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Re: [xmca] Direct Instruction: observations at Djarragun college, Cape York, Australia

hi David,
I'm far from expert in DI but have been reading more about it so will try
to respond to your points

I think what disturbs me about ALL this material is not the attacks on
> other ways of thinking in education. That, on the contrary, is what
> intrigues me, both because I agree completely that under extant social
> conditions intellectualistic methods WILL allow the classroom rich to have
> richer educational experiences and the poor to get poorer and because I
> believe that intellectual debates in a time of crisis should really be like
> street brawls--everybody's invited and nobody is safe.

You seem to be conceding in advance here that the sophisticated techniques
you outline below will not scale due to funding priorities in our existing
social order. The school I observed at just south of Cairns was a safe
area. But DI was introduced one year earlier (start of 2010) to Aurukun on
the west coast of Cape York, which was possibly the worst school in
Queensland. Anthropologist Peter Sutton has documented the descent of
Aurukun into hell on earth in his book "The Politics of Suffering". Several
of his kin relatives were murdered. Noel Pearson described the state of the
school before DI was introduced:

Aurukun was possibly the worst school in Queensland. In 2009 police were
called to the school 160 times, for a school of 230 students. The
attendance rate was 30%.

No, what disturbs me is this:
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cwODCQ9BnU
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EBsPgyONew

>From what I have seen these videos do accurately depict DI in practice.
However, to correct a possible false impression,  the article I posted
respond to the criticism that "DI is ALL teacher centered" as follows:

... it is not true that Direct Instruction is all teacher centered.
Teachers are more directive during the early phase of acquisition (when
students work on basic skills and knowledge needed to solve complex
problems and do projects). Later activities on generalization and
adaptation of knowledge are more student directed. For example, after
a small group Direct Instruction session on reading new words, the children
independently read books (with the new words) for a few minutes, and then
come back for another group session to discuss the story

Now, you haven't actually addressed Larry's question of what is meant by
> "it works". But I think these youtube clips make it pretty clear. "It
> works" means the children have the ability to respond to a signal with a
> decontextualized word, the ability to provide definitions which are
> interchangeable in form and often mixed up in practice, and the ability to
> get through "check out" with a minimum of errors and a maximum of
> monotonously intoned and apparently poorly understood "words". Although
> this may be "working" is it is not a working definition of literacy. It has
> the same relationship to a definition of literacy that the definition of
> plot has to the definition of setting in the words of the hapless first
> learner in the youtube clip.

I think this is the crux of the matter. That we, the free learning
sophisticated are somewhat repelled by the crudity and authoritarianism of
rote and checkout. That feeling operates strongly at our emotional level
and so we prefer to "look away" at this crudity that does work and pursue
our more sophisticated learning methods. This applied to me, at least.

Unfortunately, I'm not in a personal position to prove anything after only
4 days observation. But from what I have read the billion dollar Project
Follow Through study in the USA did demonstrate that DI was superior to
other methods. See http://www.zigsite.com/PDFs/chapter5-6intro.pdf

One thing that I notice most people agree on is that all form of talent or
genius do require the learner to do a lot of boring repetition. eg. Mozart
took 10 years, from 5-15, before he could be regarded as a genius. All
athletes do mind numbing boring practice to reach Olympic level, etc. I
think in observing DI we are just observing such repetition in crude form.

> We are now doing some work here in Korea that shows that teachers'
> subjective impressions of whether or not a child reading aloud understands
> a word corresponds quite exactly to objectively measurable variations in
> sound frequency, intensity, and timing. It also corresponds to a quick
> translation test: if the child sounds like he or she understands the word,
> then he or she can usually translate the word, and we can also detect that
> understanding in the way they intone and stress the word.
> The catch is this: every learner is different. That is, some are loud and
> some are soft, some use a wide pitch range and some a narrow one, some
> hesitate a lot and some hesitate a little. One learner's "comprehending"
> pitch range is a lot narrower than another learner's uncomprehending pitch
> range, and one learner's intensity when they don't understand can be more
> intense than another learner's when he or she does. A pause can suggest
> both befuddlement and boredom, or simply dramatic effect. What the
> phonological analysis shows is RELATIVE to individual learners, and in no
> way comparable across learners.

