Often, when doing teacher training in direct instruction, we are asked about the research behind the model. It is an honest question from either teachers or administrators, but in some ways the question is mildly shocking. In fact, the elements, or steps, making up direct instruction, (or as it is sometimes referred to “best first instruction,”) have been the central teaching model around which most of educational research has been focused for the past fifty years. Of course, educational research focuses on what pedagogical practices ensure the most efficient and most effective learning by students and the instructional elements that make up direct instruction have been researched countless times, verified as valid, and replicated continuously in con-going research.
For our purposes (TESS Consulting Group), Dr. Benjamin Bloom and his students at the University of Chicago may be credited as the progenitors of direct instruction as we know it. In the late 1970’s, they asked the initial questions and conducted the first research that led to the formation of what we now know as direct instruction. Dr. Bloom had published his famous taxonomy of learning in the 1950’s, which articulated the first scaffolding of types of learning, from “recall to evaluation,” but he moved on to developing research that dealt with teaching itself
In the 1960s and 1970s Bloom started the discussion of “mastery learning” and in the late 1970s stated, “For several years, my doctoral students and I have been searching for solutions to what we call the 2 sigma problem:” can researchers and teachers devise teaching-learning conditions that will enable the majority of students under group instruction (underlining mine) to attain levels of achievement that can, at present, be reaching only under good tutoring conditions.” (Bloom, Educational Leadership, May, 1984)
Research, along with common sense, had confirmed that students who were provided one-to-one tutors, from qualified instructors, achieved at a significantly higher level than students grouped in a regular classroom with a qualified teacher. The questions Dr. Bloom and his students asked were what were the determining factors in tutoring that could be replicated in group instruction.
In short, their research illustrated that components of what we now call direct instruction were the critical variables in successful group instruction:
Correctives and feedback. Successful tutoring provides the student with rapid feedback and correctives.
The providing of prerequisite knowledge needed to learn the new information or skills.
Clear examples provided to the student of the concept/skills to be mastered.
Judicious use of time.
What Bloom and his students also discovered is that in singular, the
elements of the lesson design model did not yield profound results; but when coupled, such as ensuring the students are provided the cognitive prerequisites and given prompt feedback and correctives, the impact on the student’s mastery of the subject matter approaches the two sigma effect – and in whole class models.