Explicit instruction involves directly teaching students the content or skill to be learned, using clear and unambiguous language. Teacher modelling and then teacher guidance is followed by scheduled opportunities for practice. Student/teacher interaction is high.

Explicit instruction is also systematic: there is a carefully planned sequence for teaching that is constructed in a logical sequence from simple to complex objectives, commencing from the point at which the students are already competent.

Teaching has a powerful influence on student attainment, and different teaching approaches vary in their effectiveness.

What individual teachers do in class is pivotal for student learning, with teaching variables – including the teaching models used – accounting for 30% of the differential in student achievement. Research has found that teaching variables are more influential on student achievement than background measures such as socio-economic status.

In Australia, it was found that differences between classrooms within schools were greater than differences between schools. Students in classes with very effective teachers for three years in a row achieved 50% more learning than those in classes with ineffective teachers over the same period.

There are essentially two approaches to teaching. The first is ‘explicit’ or ‘direct’ — I tell you — and the second is ‘discovery’ or ‘inquiry’ — you find out for yourself.

These approaches are rarely used in their extreme forms, and in most classrooms there are degrees of explicit instruction through to degrees of discovery learning.

Direct Instruction (‘capital DI’) is sometimes confused with direct instruction (‘small di’). Direct Instruction is a specific teaching program whereas direct instruction is a general teaching method characterised by a set of structures and principles.

There is a strong body of research supporting a systematic, explicit approach generally, particularly when it involves learning new concepts and operations, and for students who struggle with learning. By contrast, approaches that are student-led, unsystematic, and rely largely on personal discovery have not been supported by evidence.


“A number of major studies have demonstrated the importance of direct or explicit instruction to student learning.”
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000)
“Evidence from controlled experimental (a.k.a. ‘gold standard’) studies almost uniformly supports full and explicit instructional guidance rather than partial or minimal guidance for novice to intermediate learners. These findings and their associated theories suggest teachers should provide their students with clear, explicit instruction rather than merely assisting students in attempting to discover knowledge themselves.”
Clark, R.E., Kirschner, P.A. and Sweller, J. (2012)
“ … studies have confirmed the original findings about the benefits of explicit teaching, which has been found to be particularly effective for disadvantaged children.”
NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (2014)
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KEY RESEARCH FINDINGS

  • Project ‘Follow Through’ was a major, ground-breaking study federally funded in the USA in the late 1960s, arising because of a concern about the poor educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. Follow Through was designed to determine which methods of teaching would be most effective for disadvantaged students throughout their primary school career.
    The study extended from 1967 to 1995, involved 75,000 children in 180 communities over the first three years of their school life, and cost almost US$1 billion.
    A broad range of educational philosophies were compared, including child-directed learning, individualised instruction, language experience, learning styles, self-esteem development, cognitive emphasis, parent-based teaching, Direct Instruction, and behavioral teaching. The targeted basic skills included reading, language, spelling, writing, and maths.
    The models that emphasised the systematic teaching of basic skills – Direct Instruction, and Behaviour Analysis – performed by far the best across the skill areas. Most of the other models failed to produce results better than those of the control groups, which comprised students receiving usual classroom education.
  • A report on effective teaching strategies produced by the NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) includes explicit teaching among the seven approaches that have a high impact on student learning, and a rigorous evidence-base for their effectiveness.

RECOMMENDED READING

Auguste, B., Kihn, P., & Miller, M. (2010).
Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining the top-third graduates to careers in
teaching

McKinsey & Co.

Clark, R.E., Kirschner, P.A. & Sweller, J. (2012).
Putting students on the path to learning: The case for fully guided instruction.
American Educator.

Engelmann, S., Becker, W.C., Carnine, D., & Gersten, R. (1988).
The Direct Instruction Follow Through model: Design and outcomes.
Education and Treatment of Children, 11, 303-317.

Education Consumers.Org (2015).
Supplement: A summary of the results of Project Follow Through.

Wheldall, K., Stephenson, J. & Carter, M. (2014).
What is direct instruction?
MUSEC Briefings, July 2014.

Rosenshine, B. (2012).
Principles of Instruction: Research based principles that all teachers should know.
American Educator, Spring 2012.