Monday, March 17, 2014

Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI)- An Exploration into Other Ways to Differentiate

I was recently asked by someone if there is other effective ways to differentiate besides small group instruction, small group work, and project based learning (basically student centered lessons).  In fact, I believe the question really was, can a teacher effectively differentiate when frontal teaching.  It was a great questions.  My gut reaction was emphatically, "yes!"  However, I would like to address it in great depth now.

I started career as a lecturer.  I've said this often, I love lecturing.  I love attending lectures.  I enjoy note taking (I know this sounds crazy, but as a voracious note taker, I take notes as virtually every meeting I attend).  However, I realized after a couple years of this kind of instruction almost exclusively, I missed out on an opportunity to allow my students to better "own" the material.  I am still not opposed to the good lecture.  In fact, I attend conferences all over the world and greatly enjoy them.  While many complain about lectures, TED talks, iTunes University, and YouTube videos are replete with them.  In my community alone on a given night, you can find at least 3-4 great lectures being given at local shuls.  Clearly, there are others who enjoy this to and there is a time and place for this type of learning. Yet, the word lecture really has a negative connotation among most well respected elementary and high school educators.  It has come to be almost synonymous with outdated education.

Alternatively, more traditional educators high school, many might argue if we abolish the lecture altogether, absent college radically changing things, we are failing to adequately prepare students for the post high school academic experience.  I hear that.  While I do believe colleges, at least second tier colleges, may be forced in the next 15 years to radically change their teaching format, I do think this is still a valid concern for today's graduates and certainly for our nation's top students.  Some may say that it's ironic because it is exactly those student who I found I missed out the opportunity to fully utilize in my first teaching position.

Advocates of more student centered education argue the lecture represents the factory style education promoted in the 1950's to serve the largely blue collar constituency that would inevitably attend some elementary and perhaps even a little secondary education and quickly move to the factory or farm.  (This is embodied by someone like my mother's father who only went school when it was too cold to farm and dropped out in 6th grade to work on the farm full-time.)  This is not entirely untrue, but what if there was a way to utilize direct instruction to promote critical thinking and active learning?  What if there was a way to use direct instruction and turn the very premise of direction instruction as poor and outdated education on its head?

As educators, we've always known there were different ways to ask students questions to hit multiple types of students and allow for an entire class to be held accountable for learning.   A good teacher asks leveled questions during a class discussion, in a homework assignment, on a test, and even during a lecture.  So, this certainly is a way to differentiate meaningfully in a direct instruction lesson.  So, what is explicit direct instruction and why is it sweeping California, Florida, and other states' schools?

Explicit direct instruction is really a method of utilizing different techniques in harmony during the course of one lesson to maximize instruction, reach all students, and diagnose any areas of concern.  A huge element of this method is having the teacher model and think allowed when working through problems and demonstrating processes.  The lesson is conducted in this fashion for several reason, according to Jennifer Goeke, the author of the seminal work Explicit Instruction, on page 18, "[1] The goal is teaching a well-defined body of information or skills that all students must master.  [2] Assessment data indicate that students have not acquired fundamental skills, strategies, and content. [3] Assessment data indicate that student progress toward mastery of skills, strategies, or content needs to be accelerated.  [4] Inquiry-oriented or discussion-based instructional approaches have failed."  

While all four reasons are pretty solid, the most crucial aspect of this is point # 1.  It is often the best way to introduce a unit of study or review a concept students must master.  So, you might agree, but you might say, "ok, let's lecture for 5 minutes at the beginning of class and then do a cooperative activity." But, what if the concept is too advanced for a simple 5 minute lecture?  Extensive research has proven that direct instruction is often the most effective way to teach difficult concepts in computer programming, geometry, algebra, and more. (see Anderson, Corbett, Koedinger, & Palletier, 1995 and Klahr & Carver, 1988).  So your comeback might be, I understand it for math and computers, but what about everything else?  I am not advocating that direct instruction is the best instructional tool.  Nor am I advocating it for every class.  However, I am advocating that for some teachers, some courses, and some lessons, it can work and even be the ideal.  I am also arguing at explicit direct instruction is not just what many call a lecture.  It's a lecture on steroids.  It takes the powerful and effective elements of the New American Lecture and enhances them to make them more interactive and student empowering. It is more accurately modeling than lecturing.  It represents instead more of what a coach might do for his team, than what a college professor standing in front of a packed 400 person plus room might do.

