Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

Uncanny Parallels

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I have been interested in the amount of discussion that is going on in Australia at the moment around the area of Direct Instruction (DI). There have been some amazing success stories in the far north of Australia where schools have been successfully improving the literacy skills of indigenous children. Comparisons are being made with the success of DI in Chicago with Hispanic children.

As I have been reading this media coverage it became apparent to me that much of the methodology that provides the foundation of DI are also the rudiments behind good ESL teaching methodology

The term Direct Instruction is based on a pedagogy developed by Siegfried Engelmann way back in 1964 in the USA. DI in simple terms is the method of instruction where children are taught according to their present mastery level and skill by skill. In other words children are not put into large classes based on their chronological age but are streamed into levelled classes according to their skills ability, For example a 10 year old child might be in a maths class with 12 year olds and a spelling class with 8 years olds and a reading class with 9 year olds. Here the teacher can concentrate in attending to each child’s learning needs in a structured and homogenous environment. The enthusiasts believe that deeper engagement and deeper learning is the direct consequence. But it is when we get to the methodology of DI that things get interesting. In DI the teacher presents information (input) and the child and peers practice the newly learned content and then the teacher corrects as they practice and finally the child and peers perform or present their new knowledge. Sounds like a CELTA 101 class?? Correct!

In DI talk there are in fact six stages:

Stage 1 Introduction and Preview- set the stage for learning. I think in TESOL we call this “a warmer”

Stage 2 Development- models the expected learning outcomes by providing clear expectations and examples. I think in CELTA we call this the INPUT stage

Stage 3 Guided Practice- monitor and engage pupils with assigned learning tasks. Guess what in CELTA 101 we call this stage the PRACTICE stage

Stage 4 Closure- Bring the lesson to a conclusion by highlighting what was covered. In CELTA we call this REVIEW

Stage 5 Independent Practice- in CELTA we call this talking to someone on the bus on the way home from class or with your homestay family at dinner

Stage 6 Evaluation-assess pupil progress In CELTA we would call this Review progress as well!!


So I guess I am saying that perhaps what we are doing in best practice Teacher Training TESOL courses is in fact best practice teaching methodology that goes quite a way back in non TESOL programs.

A similar debate has also been occurring in the UK through the excellent BLOG site set up by Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener. This site is worth visiting demandhighelt.wordpress.com These authors are focussing on the potential for deep learning: They question whether the tasks and techniques that we often utilise in the ELT classroom are ends in themselves? They are not putting themselves out to be anti-communicative approach or anti-dogme or anti-task based learning they are simply posing some rudimentary questions and asking for a greater depth of tangible engagement and learning.

Of course the debate would be that all of this flies in the face of Discovery Learning but I have a feeling that the mighty pendulum might be swinging back somewhat to the teaching of the basics and that in Australia at least we might be starting to express our shock at the poor literacy and numeracy skills with which our children are exiting secondary school.

At Phoenix we are about to welcome another cohort of Arabic speaking students and have found in the past that they have reasonable speaking and listening skills but very low levels of reading and writing skills. This is what prompted me to start thinking about streaming and the methodology that we use to teach these types of clients. Interested to hear other educators thoughts on this topic?

Robynne Walsh
Phoenix Academy
Perth, Western Australia

Read 52964 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 10:38
Robynne Walsh

B.Ed M.Ed
Principal and Director

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  • Comment Link Antony Atkinson Wednesday, 10 September 2014 16:47 posted by Antony Atkinson

    I think that variety is always the key and going in deep with the material is a benefit. I have been doing more bottom up tasks with listening and reading recently, really getting the students to focus on understanding basic details. I think we also need to keep a real world perspective and develop tasks that require the students to really develop their understanding. In this case, the teacher operates very much as a diagnostician, identifying need and helping students to find the answer.

  • Comment Link Robynne Walsh Thursday, 04 September 2014 18:07 posted by Robynne Walsh

    Hi Jack, thanks for your feedback on my DI discussion. Like you I was trained as an English teacher and in the 80's it was all about communication and holistic learning of the English language. The 3 R's went out the window. I now sense a move back to a more didactic approach where students are given some rules and reasons for why we write and speak as we do. The concept of ability streaming, drilling and working at one's own pace are all starting to be discussed again. Great to have this chat with you. Robynne

  • Comment Link Jack den Boer Wednesday, 03 September 2014 08:56 posted by Jack den Boer

    Robynne - in the early 90s, while doing my pracs to become a primary teacher, I experienced DI at Medina PS. Although, like you, I do not want to throw away the discovery methodology but, considering the success of DI for several of the kids at Medina, I do favour bringing DI back into schools and taching to an extent. I feel that "streaming" has its advantages if done carefully and properly. Now, after 20 years of primary teaching, I am involved in teaching English as Another Language and trhink that DI has a place there. It is certainly worth an in-depth discussion into this.
    God bless


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