31 Days of Sticky Teaching: Direct Instruction

I always love this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was hysterically funny the very first time that I saw it, and it just keeps getting funnier. Now, I know, no teacher sets out to sound like this poor guy, but sometimes I hear echoes of this scene in my teaching.

Essentially, this is what happens when inquiry is used as a teaching methodology in places it simply doesn’t belong. Don’t get me wrong! Inquiry is a wonderful and effective teaching tool. But inquiry is useful when there is something for students to explore or experiment with. Inquiry when there is a “correct answer” or when there is little for students to explore turns into the Ferris Bueller lesson.
Direct instruction, on the other hand, is a perfectly good and vastly under-rated teaching methodology. Direct instruction is the mode in which I tell the students something, demonstrate it, and tell them again. This is a perfect modality for lessons in which I need my students to master a process or procedure. And it makes it perfect for strategy instruction. Strategies are nothing more than mini-procedures. Tell-show-tell gives my students an opportunity to hear me talk through the procedure, watch me do the procedure and then hear me recap the procedure once again.
During Direct Instruction, I don’t ask questions. I don’t solicit suggestions or ask students what they recall from previous lessons. When I engage in those activities, I run the risk that students will provide an incorrect model, which is then firmly (and stickily) stored in every other student’s brain. I want my correct model out there in front of my students and that is the model I want stuck in their brains. So I put it directly out there. No misguided inquiry process, no risk of misshapen models, no Ferris Bueller lessons by accident.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply