Thales Academy - 5 Keys of Direct Instruction

5 Keys of Direct Instruction

What is Direct Instruction?


Chelsea Collar, Thales Academy Apex K-5

“Many children in the United States enter 1st grade far below the norm, and they never catch up. Their failures prevent them from ascending the ladder of academic growth on schedule. A large body of literature suggests that delinquency is highly correlated with school failure, particularly the failure to learn to read.” – Siegfried Engelmann, Founder of Direct Instruction

It was this issue that motivated Siegfried Engelmann to create a better teaching method. Engelmann is often quoted for saying Direct Instruction (DI) allows all children to learn. DI has been proven to be highly effective for students of all abilities, by following five key rules: Be Clear, Be Efficient, Teach to Mastery, Beware Intuition, and Celebrate Success.

1. Be Clear: Teachers must be very careful to avoid ambiguity in order to keep students from forming wrong assumptions. Engelmann suggests teaching not only examples, but also non-examples to fully explain a concept. “Whatever concept you’re teaching,” Engelmann says, “the rule is to present the full range of examples for it as soon as possible, and to choose examples that will lead the student to generate rules and infer things about the concept that will not be contradicted later on.” For example, when teaching students the definition of “animal,” it would not be beneficial for students if the teacher always displayed a picture of a cow and called it an animal. Students would form a misrule that a cow is the only type of animal. Instead, it would be much more effective to show many examples of animals in addition to some non-examples so that students would form a fool-proof rule that clearly defines the meaning of “animal.”

2. Be Efficient: Efficiency in the classroom means teaching more content in less time. DI expert, Ed Schaeffer, says that a teacher’s goal is to increase her students’ opportunity to learn, which is defined as the time spent learning divided by the time needed to learn. Direct Instruction aims to maximize the time spent learning and minimize the time needed to learn, in order to greatly increase the depth and breadth of knowledge gained. Engelmann knows that our brains work in algorithms to learn and store knowledge, and thus DI is a step-by-step process carefully designed to allow students to create their own algorithms and increase their learning efficiency.

3. Teach to Mastery: Often, teachers feel pressured to teach through a curriculum and make it through all lessons in the allotted time, regardless of whether or not their students are learning. Direct Instruction ensures that teachers are teaching to mastery daily by allocating a small portion of each lesson to a new concept and the remaining time to review. Each DI lesson utilizes just 15 percent of the time to introduce new materials and 85 percent to review previous concepts. This method allows students to thoroughly master concepts and use them as building blocks, slowly progressing to each higher level. Retention is maximized and key concepts are rarely forgotten due to the intensive repetition and continual practice. The strength of the foundation Direct Instruction builds in the Pre-K-5 years is an incredible asset when students begin to tackle more advanced learning in the upper grades.

4. Beware Intuition: Teachers should never assume that students are learning. DI’s use of choral response allows teachers to quickly assess all students for comprehension and correct any misunderstandings immediately. In addition, DI incorporates formal assessments after every five or ten lessons, depending on the subject. This way, in addition to the informal adjustments made mid-lesson, teachers have data to confirm their assumptions and can thus adjust their teaching accordingly to better meet the needs of their students.

5. Celebrate Success: Engelmann believes that teachers too often point out the bad behavior and mistakes in students and do not spend enough time rewarding them for the good. Celebrating success is something that DI teachers do at least 50 times per day! Direct Instruction’s continual, real-time assessment allows students to see their progress and receive praise for staying on the right track. In fact, students who learn from a teacher that uses Direct Instruction show a higher level of self-esteem than their traditionally taught counterparts, gained through a very real sense of “earned-confidence” (Project Follow Through).

Direct Instruction is a highly effective, scientifically proven teaching method. Its unique formula has helped thousands of students to achieve academic success throughout the US. I, for one, have greatly enjoyed seeing the effect it has had on my students both in the classroom and beyond.

Your entire program of individualized education and the logical steps you use to approach that goal at each different developmental stage is so effective...I am delighted to see the constant challenges you offer the students and your encouragement for them to gain tenacity and a desire to keep learning more and more.
- Thales Parent