Reinstate Educating Them.
& Socialism
Are Not Three R's

EDUCATION: An Overview

A great debate on education has been enjoined in the country. It's difficult to cut through the vast rhetorical jungle on this topic. On one side are the teacher's unions who are desperately protecting their turf, and maintaining the support of their members by demanding higher and higher payrolls. On another side are the parents who, fearful for their children's futures, are demanding greater accountability and visible outcomes that demonstrate that their kids are getting a basic education. On yet another side are the politicians and career educrats who are intent on maintaining their power base and institutional salaries. And finally there is the side of a small but dedicated group of educators who are striving against vast intransigence to implement competency-based program changes in both curricula and unwarranted tenure.

One thing is almost certain. As time passes, many of the rooted educrats and tenured dinosaurs will slowly fade away, and the power of the institutional forces will be diminished by attrition if not ideology. This will reduce resistance to the new ideas and programmatic revisions that have stood in the wings for all too long.

"There are several steps to the creation of a highly literate population which could move U.S. students to top place in international competitions. First we must come to a recognition that language ability is a prerequisite for almost all other learning. Language arts instruction should take precedence over all other disciplines in the early grades. (Note the implicit importance of English-only instruction)

True literacy is more than the mere ability to read; one should be able to write, spell, to express himself/herself orally, and in writing, and to think. Since we are not naive enough to believe that the large publishing houses will disappear any time in the near future, we need to take advantage of the obvious - this new opportunity to show them how to achieve the desirable language skills our students must have.

50 years ago, science,
history and geography were
not taught until grade four.

Time management, a critical factor for all schools of whatever size, at one time, wasn't the very serious problem it is today. Although this is another subject for another time, interestingly, about 50 years ago, many schools did not even teach science, social studies, health, etc. at all until grade four.

Think about it! This was not to neglect these subjects, but rather to allow the serious time-on-task needed to thoroughly teach the basic tools of learning (language arts) which enabled students to independently pursue these,and any other areas of interest in their proper time frame. Somehow, probably through lobbying by the publishing world, we let that thought slip into oblivion and have been searching for answers ever since."
(c) 1997 The Riggs Institute

Mark Twain once wrote that there is no experience in writing like discovering the right word; the effect is both immediate and palpable.

Well, after years of formal schooling in research and design and methodology, as well as having had the experience of traditional academic-prep schooling (and learning, despite all of my efforts at rejection) certain ideas and concepts produce an effect that is both immediate and palpable. Everything else flows from that experience of certainty.

In graduate school, of all places, I relearned about learning. Given the sheer volume of material to be read and absorbed for later testing, the best methods for achieving that objective were the ones learned in my earliest days of schooling - repetition and rote memorization - integration came later. Each lesson, or article, or chapter was read, re-read, and then read again. And with each reading, I came closer to absorbing the essence of the material. In the third reading I underlined the essential material, and then wrote it into my notes by hand. Later, I transcribed those scribbled notes onto a typed page. And finally, with repetition and drill, the knowledge was mine for keeps.

I think that simplification is something that has real appeal now. And a rediscovered method of educating called Direct Instruction (DI) offers that simplicity.


D.I. is really nothing new. In fact, it is probably the oldest form of pedagogy in the world. You probably experienced it as a child, - I know that I did (but then I'm older than dirt). The difference is that Englemann named it, studied it, articulated it, and validated it in actual practice. There is, to my knowledge, no more powerfull demonstration of efficacy in any other learning paradigm - other than, perhaps, the recent work done in intensive phonics instruction.

Fact is, this method would dramatically simplify current curricula.

DI is, however, primarily geared to the early elementary grades. It is then followed by an applied methodology in 4th or 5th grades that incorporates such subject matter as history and english composition. In essence, the teaching curricula evolves into larger "chunks" of interconnected information. It's real power, however, is that it essentially teaches children how to learn (i.e., the "discipline" of learning), much as I relearned in grad school.

Have you ever wondered why your phone number takes the form of xxx-xxxx? It does so because it is easier to memorize anything if it is divided into manageable memory chunking. And what is easier to memorize than a phone number that has in it's second part, a repetition of numbers from the first part.

