Direct Instruction – Myths, Misconceptions and Magical Moments!

Direct Instruction works, it really is that simple. But that’s about all that is simple about DI. Lets address that first misconception right now. That because DI is a scripted lesson, it “must be simple to teach”. It isn’t – trust me, it’s like learning to ride a bike for the first time, only it’s not your regular bike – this bike comes with its’ own instructions and directions, and if you don’t master them, you might as well be sitting on a bike in the gym because you’ll be going round and round, but getting nowhere. Oh, and I did I mention that great big wall of failure and doubt that stands high in front of you? Because before you even get your feet off the ground and onto the pedals, you have to find a way to start knocking that lifelong barrier down and ride over the rocky moments before you see the path to success.

DI is that path to success.

How and when students get there depends on the instructor and the training they have received. Even if you have understood that the blue script in the Teacher Presentation Book is what the instructor says and the black script is the expected student response, have you worked out how to get that student response? What it should sound like and what can you learn from it? Getting a class full of students to respond as one voice, on one signal, is no mean feat – just ask your music department!!! But it’s a powerful tool. Once mastered, it enables the instructor to ask one question and receive 14 instant responses – and when students are answering on signal, that instructor can instantly gage whether all students have mastered the concept being taught and if not, how to instantly deal with it.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the instructor needs to understand the ‘stage directions’. Yes, it is just like being an actor. You have your script, which must be adhered to, but you also have your physical instructions, “Point to 65”, “Add to show”, “Display”, etc. This scaffolding is vital as it provides the support needed when introducing students to new concepts and gives them the confidence to ‘have a go’. As the students become more confident, the scaffolding is carefully reduced and then eventually removed at the point where students should be achieving independent mastery. Failure to support students with the directed scaffolding, leaves them vulnerable and more likely to fail – losing confidence in the process.

Finally, when the students haven’t grasped a concept, how is it dealt with? The script may tell the instructor to “Repeat until firm”, but it doesn’t explain how to “firm” the responses. The seven steps of the Error Correction Procedure are what all DI instructors need to understand and be able to effortlessly execute the second a wrong response is received, but there is no mention of this in the script. There are just random brackets, ‘Parts’ and bullet points!

Understanding the script and how to teach it is vital. If students aren’t making the expected progress then the reasons above will probably explain why.

The second misconception I hear regularly is when students start a new book, or programme, and the instructor says they are finding it “too easy”.


How can you teach them new concepts if they haven’t already mastered the first ones? Mastery is achieved when you can say something as easily as you say your name, so it should be “easy”. How can you teach them to read ‘rip’ and ‘ripe’ if they don’t understand the importance of that ‘e’?

DI is all about the mastery. New components are introduced slowly, carefully and only when students are ready for them.

Repetition is key.

The Error Correction Procedure when students falter is key.

Having an instructor who understands and follows the script in its’ entirety is key.

And when all of these elements come together? Yes, the students will find they are able to master all that is being taught – but that’s the whole point, right?

When the programme is being taught effectively, magical things happen. Genuinely. Students who have never known anything other than failure learn to believe in themselves.

Their confidence quickly starts to grow.

They learn how to learn.

They achieve.

They get that delicious taste of success and they grow hungry for more.

They get their 100% Mastery results.

Their reading ages soar.

They are proud.

They win.

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