Teaching Effectively with Direct Instruction, Explicit Teaching and Active Teaching


Teaching Effectively with Direct Instruction, Explicit Teaching and Active Teaching: An overview

Direct Instruction, Explicit Teaching and Active Teaching are all similar methods of teaching that are related to improved student learning and positive educational outcomes. So for clarity we will express them all as direct instruction.

Features of direct instruction.

Direct Instruction is the systematic instruction for the mastery of skills, facts and information. It is identified with explicit and consistently high levels of teacher explanation, complemented with modelling and interaction with students. Direct instruction strives to teach skills that students require to support further learning.

Turning features into Teacher Actions

Based upon the work of Rosenshine and Stevens (1988), six teaching functions have been identified that promote effective teaching using specific teacher actions…

Six Teaching Functions

Review and check the previous day’s work. Reteach if students misunderstood or made errors.

Present new material. Make the purpose clear teach in small steps, and provide many examples and nonexamples.

Provide guided practice. Question students, give practice problems, and listen for misconceptions and misunderstandings. Reteach if necessary. Continue guided practice until students answer 80% of the questions correctly.

Give feedback and correctives based on students answers. Reteach if necessary.

Provide independent practice. Let students apply the new learning on their own, in seatwork, cooperative groups, or homework. The success rate during independent practice should be about 95%. This means that students must be well prepared for the work by the presentation and guided practice and that assignment must not be too difficult. The point is for the students to practice until the skills become well learned and automatic- until the students are confident. Hold students accountable for the work they do-check it.

Review weekly and monthly to consolidate learning. Include some review items as homework. Test often, and reteach material missed on the test.

In Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching Archer and Hughes expand these steps out to

Sixteen Elements of Direct Instruction…

Focus instruction on critical content. Teach skills, strategies, vocabulary terms, concepts, and rules that will empower students in the future and match the students’ instructional needs.

Sequence skills logically. Consider several curricular variables, such as teaching easier skills before harder skills, teaching high-frequency skills before skills that are less frequent in usage, ensuring mastery of prerequisites to a skill before teaching the skill itself, and separating skills and strategies that are similar and thus may be confusing to students.

Break down complex skills and strategies into smaller instructional units. Teach in small steps. Segmenting complex skills into smaller instructional units of new material addresses concerns about cognitive overloading, processing demands, and the capacity of students’ working memory. Once mastered, units are synthesized (i.e., practiced as a whole).

Design organized and focused lessons. Make sure lessons are organized and focused, in order to make optimal use of instructional time. Organized lessons are on topic, well sequenced, and contain no irrelevant digressions.

Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and your expectations. Tell learners clearly what is to be learned and why it is important. Students achieve better if they understand the instructional goals and outcomes expected, as well as how the information or skills presented will help them.

Review prior skills and knowledge before beginning instruction. Provide a review of relevant information. Verify that students have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to learn the skill being taught in the lesson. This element also provides an opportunity to link the new skill with other related skills.

Provide step-by-step demonstrations. Model the skill and clarify the decision-making processes needed to complete a task or procedure by thinking aloud as you perform the skill. Clearly demonstrate the target skill or strategy, in order to show the students a model of proficient performance.

Use clear and concise language. Use consistent, unambiguous wording and terminology. The complexity of your speech (e.g., vocabulary, sentence structure) should depend on students’ receptive vocabulary, to reduce possible confusion.

Provide an adequate range of examples and non-examples. In order to establish the boundaries of when and when not to apply a skill, strategy, concept, or rule, provide a wide range of examples and non-examples. A wide range of examples illustrating situations when the skill will be used or applied is necessary so that students do not underuse it. Conversely, presenting a wide range of non-examples reduces the possibility that students will use the skill inappropriately.

Provide guided and supported practice. In order to promote initial success and build confidence, regulate the difficulty of practice opportunities during the lesson, and provide students with guidance in skill performance. When students demonstrate success, you can gradually increase task difficulty as you decrease the level of guidance. (cont.) The Foundations of Explicit Instruction 3 As noted earlier, effective and explicit instruction can be viewed as providing a series of instructional supports or scaffolds—first through the logical selection and sequencing of content, and then by breaking down that content into manageable instructional units based on students’ cognitive capabilities (e.g., working memory capacity, attention, and prior knowledge). Instructional delivery is characterized by clear descriptions and demonstrations of a skill, followed by supported practice and timely feedback. Initial practice is carried out with high levels of teacher involvement; however, once student success is evident, the teacher’s support is systematically withdrawn, and the students move toward independent performance.

