Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
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Direct Instruction

  • National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI): "Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks."

  • VIDEO, Closing the Performance Gap: The Gering Story, National Institute for Direct Instruction. "See how Gering Public Schools, a small district in northwest Nebraska, closed a 23 percent achievement gap between white and Hispanic students in three years by implementing the full immersion model of Direct Instruction (DI) with NIFDI." The video can be downloaded from the linked web page, or you can order a free DVD.

  • Curricular Independence by Phil Brand, Capital Research Center, November 13, 2008. What is Direct Instruction like? Here is a vivid first-person report on a charter public school in Reynolds, Oregon. Excerpt: "At the Arthur Academies, curriculum is drawn from two sources: the Core Knowledge Sequence for history, science and geography, and Direct Instruction for reading, language arts and mathematics. They are combined into one integrated curriculum and are taught using the instructional method prescribed by Direct Instruction. Arthur said he likes to think of the method as 'incremental mastery.' Students proceed along sequenced paths of instruction in small steps towards a larger goal. Their progress is regularly checked, and they don't move on until mastery of the component parts is achieved. 'It's the best one,' said Arthur, comparing Direct Instruction to other curriculums and methods. Students are engaged, there aren't any gaps in their understanding, and students' confidence rises as they see themselves learning and doing well on mandated state tests."

  • Heroes are not Replicable by Alex Tabarrok, September 27, 2007.
         "You know the plot. Young, idealistic teacher goes to inner-city high school. Said idealistic teacher is shocked by students ... preoccupied with the burdens of violence, poverty and indifference ... But the hero perseveres and at great personal sacrifice wins over the students using innovative teaching methods and heart. ... We are supposed to be uplifted by these stories but they depress me. If it takes a hero to save an inner city school then there is no hope. ... What we need to save inner-city schools, and poor schools everywhere, is a method that works when the teachers aren't heroes. ...
         "[J]ust such a method exists. ... large experimental studies have shown that the teaching method which works best is Direct Instruction. ... The data also show that DI does not impede creativity or self-esteem.
         "The education establishment, however, ... is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the evidence says. As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school market."

  • Teacher-Centered Instruction [and Rodney Dangerfield] by Mark C. Schug. (Also available as a PDF.) "Teacher-centered instruction has again and again proven its value in studies that show it to be an especially effective instructional method. Yet, when self-appointed education leaders meet to share best practices or write about effective teaching, teacher-centered instruction, as the comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, gets no respect. ... Teacher-centered instruction is supported by a strong set of empirical results conducted over several decades. And yet, these approaches are ignored by the leaders of the profession, as evidenced by the content in textbooks used to train teachers and in authoritative reviews of research. To discuss teacher-centered instruction is not even considered polite conversation. Nevertheless, now is the time for social studies leaders as well as legislators and parents to acknowledge the obvious weaknesses of student-centered approaches and begin to correct the excesses."

  • A Direct Challenge by Debra Viadero, Education Week, March 17, 1999 "When an independent research group evaluated the research backing up 24 popular school reform models this year, it found two surprises. The first surprise was that only three programs could point to strong evidence that they were effective in improving student achievement. The second surprise was that Direct Instruction, a program long scorned by many educators and academics for its lock-step structure, was one of them."

  • Direct Instruction: Its Contributions to High School Achievement by Martin A. Kozloff and Louis LaNunziata of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, James Cowardin, Director, Millennium Community School and Frances B. Bessellieu New Hanover County Schools, July, 2000 "This paper describes the design principles, instructional practices, and specific curricula of Direct Instruction--one example of focused, systematic, explicit instruction. At a time when public schools are increasingly held accountable for students' achievement and for closing and preventing the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged and white/advantaged students, Direct Instruction provides highly effective programs whose implementation fosters beneficial change in students' engagement and achievement, in teachers' skill at instruction and evaluation, and in the social organization of schools (e.g., strong shared mission and teacher teaming)."

  • Research Regarding Direct Instruction by Dave Ziffer. This is a short summary of research supporting the use of Direct Instruction, along with links to other sources.

  • Direct Instruction at Davenport School in Genoa, Illinois by Dave Ziffer.

  • Direct Instruction: What Is It? Break down tasks into component parts and teach the component parts to mastery by Rory Donaldson.

  • What Direct Instruction Is -- and Is Not by Martin A. Kozloff, Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina. The author answers the title question in 10 bullet points, and then gives several answers to the additional question, "What's Direct About Direct Instruction?"

