Direct Instruction in Science (1)

I first came across this theory when looking for ideas for my Master’s dissertation project. I watched a great talk by @Kris_Boulton at the Festival of Education last year which opened my mind to how effective it could be for science teaching. This lead me to plan a disciplined inquiry into how the ‘faultless communication’ part of this theory could be used in KS3 science lessons. This the first blog post in a series showing how my colleagues and I interpreted the research within a science context.

Direct Instruction – Brief intro:

In 1964, Siegfried Engelmann devised a specific pedagogical model that is based upon the explicit teaching of a specific skill set or knowledge base called Direct Instruction (DI). Direct Instruction is an explicit-teaching method that relies on an effectively designed curriculum and lessons which are fast paced and delivered with faultless

Engelmann’s theory is based upon 5 key principles:

  • All children can be taught
  • All children can improve academically and in terms of self image
  • All teachers ca succeed if provided with adequate training and materials
  • Disadvantaged students and low performing must be taught at a faster rate than usual if they are to ‘catch-up’ to higher-performing peers
  • Instruction must be controlled to reduce the change of misinterpretation and to maximize the ‘reinforcing effect of instruction’

From this Engelmann created nine key features which are fantastically summarised below in a poster by @mathsmrgorden and @olicav. I found this resource really helpful when I first introduced the theory to my colleagues. It really shows that there are two fundermental parts that need to be considered for DI to be effective – curriculum design and the specific way the curriculum is delivered.

We are very much at the start of our journey into DI, and whilst I am aiming to integrate many aspects of this theory into my practice and our curriculum, we chose to start with ‘faultless communication’. I think that this part is really important for science education as we have so many complex ideas that very quickly overload students and spending our time developing resources which adhere to this part of the theory would potentially have a great impact on our students learning.

How do we know it is effective?

Engelmann’s Direct Instruction program was first used in Project Follow Through, a large scale study conducted in the United States between 1968 to 1976. The aim of the government-funded study was to look at what impact a variety of pedagogical models had on disadvantaged students. Academic areas such as reading, arithmetic, spelling and language were tested and Direct Instruction was the only technique that showed substantial progress for disadvantaged students across all areas. At the time this was incredibly unexpected, as the theory went against common teaching practices which utilized things like inquiry based learning techniques. Check here for more detail on this project.

Where did I start?

When you first start to look at a new piece of research or find a strategy you want to roll out in a department, it is important that it is researched and communicated thoroughly. I was in the fortunate position that I had read through the research for my degree study, but this obviously wasn’t the case for my colleagues who were on my inquiry team. So what I did was find useful summary sources (like the poster above) to provide an introduction to the theory. After this, I lead a CPD session around ‘faultless communication’ (I have written in detail about this in the next post. Whilst at this point in time I had not found any examples from Science teaching, I found it useful to share examples from English and Maths to show a variety of ways that the research could be interpreted. As a team, we then went away and had a go at recreating these for an upcoming Year 7 topic before working together to critique them to make sure they were the best they could be. My next post explores some of the resources we created and how we used them in the classroom.

Here are some of the great resources I found that really helped me share the research with my colleagues:


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