The Science and Success of Engelmann's Direct Instruction

Most reformers know there’s no cure-all for American education. Nevertheless, in The Science and Success of Engelmann’s Direct Instruction, the authors argue that a panacea not only exists but has been around for half a century. The book is a collection of essays about different aspects of “Direct Instruction” (DI), a teaching method developed in the 1960s by Siegfried Engelmann, which holds that clear instruction and eliminating misconceptions can drastically improve and accelerate learning. Part I, “The Scientific Basis of Direct Instruction,” comprises four essays, including one by Engelmann himself about DI’s theory and development. The other three include a summation of studies examining its effectiveness, an explanation of why the results of supportive research have been ignored (it must be noted that a What Works Clearinghouse review found insufficient evidence to determine whether Direct Instruction was an effective method for teaching beginning reading), and a third-party perspective of Engelmann’s long career. The second part, “Translating the Science to Schools,” tackles the practicalities of application. There are essays about efficient DI implementation, how DI fosters good behavior, and possible futures of education with and without the teaching method. Although authors make a good case for Engelmann’s theory by showcasing the plethora of largely ignored, pro-DI research, their insistence that his system is some sort magic elixir hurts their credibility. For example, editor Jean Stockard proclaims, “Engelmann has clearly found the answer to low achievement and to the problems of our schools.” And Shepard Barbash argues that reworking DI programs to align with the Common Core is like “reformulating the polio vaccine to win a popularity contest.” Yet, despite such hyperbole, the book accomplishes at least one goal: the reader walks away with an extensive understanding of Direct Instruction and its history of success.

SOURCE: Jean Stockard, ed., The Science and Success of Engelmann’s Direct Instruction. Eugene, OR: NIFDI Press, 2014.

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