Monday, February 13, 2012

Clear teaching, Part I

A short while ago, Yvonne Meyer posted on the Reading Reform Foundation to a downloadable book on direct teaching, called Clear Teaching, With Direct instruction, Siegfried Englemann discovered a better way of teaching by Shephard Barbash.
The posting has generated some discussion, which you can read here.
Nevertheless, I thought I’d add my thoughts on theliteracyblog and probably the best way of doing that is to take up some of the points chapter by chapter.
J.E.Stone in the 'Foreword' tells the reader that Direct Instruction is ‘a scripted step-by-step approach to teaching. This is music to the ears of Sounds-Write practitioners because every Sounds-Write lesson is scripted, a point we’ll return to later.
The approach is also described as being ‘old-school’, by which is meant that there are lots of ‘teacher-led exercises, skill grouping, choral responding, and repetition’. It does what good sports coaches, trainers and physical education teachers did years ago and continue to this day to do. Many years ago, as a rookie teacher, I learned from reading Barbara Knapp's* Skill in Sport that ‘skill is the learned ability to bring about predetermined results with maximum certainty, often with the minimum outlay of time or energy or both’, a principle that applies equally well to the classroom.
As Stone says, if you determine which skills are key to any activity and you teach them first, and you follow this by building on the foundations, from simple to more complex, you teach to ‘mastery’ and you can iron out any errors as you go along. So, to the honing of the skills, we’re adding expert tuition, based on having already worked out the sequence by which something should be taught if it is to proceed in short, easy steps, and high quality feedback.
Although teachers can adopt the role of ‘facilitator’ from time to time - and there will always be occasions when this is appropriate - for the most part, learners make the most rapid progress if they have ‘clear direction, close monitoring, and encouragement’.
As Stone notes and as many teachers of literacy and maths in UK will recognise, the task of implementing such approaches in school is a labour of Sisyphus. In order for this type of methodology to work effectively in a single school, not to mention in a local authority, there needs to be resolute ‘leadership, training and supervision that are capable of making progress against a headwind of collegial skepticism’.
This is precisely the problem Dylan Wiliam writes about in his book Embedded: formative assessment (2011). What he says is that ‘because teachers are bombarded with innovations, none of those innovations has time to take root, so nothing really changes’ (p.29).
Stone concludes the foreward by calling for ‘empirically validated methodologies’ to be adopted for the benefit of the many, many thousands of children who, after the first three years of education, are reading at below their chronological age levels.
Knapp, B., (1963), Skill in Sport: The Attainment of Proficiency, London and Henley, Routledge.


  1. Shep Barbash has also written a good article in City Journal about the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool project, which was the genesis of Direct Instruction and had significant (and lasting) impact on the IQs and achievement of poor kids from one of the lowest-income housing ghettos in Chicago.

    Read it here: Pre-K Can Work

  2. Thanks for your comment and for the link, Susan.
    I'll try and read the piece later today.

  3. If you're passing this way, Palisadesk, Susan Godsland has posted the 'Pre-K Can Work' link on the RRF.