Later learning (college level) takes into account such strategies as "visualization" (e.g. geometric design), "abstraction"(e.g., mathematical formulation/ theory), and "meta-cognition" (thinking about thinking - e.g. philosophy/ theory).

What has happened is that basic learning has been grossly intellectualized. When it comes to kids, as parents well know, the key to success is KISS theory - (keep it simple stupid) and repetition.

Advocating DI is nothing more than advocating simplification and structure for children. Much of what is happening to kids now, like the celebrated but ill-conceived D.A.R.E. program, places them in a decision-making posture, when what they need and want is to fall back on the "rules" that they know to be true through repeated exposure, and through the authority of parents and teachers. When placed in a "decision" situation, children feel safer and more self-confident when they can fall back on authoritative conclusions - particularly the ones that have been inculcated by their parents (when the parents aren't AWOL or incompetent). This is the bedrock of the "good-boy", "good-girl" mental representation that a child experiences when they mimmick the power and certainty of an authority figure. An adult example is the internalized sense of certainty, morality and power for most Christians that comes from falling back on the Word of God / Bible.

Direct Instruction stresses basic skills, breaking them down into mini-components. Children learn to read, for example, by learning the sounds of the letters before the letter names. They master each skill before moving onto the next one. Teachers track each student's progress on daily charts. They also track behavior, encouraging good conduct with praise, while ignoring bad behavior for the most part. In short, if you can't measure it, you probably shouldn't teach it. This kind of micro-management is almost unheard of in most contemporary classrooms.

But Direct Instruction's most controversial feature is a script from which teachers conduct lessons. Picture this: A first-grade teacher, reading from her script, makes the "m" sound. The pupils respond in unison. After a word of praise, the teacher, prompted by her script, tells them to repeat the sound.

Now here's something that is interesting about the DI versus e.g., the "whole language" approach to teaching/learning:

Direct instruction for reading is not favored among educators at the present time. A paradigm shift has occurred from direct instruction to a whole language instructional approach for teaching reading. **Whole language, as compared with direct instruction, is not a method but a set of beliefs.** Definitions of whole language focus on beliefs such as: language learning depends on the learner's motivation and self-confidence, children will learn intuitively, and children will continue to learn when there are interesting materials and activities for them. Typically, whole language is considered to be child-centered whereas direct instruction is considered teacher-centered.

Direct instruction, however, emphasizes that all children can learn that which is demonstrated in its practice.

In direct instruction, program delivery comprises activities and features such as

  1. unison oral responding that requires signals from the teacher and allows for wait or think time,
  2. appropriate pacing to engage attention and reduce oral responding errors,
  3. careful monitoring of students' oral responses and independent seatwork, and
  4. strategic diagnosing and correcting of incorrect responses.

These features are almost entirely teacher based and are utilized during only one portion of an instructional lesson, when students are receiving the actual instruction.

The most important organizational feature of direct instruction is scheduling time so that it is used efficiently and effectively. Researchers note that teachers must carefully schedule activities so that time isn't spent on settling students down, transitioning between activities, explaining rules, etc. A teacher's time is valuable and should be spent wisely.

Program design features of direct instruction include specifying objectives, devising strategies, developing teaching procedures, selecting examples, sequencing skills, and providing practice and review. Examples of these features include:
  1. "Evaluating objectives" to ensure that essential skills are taught first.
  2. Teaching strategies that generalize, as well as rote memorization procedures.
  3. Developing detailed formats of instruction that 'free teachers from design questions and enable them to focus their full attention on the students performance." (i.e., lets not make each classroom a teacher's personal laboratory for the "Piagetian" teaching/assessment model, but let's set the design and require that the teachers implement that design.)
  4. Selecting examples that are appropriate to either the introduction stage or the guided practice stage of learning.
  5. Determining an optimal order for introducing new concepts or skills.
  6. Providing the reader with ample and strategic opportunities for practicing a skill or simply reading."

Here's what's happening in Chicago:

Gery J. Chico, the president of the Chicago school board, said in a statement. "We can do our best to balance budgets, fix buildings, and cut out bureaucratic waste, but the most important measure of our success is our impact on student achievement,"

Among its many changes, the plan calls for the development of a core curriculum framework and a comprehensive student-assessment plan.