  • Failing Grade: Siegfried Engelmann developed an amazingly effective method of teaching. Why don't you know his name? by Richard Nadler, National Review, June 1, 1998. Excerpt: "In education, a 10-percentile rise in standardized-test scores is called a 'major effect.' Such results are rare. Engelmann's Direct Instruction methods in reading, writing, and math regularly hike scores 30 to 40 percentiles. And he will never be forgiven for it. Engelmann is a pariah in educational circles ... He is an outcast because for thirty years, he has succeeded by defying all the fashionable theories of educational reform."

  • Teachers' Perceptions of Direct Instruction Teaching by Frances B. Bessellieu, Martin A. Kozloff and John S. Rice. Highly recommended. This study looks at factors behind teachers' resistance to Direct Instruction despite copious, consistent evidence of its effectiveness. From the introduction:
         "Thirty years of research shows that Direct Instruction -- one type of focused instruction -- fosters rapid and reliable achievement in students regardless of ethnicity, race, family background, or socioeconomic status. For example, both large scale and smaller scale experimental research comparing the outcomes of different forms of instruction shows that:
    1. Children who are taught math, spelling, reading, and remedial reading with Direct Instruction curricula -- such as Reading Mastery..., Connecting Math Concepts..., Corrective Reading..., and Spelling Mastery... -- generally outperform (both academically and with respect to self-esteem) children taught with other forms of instruction, such as whole language and 'inquiry' methods ...
    2. The early gains of children who were taught some subjects with Direct Instruction are sustained in later grades. ... In addition, in contrast to comparison groups of children who had not received Direct Instruction in earlier years, former Direct Instruction students had higher rates of graduating high school on time, lower rates of dropping out, and higher rates of applying and being accepted into college.
         "Despite the long history of extensive evaluation research that supports the effectiveness of Direct Instruction curricula, Direct Instruction has not been accepted in American education as either a method of choice or even as an equal partner amongst other curricula, such as whole language and other 'discovery' approaches. Part of the reason is that curriculum decisions at school and district levels frequently rest on the extent to which a curriculum or method of instruction connotes feelings, 'philosophies,' and value orientations that are consistent with those of education professors, district curriculum coordinators, and local teachers and principals, rather than on experimental data on effectiveness."

  • An Illusory Math Reform; Let's Go To The Videotape by Linda Seebach, Rocky Mountain News, August 7, 2004. This article reports on a clear finding that instruction, not "discovery," is key to learning. Alan Siegel, a professor at New York University, was curious about why students in Japan wind up so much better at math than their U.S. counterparts and turned to the videotapes prepared as part of the TIMSS studies. But unlike most others who investigated this, he went to the actual videotapes, rather than summary reports written about them. What he found was important: Although some published reports written by progressivists claim the videotapes support "discovery" methods, Siegel shows instead how they support teacher-led direct instruction as the key to effective math learning. The linked article concludes, "This is teaching in the traditional mode, beautifully designed and superbly executed, but nothing like the parody of instruction that goes by the term 'discovery learning' in math-reform circles in the United States."

  • Research synthesis on effective teaching principles and the design of quality tools for educators by Edwin S. Ellis, Ph.D. and Lou Anne Worthington, January 13, 1994, Technical Report No. 5, National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators, University of Oregon

  • Main Elements and Practices of Effective Instruction by Prof. Martin Kozloff

  • General Format for Instructional Interaction Within Chunks of a Curriculum/Lessons by Prof. Martin Kozloff

  • [Chicago] Schools To Ax Scripted Reading Program Despite Gains by Kate Grossman, Chicago Sun-Times, February 21, 2005 "Last December, the Chicago Board of Education called the news media to a small school in Woodlawn to show off the best and brightest of its 'rising stars.' The Woodlawn Community School boosted reading scores by 20 percentage points in one year after rededicating itself to a controversial, scripted reading program called Direct Instruction, the principal proudly explained. Now, the board says DI must go."

  • Education Dogmas by Thomas Sowell, July 18, 2005. "There was another report issued recently, this one giving results of opinion polls among professors of education, the people who train our public school teachers. It is also very revealing as to what has been so wrong for so long in our schools. Take something as basic as what teachers should be doing in the classroom. Should teachers be 'conveyors of knowledge who enlighten their students with what they know'? Or should teachers 'see themselves as facilitators of learning who enable their students to learn on their own'? Ninety two percent of the professors of education said that teachers should be 'facilitators' rather than engaging in what is today called 'direct instruction' -- and what used to be called just plain teaching. The fashionable phrase among educators today is that the teacher should not be 'a sage on the stage' but 'a guide on the side.' Is the 92 percent vote for the guide over the sage based on any hard evidence, any actual results? No. It has remained the prevailing dogma in schools of education during all the years when our test scores stagnated and American children have been repeatedly outperformed in international tests by children from other countries."