This is the structure of explicit direct instruction in sum (not every aspect of this list is always utilized):
      1. Teacher sets the stage for the Learning
      2. There is a clear explanation of the objective and of what to do
      3. Teacher Models the steps
      4. There is guided practice
      5.  Students individually practice
      6. There is an assessment of student learning and a closure

Note, the above list doesn't clearly use the word "lecture" in fact, it replaces it with points 1-3. However, essentially, parts 1-3 is entirely the teacher presenting.  Yet, I would argue there is a fundamental difference between the two.  In this situation, EDI, is promoting a much more engaged approach.  This is not your teacher rambling on without an end in sight or purpose.  This represents the best of the concept of lecturing.  The delivery of content and skills by the learned to the learner.

So you ask, when do I do this?  Well, I will clearly say that when I teach AP courses, this is a crucial component to accelerate the acquisition of the material, effectively teach especially complex topics, and review crucial information before a test.  It was also really a great way to teach test taking skills.  I've done it in other settings a well.  I did it once a week and closer to the AP (the famous "crunch time") I did it even more.  What was the student reaction?  They actually love it.  Does this replace my structured chaos like environment in my classroom?  NOPE.  I do it in addition.  I also find that I can even do this same thing in one station with 5-6 students who learn best that way.

Questions I've gotten from teachers of older students: Can we utilize flipped classroom to do step #3?  Yes.  Not always, but yes. If it creates a situation where students feel they are not adequately getting the face to face time from the teacher because they are forced to only watch a 15 minute modeling session online, then it can be negative.  If it is done as a homework assignment with the understand that the teacher will then use actionable data from online teacher created quiz post video watched to then tailor her instruction the next day and model what still remains confusing, then definately.

Can we do the individual practice on a computer program? Technically yes, if we can find a digital content provider that can provide a great assessment format. Can we utilize socrative or exit ticket to do step #6?  Again, yes.  Is this needed to engage the students? Depends on the age of the students, teacher, subject, and a whole lot more (access to ipads, tablets, or other computer devices in a classroom, the time restraints to engage in the activity, etc...).  I am more supportive of the later idea than the former.  I think the latter could, if tablets are readily available, be a quick way for a teacher to gauge the level of mastery of students and plan for next lesson accordingly.  Of course, this presuppose the teacher asks the right questions and the system can assess accurately for the answers.  I have seen this done effectively once a week by a great teacher.

Questions I've gotten from teachers of younger students:  Can we utilize videos to replace part of the modeling?  Can we use computer assessments as exit tickets?  The answer to both is yes.  However, we have to think about how often and which lessons this would be appropriate and most effective to do this in.   We don't want students to think everytime they are going to learn something, it is going to be done via a video.  There is a merit to our students learning how to learn from a teacher.  There is also an element of the student being able to ask questions immediately and the teacher being able to provide direct answers.

Absent skyping with respected retired teachers (which I think could be beneficial for students and the community), the quality control of videos varies tremendously.  I also firmly believe we cannot make education entertainment.  It's not, nor should it be.  Education needs to be something valued by the student and appreciated for something so much more powerful than entertainment. Pandering to students' obsessions with watching videos is not a good idea to really engage them in the learning, rather it is allowing them to often "tune out" becoming completely absent from responsibility in the educational process.  In addition, exit tickets done online can be rewarding, but certainly not in younger grades when they are still learning how to write and working on letter formation.

Great Websites for more information about how to effectively utilize Explicit Direct Instruction:

Beltchenko, Laura. "Core Literacy Development and Instructional Strategies, for K-5 Whole Group and Guided Instruction."

Rosenshine, Barak. "Five Meanings of Direct Instruction."