We’ve Got It All Figured Out

According to some dude from the root, the answer to inner city education has been right under our noses for several decades, and it’s a technique known as direct instruction.  Check out the original article here:

We Know How To Teach Black Kids

My thoughts:

In my teacher prep classes, I was taught that kids have different
learning styles, hence they need to be able to learn and engage the
material using different modalities. We were given countless ways to
structure learning activities in ways that were supposed to be engaging
and multifaceted. Yet, I had my greatest success as a teacher when I
cut out the frills, and relied on direct instruction–basically a very
structured, stripped down form of teaching. That’s not to say that I
stopped using multiple learning modalities, but I cut out a lot of stuff
that I thought was actually distracting from my teaching objectives. In
DI, at its most basic, there’s not a whole lot of discourse or
open-ended assignments.

I taught a lot of kids who were between -7 to +1 years of grade level,
yet they were all lumped in the same high-school level math class.
Eventually, I saw some big successes with some kids that had come in
with severe deficits. I had a girl who didn’t know how to multiply and
a girl who had immigrated from rural El Salvador, not speaking a lick of
English, factorizing monomials and understanding complicated
terminology. I was able to facilitate this by very meticulously
breaking down my objective into very finely differentiated component
skills, down to the most basic level, assuming zero prior knowledge. I
spent as little time as possible lecturing on necessary information and
terminology, then we started doing problems as a class, then they worked
independently. For the kids who could do things in bigger chunks, they
could work ahead, and I had extension assignments for them to work on.

But DI isn’t the magic bullet, though. Despite my success stories of
the kids I was able to strongly motivate, across ability levels, I don’t
think I was successful as a teacher overall. No matter how finely you
break down the skills you’re teaching, it doesn’t help the kid who has
75% attendance, let alone the kid who has 30%. It also doesn’t help the
kid who, at a basic level, is not invested in learning and doing the
work. And if your school doesn’t have a strong framework for
discipline, a handful of uncooperative students can torpedo the whole
proecess. These are just a couple examples of what can go wrong. Of
course there are strategies for addressing these types of issues, but my
basic point is that DI is not the end-all, be-all. Also, although I
think it is great for teaching fundamental skills, I think DI needs to
be augmented with critical thinking and problem solving tasks, once the
fundamentals are mastered.

For one reason or another, DI is not well respected by many. My
principal always used to say that if he came by your classroom and the
teacher was driving the instruction, something was going wrong. There’s
this dream of student-centric, Montessori-esque learning that every
principal wants to achieve, and I can’t count how many
“needs-improvement” comments I received for my rigid teaching style.
But for me, it was what worked (relatively), so I stuck with it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s