  • Myths About Direct Instruction and Research That Refutes Those Myths by Sara Tarver, Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, University of Wisconsin. Dr. Tarver tackles some of the more enduring of the myths about Direct Instruction, and refutes each in turn:

    1. Teacher-centered approaches (traditional approaches) to education result in lower academic achievement than student-centered approaches (progressive approaches).
    2. DI may be effective for teaching very rudimentary academic skills, but it does not promote higher order cognitive learning (e.g., mathematical problem solving and reading comprehension).
    3. It is possible to use generic effective-school practices (direct instruction) to achieve results as good as those achieved by DI (Direct Instruction).
    4. DI is a "rote" and "drill" approach.
    5. DI has a detrimental effect on students' self concept or self esteem and on students' attitudes toward learning.
    6. DI may be appropriate for disadvantaged students, but it is not appropriate for other students who are at risk of failure in school and it is not appropriate for average and above-average achieving students.
    7. DI's scripted presentations and predetermined lessons stifle the teacher's creativity. Teachers don't like DI.
    8. DI ignores students' individual differences.
    9. The reading achievement of poor children who do not receive Direct Instruction is no different from the reading achievement of poor children who receive Direct Instruction.
    10. Although DI produces academic gains in the early grades, it has no lasting effects on students' success in school.

  • Direct Instruction and the Teaching Of Early Reading: Wisconsin's Teacher-Led Insurgency (PDF) by Mark Schug and Sara Tarver, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

  • Direct Instruction Model (K-8), Catalog of School Reform Models, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory

  • Rubric for Identifying Authentic DI Programs (PDF) by Siegfried Engelmann, February 7, 2006.

Project Follow-Through

  • Our Failure To Follow Through by Billy Tashman, New York Newsday, November 15, 1994. "Project Follow Through, America's longest, costliest and perhaps, most significant study of public school teaching methods quietly concluded this year. The good news is that after 26 years, nearly a billion dollars, and mountains of data, we now know which are the most effective instructional tools. The bad news is that the education world couldn't care less. ... It may come as a shock to the layperson, but school policymakers haven't adopted Direct Instruction because they have an aversion to scientific research. Educators throw their weight behind the latest fad, then refuse to abandon it when it doesn't work. ... Follow Through demonstrated that scientific research and the classroom are still strangers to one another. Until they join forces, American schoolchildren will continue to receive a second-class education."

  • Educators Ignore Proven Method of Improving Students' Learning by David Ziffer, School Reform News, October 1, 2006. David Ziffer is a school choice activist and one of the original co-founders of the Illinois Loop. He operated a Direct Instruction-based after-school reading program from 1997 through 2002. He has no current financial interest in Direct Instruction. Excerpts:
         "Imagine for a moment that we have a cheap cure for cancer. Now imagine the medical establishment is doing everything possible to discredit the cure and prevent its use, so doctors who treat (but don't cure) cancer can keep their jobs. Imagine millions of patients continuing to suffer and die because nobody--including most doctors--knows about the cure.
         "This is a picture of something that's really happening in education. But to understand our almost-unknown educational "cure," you have to know about Project Follow Through (PFT).
         "PFT is the world's largest-ever education research project, conducted between 1967 and 1977 by the U.S. Department of Education. Its results indicate there is a replicable, systematic curriculum that dramatically improves the quality of education in poor urban schools--one that can raise poor urban students' test scores to suburban levels. ...
         "PFT researchers selected 180 low-income urban and rural school districts nationwide in which elementary school performance was at approximately the 20th percentile. Nine different educational models were each allocated to some schools in approximately 20 districts, with the remaining schools functioning as controls.
         "Students were pre-tested to determine initial performance differences between PFT-model schools and control schools, so the final analysis could compensate for initial variances. At the conclusion of the project, two independent agencies were hired to collect and analyze the data.
    "DI even outperformed the constructivist models in areas in which they were supposed to excel."
         "The results were shocking ...
         "Of PFT's nine curriculum models, five were firmly constructivist and three were indeterminate. Only one model--Direct Instruction (DI)--firmly embraced the idea of teaching basic skills. Nobody was more surprised than the constructivist curriculum authors when PFT demonstrated two things.
         "First, the basic-skills-oriented DI far outperformed both the control groups and the other models.
         "Second, the five constructivist-style curricula actually reduced school performance in districts that were already among the lowest performers nationwide.
         "DI even outperformed the constructivist models in areas in which they were supposed to excel."

