for every lesson helps you plan your direct instruction. It makes it easy for students to identify, recognize, and work toward what they know they need to learn and be able to do.
While introducing the upcoming material, establishing students’ objectives, and reviewing their prior understanding of the subject, positively acknowledge the correct recollection of background knowledge and offer plenty of encouraging motivation toward accomplishing the goals ahead.
For tricky topics, confusing content, or areas where they may get “stuck” within specific examples, talking through their thought process helps many learners stay focused and target what they know toward a self-sufficient, problem-solving solution.
Verbalizing your thought process as you work through a demonstrative example gives students an audio “track” to playback in their minds, along with a visual account of your modeling of the new skills or abilities.
DI lessons can be adapted to meet the needs of all students. Students may need to see multiple, varied examples before experiencing that “lightbulb” moment where they “get it.” Checking in with students, reviewing their work, and using assessments to measure their understanding can help you identify whether you need to provide additional support for struggling students or more challenging activities for advanced learners.
Try grouping students according to their ability level and assign tasks or activities that match their level of understanding. For example, you may group students who need additional support and provide more scaffolded instruction, while students who are ready for a challenge can work on more complex tasks or problems.
Provide different reading materials, worksheets, or activities that align with each student’s ability level. And use a variety of strategies—including modeling, simulations, games, videos, and group discussions—to engage learners of different abilities and preferences.
Convert lengthy breakdowns of new information to bite-size chunks.
Consider the material’s complexity level and your students’ background knowledge. You may need to adjust the level of difficulty and pace of your instruction by reducing the amount of information you introduce in each lesson. During the initial presentation of new skills or concepts, breaking the material down into smaller segments or dividing parts of a process into step-by-step chunks helps make it easier for students to follow along, engage in the lesson, and remember key points.
In planning and preparation, look for ample opportunities within direct instruction lessons to pause and ask if students have questions about the material. Encouraging student participation through questions and discussions can help them stay engaged and deepen their understanding of the material. Use a photo presentation to visually tell the story of new concepts, then ask for student feedback and additional examples. Have them complete a quick worksheet and peer-reviewed quiz before playing a relevant video or demonstrating the next step of your lesson subject’s process. Take the time to review each chunk and confirm students are comprehending before moving on to more information or beginning guided practice.
Don’t forget to include plenty of time for practice and feedback.
Sessions of guided and independent practice are critical elements of direct instruction. Begin working (and talking) through several examples and sample problems yourself before beginning to cede control of the work and practice session to your students. Anticipate errors or mistakes you think students may make and preemptively teach to correct them as or before they happen.
The “gradual release” model and “I do, we do, you do” teaching styles are other common variations of goal-mastery learning that lead to students independently practicing to demonstrate comprehension. Avoid the temptation and resist the urge to quickly add on and introduce more difficult material until students can master the task. As you review recently learned skills and abilities, you can show students how their new skills can or will be utilized in future learning or other examples of real-world applications.
It’s rather common that the teacher’s portion of guided practice takes up the biggest bulk of a lesson’s time. However, repetition is a key component of direct instruction, and providing multiple opportunities for students to practice a skill or concept can help reinforce their learning and build their confidence. In planning and scripting your lessons, give yourself time for multiple and varied examples, then begin students’ practice with simple verbal responses to open-ended questions, physical responses, or use response boards to encourage participation and engaged practice.
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