Is Lecturing Back? “In a recent, much-talked-about article, Harvard scholar Paul E. Peterson points to new research finding that, when it comes to increasing student achievement, direct instruction (i.e, the “sage on the stage” approach) is more effective than instruction that’s oriented predominantly around student inquiry or problem-solving activities. Peterson also notes that, in his own teaching, he enjoys the progressive, problem-solving approach but finds he can cover more ground when using more of a lecture format.
What’s your view? Which approach do you prefer? Do they generate different results in terms of student achievement or motivation? Is there a place for both methods? If so, how do you balance the two?”
Hi Anthony. I recently faced a dilemma over which method was more effective, when the problem is posed as if they were mutually exclusive, which they are not. Hence, my short answer is I believe a mixture of both methods, direct and discovery-based, is necessary for the most effective learning.
“Direct instruction won. Students learned 3.6 percent of a standard deviation more if the teacher spent 10 percent more time on direct instruction. That’s one to two months of extra learning during the course of the year.”
Last time I checked, an effect size of 0.036 of a standard deviation was minuscule, so much to almost be meaningless. So, I need to revisit my statistics to see what I am missing in their claim. As some form of assurance though, I do not seem to be the only one that feels this way, since a few similar statements exist on the comment thread to Peterson’s article. Also, the research was written in mid 2010 so it was not that recent, at least to Peterson.
Now, on to my personal experience. Setting aside the suspect statistical significance of the research Peterson references, the dilemma nonetheless is a valid one. As a career changing, late forty-something teacher candidate, just about to complete a formal, “traditional” ed program filled with progressive pedagogy, which I embrace wholeheartedly as a meaningful set of instructional practices, but not exclusively, I ran headlong into a situation recently where “direct instruction” is mandated as the pedagogy of practice for a large, unified school district in the area, at which I interviewed. Since I was also finishing my Performance Assessment for CA Teachers (PACT) Teaching Event (TE) at the time, I penned the reflection below while addressing the “reflection” task, which I then deleted from my PACT submission since the page limitations were too small to include it. Yet, your post now presents an opportunity for it to be read by someone other than me. 🙂
Reflection On Direct Instruction versus Discovery-based Instruction
In the course of writing this document, I have interviewed at a large public school district in the area. The district is in Program Improvement (“PI”) as a result of not meeting their annual performance goals as defined for No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”). Accordingly, the district has decided to mandate an instructional model called “Explicit Direct Instruction.” Their decision is backed by research, such as Chall (2000), that states that direct instruction “produced higher achievement than the progressive approach among all students, and its effect was even stronger for students who were less prepared; was more effective for students with learning disabilities of all social levels; and was more effective for at-risk students at all social levels.” Other research by Adams and Engelmann (1996) showed that “explicit instruction is an effective instructional practice for all students.” Furthermore, Sousa (1995) “presents a table showing how brain research supports the components of direct instruction” that supports “the compatibility of direct instruction strategies and the way the brain works.”
The pedagogical position of this district strikes me at my core and conflicts with my pedagogical preferences, as learned in our program. The district contains large populations of disadvantaged students of whom I hope to teach. However, it appears that much of what I have learned in my current program, and employed in this learning segment, could be problematic at my future place of employment.
At the same time, while I embrace the methods for teaching mathematics as taught in my program, I also know that they often require students to be familiar with them via repeated application across all courses in a school to be maximally successful; otherwise, students do not experience consistent learning environments and practices, which complicates and even impedes learning. My experience teaching this learning segment reinforced this perspective. So, while I would hope to continue with the same approach for all future students as I elected with the students I taught in this learning segment, it appears I may have to take a softer, slower approach to doing so in select districts.”