    Click here to read the full article's recap of Project Follow-Through.

  • Comments on Curriculum and Project Follow Through, by Chris Jenner, member of District 26 school board, Cary, Illinois, December 19, 2005.

  • "Follow through: Why didn't we? -- Are proven teaching methods already available?" by Cathy L. Watkins. "What do we do with a teaching technique that works? Surely, educators would welcome such a breakthrough with open arms. Incredibly, they haven't. Project Follow Through, the largest experiment ever undertaken to find effective methods for teaching disadvantaged children, discovered such a teaching method at a [research] cost of nearly a billion dollars." This article is available as a web page or as a PDF document.

  • Project Follow Through: In-depth and Beyond by Gary Adams. Excerpt: "The Follow Through project was the largest, most expensive educational experiment ever conducted. This federal program was originally designed to be a service-oriented project similar to Head Start. However, because of funding cutbacks the emphasis was shifted from service to program evaluation. Over 75,000 low income children in 170 communities were involved in this massive project designed to evaluate different approaches to educating economically disadvantaged students from kindergarten through grade 3. State, school, and national officials nominated school districts that had high numbers of economically disadvantaged students. Parent representatives of these school districts chose to participate after hearing presentations from the 20 different program designers (sponsors). Each participating district implemented the selected sponsor's approach in one or more schools. For participating, each district received $750 per student beyond the normal level of funding.

  • Research Regarding Direct Instruction by Dave Ziffer. Also includes information about Project Follow-Through.

  • The Story Behind Project Follow Through by Bonnie Grossen, Effective School Practices, Winter 1995-6. Honest Follow-Through Needed On This Project by Marian Kester Coombs, Washington Times, Mar 24, 1998. "What if the federal government spent $1 billion over nearly three decades to study thoroughly the question of which teaching method best instills knowledge, cognitive skills and positive self-concept in students? What if that study were able to conclude exactly which method best does all three? Wouldn't the American people like to know about it? ... Direct instruction, one of the basic skills approaches, showed the greatest positive impact on all three types of development (see graphs).

  • What the Data Really Show: Direct Instruction Really Works! by Jeff Lindsay

  • The Ultimate Rejection of Follow Through Data by Siegfried Engelmann, 2006


    NOTE: "Direct Instruction" is not the same thing as simply talking, or giving a lecture! True Direct Instruction is often characterized by highly interactive dialog between students and teachers.

    But at times, a simple lecture is the most appropriate, proven and effective technique to meet a teaching goal.

  • In Praise of Lectures by Tina Blue, February 14, 2001

  • On the Nature of Lectures by Kenneth Minogue

  • Classroom Divided: The Lost Paradigm of Teacher-Student Instruction by Patricia O'Hara. "What worries me most is that my students are losing the ability to listen, especially to listen mindfully and with pleasure. I suspect that loss is a consequence of both the new technologies that deliver information in nanoseconds as well as the prevailing pedagogy that calls for a student-centered classroom. Over the course of more than twenty years of teaching, I have observed that increasingly what we talk about when we talk about teaching is how to enhance classroom discussions. ... Years ago, when I served as the graduate teacher's assistant for a semester-abroad program in London, I could see how difficult it was for the American undergraduates to appreciate the lectures delivered by British academics. They were uncomfortable and sometimes irritated ... I often wondered what the visiting British professors made of the slack-jawed Americans with so little to say. Yet a couple of those lectures were quite stunning and were delivered with animation, even passion. The offering of a lecture is half of an intellectual transaction, one that seeks to draw students into an apprehension of how the past makes claims upon them. The transaction wobbles if the lecturer fails to shape the material to meet those ends; it collapses entirely if the auditor fails to apprehend where he or she is being taken. Some professors may not be great lecturers, but we all find ourselves standing in front of groups of students who have not been trained to perform as listeners."

  • Physics Professor Is a Web Star by Sara Rimer, New York Times, December 19, 2007. "Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace. Professor Lewin's videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise. ... Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube's greatest hits."

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