Require frequent responses. Plan for a high level of student–teacher interaction via the use of questioning. Having the students respond frequently (i.e., oral responses, written responses, or action responses) helps them focus on the lesson content, provides opportunities for student elaboration, assists you in checking understanding, and keeps students active and attentive.

Monitor student performance closely. Carefully watch and listen to students’ responses, so that you can verify student mastery as well as make timely adjustments in instruction if students are making errors. Close monitoring also allows you to provide feedback to students about how well they are doing.

Provide immediate affirmative and corrective feedback. Follow up on students’ responses as quickly as you can. Immediate feedback to students about the accuracy of their responses helps ensure high rates of success and reduces the likelihood of practicing errors.

Deliver the lesson at a brisk pace. Deliver instruction at an appropriate pace to optimize instructional time, the amount of content that can be presented, and on-task behavior. Use a rate of presentation that is brisk but includes a reasonable amount of time for students’ thinking/ processing, especially when they are learning new material. The desired pace is neither so slow that students get bored nor so quick that they can’t keep up.

Help students organize knowledge. Because many students have difficulty seeing how some skills and concepts fit together, it is important to use teaching techniques that make these connections more apparent or explicit. Well-organized and connected information makes it easier for students to retrieve information and facilitate its integration with new material.

Provide distributed and cumulative practice. Distributed (vs. massed) practice refers to multiple opportunities to practice a skill over time. Cumulative practice is a method for providing distributed practice by including practice opportunities that address both previously and newly acquired skills. Provide students with multiple practice attempts, in order to address issues of retention as well as automaticity

For a sample chapter see here. To buy the book see here.

The authors continue to explain that these sixteen elements of effective teaching through direct instruction are underpinned by

Six Principles of Direct Instruction…

Optimize engaged time/time on task. The more time students are actively participating in instructional activities, the more they learn.

Promote high levels of success. The more successful (i.e., correct/accurate) students are when they engage in an academic task, the more they achieve.

Increase content coverage. The more academic content covered effectively and efficiently, the greater potential for student learning.

Have students spend more time in instructional groups. The more time students participate in teacher-led, skill-level groups versus one-to-one teaching or seatwork activities, the more instruction they receive, and the more they learn.

Scaffold instruction. Providing support, structure, and guidance during instruction promotes academic success, and systematic fading of this support encourages students to become more independent learners.

Address different forms of knowledge. The ability to strategically use academic skills and knowledge often requires students to know different sorts of information at differing levels: the declarative level (what something is, factual information), the procedural level (how something is done or performed), and the conditional level (when and where to use the skill).

Madeline Hunter in Mastery Teaching outlines principles of effective direct instruction as follows.

Selected Principles of Effective Instruction

Get students set to learn.

Make the best use of the prime time at the beginning of the lesson.

Give students a review question or two to consider while you call the roll, pass out papers, or do other administrative chores. Listen to students’ answers and give feedback.

Create an anticipatory set to capture the students’ attention. Use an advance organizer, an intriguing question, or a brief exercise. For example, at the beginning of a lesson on categories of plants you could ask, “How is pumpkin pie similar to cherry pie but different from sweet potato pie?” Answer: Pumpkins and cherries are both fruits, unlike sweet potatoes.

Communicate the lesson objectives (unless withholding this information for a while is part of your overall plan).

Provide information effectively.

Determine the basic information and organize it.

Use this basic structure to present the lesson.

Present information clearly and simply. Use familiar terms, examples, and illustrations.

Model what you mean. If appropriate, demonstrate or use analogies—for example: “if the basketball Ann is holding were the sun, how far away do you think I would have to hold this pea to represent Pluto?”

Check for understanding and give guided practice.

Ask a question and have every student signal an answer—for example: “Thumbs up if this statement is true, down if it’s false.” Ask for a choral response: “Everyone, is this a dependent or an independent clause?”

Sample individual responses: “Everyone, think of an example of a closed system. Jon, what’s your example?”

Allow for independent practice.

Get students started right by doing the first few questions together.

Make independent practice brief. Monitor responses, giving feedback quickly.


There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Direct Instruction works. I like it because it forces teachers to plan and think through their lessons step by step. It compels teachers to be creative in finding the very best examples and models to demonstrate key concepts to their students, that all of them will understand.

Finally, Direct Instruction is underpinned by teacher knowledge. We have already seen through the Sutton Report, how teacher knowledge is one of the key fundamentals for effective positive educational outcomes: The 2 Most Important Factors that Great Teachers Demonstrate to Improve Results.

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