• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Friday 01st May, 2009

Teaching by rote finds fresh legs in Baltimore

Research inside the Baltimore public school system has put fresh wind in the sails of Direct Instruction, a teaching program developed back in the 1960s, by showing that pupils in schools where it was implemented performed significantly better in reading tests. The research team from the National Institute of Direct Instruction examined results for over 40,000 six- and seven-year-old children from 119 schools.Collected over a period of six years the data showed an improvement across the board, but children in schools using Direct Instruction (DI) performed significantly better (effect size 0.63), they report. The study also found that support from the program originators helped to increase impact. Of the 16 schools that implemented DI, 11 received technical support from the national body for the duration of the study. Pupils at these schools scored even better (effect size 0.82). Low achievement in reading across the city system prompted the implementation of various reading programs across Baltimore.Some DI schools received support direct from the National Institute; others went ahead without support or used different providers. These variations made further experiment possible. The children were tested annually throughout the longitudinal study using the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) – a widely used measure for children of this age group and one supported by national norm data. Designed by Professor Siegfried Engelmann at the University of Oregon, Direct Instruction is a teaching model grounded in tightly planned lessons, using small learning increments and carefully defined teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear, evenly-paced instruction will eliminate misinterpretation and so quicken the pace of learning. Teachers using DI must stick closely to the script; students are regularly tested and regrouped according to their progress. So strictly must teachers adhere to the plan that DI has been disparaged as a ‘teacher proof’ curriculum. In the Baltimore, it was implemented only in literacy classes, but it can form the backbone of school-wide restructuring. Complete School Reform (CSR) focuses on reorganizing and revitalizing entire schools rather than on the piecemeal implementation of specialized and potentially uncoordinated programs.The Best Evidence Encyclopedia lists Direct Instruction as a “top-rated” program for complete school reform. Nearly 50 evaluations of the model have been carried out. Although only two have used experimental designs, most have at least collected data for a control group. Meta-analysis has shown it to produce an overall effect size of 0.21.ReferencesStockard J (2008), “Improving First Grade Reaching Achievement in a Large Urban District: The Effects of NIFDI-Supported Implementation of Direct Instruction in the Baltimore City Public School System,” National Institute for Direct Instruction, OregonBorman G D, Hewes G M, Overman L T and Brown S (2003). “Comprehensive school reform and achievement: A meta-analysis’,” Review of Educational Research, Summer 2003; 73, 2, p. 125

Back to Archives