How do you propose to scale these sophisticated methods? I mentioned
Aurukun above. Remote locations like that in Australia are notorious for
their high turnover rate of teachers.

>  I think you can see the problem. It's not just that a teacher who is
> teaching a class in lockstep will not be able to build up a clear sense of
> these individual variations and become sensitive to them. It's that "what
> works" will invariable have to ignore these individual variations and
> concentrate on the countable. What works will inevitably be reduced to what
> counts, or rather what is countable in a mass market, rather than in a
> classroom of living, breathing, varying learners. And that explains the
> emphasis on "consumers", "efficiency", "results", "accountability"...all of
> these are the aliquot and fungilble content of "what works". None of them
> are what you or I would call comprehension.

In DI the students are consumers and they are being force fed education.
That is certainly one way to look at it. I just loved it when Chomsky
critiqued Skinner even though I didn't understand Chomsky I knew that
Skinner was so boring and dehumanising. But that was when I was
"progressive" and young and now I'm older and more experienced in the
realities of disadvantage. Others have walked this same path across the
more apparent than real political divide. eg. Kevin Wheldall who authored
the MULTILIT program in Australia described himself as a long haired hippy
and class warrior and exposed to too much Freud before becoming a champion
of drill and skill.  See

I'll finish off with some more quotes from the DI article linked above
which I think do provide some useful responses to criticisms:

Apparently, the few technical terms used in Direct Instruction ("signals,"
"prompts," "error correction") lead some persons to believe that Direct
Instruction teachers and curriculum developers regard students as akin to
pigeons and rats trained by experimental psychologists. Nothing could be
further from the truth. The purpose of technical terms (words with
precise meaning) is to enable teachers to communicate effectively. The word
"signal," for example, directs attention to events that come before
students' actions. Therefore, if one teacher says, "I think my signals are
ambiguous," the other teacher knows what to look for.

Moreover, technical terms themselves do not depersonalize. Direct
Instruction teachers know that a few words do not capture all there is to a
person. The words merely point to certain aspects of the environment and
students' actions. This is the same as in medicine, where physicians speak
of cells, tissues, organs, symptoms, and illnesses. This does not
mean physicians see clients as nothing more. If a physican sees her clients
that way, it suggests she is inclined to do so; the terms do not make her
do so.


Direct Instruction is grounded in experimental research on the effects of
massed practice (drill) vs distributed practice. For this reason, Direct
Instruction teachers and curriculum developers are more disgusted than
other persons by mindless drill. However, they do not throw out useful
practice. The creative, skillful and life-long art of dancers, martial
artists, painters, writers, musicians, good cooks, and athletes show the
necessity of practice, practice, and more practice for accuracy, fluency,
endurance, momentum, retention, and maintenance (i.e., independence).
Instead of "drill and kill," Direct Instruction employs
"perfect practice"--practice carefully scheduled to help students "iron out
the bugs," discover and improve gaps in skill or knowledge, and foster


> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> --- On Mon, 5/7/12, Bill Kerr <billkerr@gmail.com> wrote:
> From: Bill Kerr <billkerr@gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Direct Instruction: observations at Djarragun college,
> Cape York, Australia
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> Date: Monday, May 7, 2012, 7:27 AM
> http://www.beteronderwijsnederland.nl/files/active/0/Kozloff%20e.a.%20DI.pdf
> This paper appears to provide a comprehensive overview of the theory and
> practice of DI and also includes a response to criticisms (27pp)
> I think that Engelmann is incorrect to criticise other theories of
> education so trenchantly but what he has done brilliantly is develop one
> practice of basic literacy / maths education with almost fail proof rigour.
> Some other theories and practices do work IMO (eg. Papert's constructionism
> is one I have worked with for years) but the problem with them in practice
> is that they don't scale for all learners because they require fairly high
> degrees of teacher expertise.
> Given that we have a society in which the highly skilled mathematicians and
> physicists are more likely to end up programming economic models for
> Goldmann Sachs than teaching in primary school then Direct Instruction is
> the best bet since it doesn't require deep thinking teachers for it to
> work.
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