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Direct Instruction

By Robert Holl, Cofounder

Good instruction starts with designing and delivering meaningful and effective learning experiences. In my previous post in this series on effect size, I talked about creating clear expectations in our classrooms. Setting clear learning intentions for a lesson is where teacher clarity begins. It continues with direct instruction, which promotes student engagement, encourages questioning, and frequently includes various visual aids.

Popular and Effective

With a very high effect size of .82, direct instruction is often the single most important component of classroom learning. It’s also arguably the most popular teaching practice. Direct instruction commonly involves a teacher introducing and modeling skills, strategies, and concepts to large classrooms or small groups of students. These days, direct instruction also often addresses relevant curriculum standards, and can be delivered using video or animation.

Over the past few decades, critics of direct instruction have promoted alternatives like project-based learning, personalized learning, and discovery learning, claiming these are better approaches to learning through student engagement. But done well, direct instruction can continue to be an effective practice with an important place in the classroom, alongside these other methods or on its own.

Direct instruction is often the single most important component of classroom learning.

Scaffolded instruction, in particular, is one of the most effective forms of direct instruction. Scaffolding involves the gradual release of information and related activities, requiring students to take on more responsibility at each step, eventually engaging in independent practice to apply what they’ve learned from direct instruction.

Ask the Right Questions

During direct instruction, teachers typically ask questions to ensure students understand what they’re being taught. It’s beneficial to avoid low-level questions that require little thought or reflection. Teachers are sometimes criticized for asking too many questions (according to some studies, up to 300 per day). A few thought-provoking questions will benefit students more than numerous simple questions. And rather than simply correcting misconceptions, it’s advantageous for teachers to provide prompts guiding each student toward resolving their own misunderstandings.

steps of direct instruction

To be truly successful, direct instruction should be paired with guided practice, preferably in small group settings where students can share ideas and discuss their thoughts. Guided practice should be followed by independent practice, so students can demonstrate proficiency with what they’ve learned. With proper implementation, direct instruction can remain a highly effective approach for leading a classroom and engaging students in the 21st century.