The curriculum plan, although short on details, recommends a modified version of the "direct instruction" model to be used districtwide. Direct instruction is a traditional but controversial teaching method that relies on scripting lessons and seeking frequent responses from students.

In unveiling the plan, parts of which could take effect as early as September, Mr. Chico asked for the participation and suggestions of educators, community leaders, parents, and local school councils.

Among the plan's highlights is the modified version of the direct-instruction model that will include a phonetic approach to teaching reading in the early years. The assessment part of the plan includes a national core-skills test as well as citywide assessments in all content areas in certain "benchmark" grades.

The plan also would require summer "bridge" programs for students in 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades who have fallen behind in reading or math.

"What you're seeing here is an activist central office saying they're not going to stand by and allow schools not to reach achievement goals," said G. Alfred Hess Jr., the executive director of the Chicago Panel on School Policy, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.

"It's a serious plan to say, 'We're going to work with schools to change the way schools are working,"' Mr. Hess added. "That's a very important posture for schools to take on."

And in a separate analysis, much of the new Chicago model seems to be motivated by an educator named Joe Layng. According to Layng:

Direct instruction uses specially-designed programs that break concepts into their most basic pieces and present those pieces in sequence. Students must master one piece before proceeding to the next, but they skip over things they already know to avoid wasting time. Teachers stand at the board and use a script from which they cannot deviate; students are required to give answers in unison at a rate of about ten per minute. Teachers provide instant corrections and feedback. In fact, in this early stage no homework is assigned, so that students can't make mistakes without realizing it.

In response, many educators object that direct instruction is merely the mindless parroting of phrases and numbers drilled into students. Students taught by such techniques may be able to pass a test, but can they retain their knowledge? And how will such students respond in a situation that requires analytical or independent thought?

Addressing these criticisms before they're even raised, Layng has obviously heard them all many times before. He doesn't hesitate to hammer home his conviction that direct instruction works, and works well, for every subject and for every student.

Each "objectionable" aspect of direct instruction's presentation has value, he argues. For instance, he says, the noisy, fast-paced call-and-response is the best way to involve all of a classroom's learners. "Typically, if you ask a question, the people who know it are the ones who raise their hands....What we're trying to do is get them all to respond at once so everybody is responding and interacting with the teacher at the same time." Even better, "as soon as they start responding, they see themselves succeeding" and start feeling "enjoyment and satisfaction" in school.

Regarding the scripts used by the teachers, Layng insists that they're necessary to limit variations in language that can confuse students just learning a concept.

"Teachers can be very creative--but all creativity, just like all mutations, is not good for young creatures. The fact that you're creative doesn't make it effective."

As for whether direct instruction's gains hold down the line, Layng points to Project Follow Through, a federally funded effort to determine what teaching methods are most effective for at-risk students. After looking over eight- to ten-year follow-up studies on the direct instruction groups, the Follow Through review panel labeled the groups all "exemplary."

Unfortunately, current educrats who espouse a "student-centered" methodology have been strongly influenced by Piagetian concepts that have been extrapolated by those who do not undertsand or accept scientific approaches. Piaget, like Freud, was one of those "dense" thinkers, whose thoughts and theories were so densely worded, and so tightly woven from a series of evolving hypotheses, that when a "fadist" steps in midstream they can quote the master, without capturing a mastery of the material.

What many educational sophists seem to think Piaget is saying is that the young individual is like an amoeba bouncing off of it's environment, learning to go with the flow in it's own way, just as long as what's in the flow tastes good. The problem is that this or any similar interpretation is wrong, and essentially socialistic. But what many interpreters of Piaget have chosen to believe is that children must be immersed in the village biology of tastes-good and feels-good , and learn to flow towards the things that are good for that biology.

This contrasts with the DI method/theory which only presumes to teach the individual child certain basic cognitive skills, so that they do not go out each day to reinvent the wheel. It also indirectly teaches the value of social exchange. But in all of that, it does not impose a personality on the child, but rather allows each to use that knowledge toward individual goals. It does, however, demonstrate to the child that the world is hierarchical in structure, that life is dependent upon structure, and that a certain degree of leadership is essential. For the young child, it imposes a comforting and predictable, but not all-encompassing structure.
The preceeding evolved from an exchange of information between Dr. Rowles and The Honorable Dan Boddicker - State Representative, Tipton, IA.

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