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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Moving Research into Classrooms: My Reflections

I just finished attending the Moving Research into Classrooms conference put on by the Center for Teaching and Learning out of the University of Oregon. Overall, I have to say I was pretty impressed, both from a conference hosting perspective, as well as from a content perspective. The CTL folks did a great job organizing the conference and making sure all of the logistical nuts and bolts went smoothly. It's one of those things where if it goes badly, it's easy to criticize. But if it goes well, you really don't notice it. So kudos to them for the production of a conference.

More importantly, I think this was a good conference. There wasn't a ton of new learning for me, but I definitely picked up several things in terms of content knowledge that I can use. The whole conference was based on four of the Practice Guides developed by Institute of Education Sciences, the research and evaluation branch of the federal Department of Education. I attended the Adolescent Literacy strand, and it was as I said very well done. I had several reflections throughout the last two days that I'd like to lay out here very briefly, in no particular order.
  • I didn't realize we knew so much about adolescent literacy. It's just not an area I spend a lot of time in, hence the reason I attended the strand. It's heartening to know there are some answers out there.
  • Although we know about about good instruction from research, the evidence isn't as solid or comprehensive as we would like it to be. At the same time, that does not excuse us as professionals working on behalf of children to disregard the research that does exist.
  • Relatedly, I grow increasingly weary of the debates about different instructional "philosophies" or approaches. Specifically, I find the arguments against direct, explicit instruction increasingly shallow. For a while now, I've felt like an apologist for supporting direct, explicit instruction. No more. When done well, it works. Any arguments to the contrary are simply with little to no merit in my opinion. I have yet to talk to someone who argues against direct, explicit instruction who can accurately describe what it actually is. I am renewed in my motivation to fight the good fight.
  • Tim Shanahan, an incredibly talented and widely respected educator, was today's keynote. Although I think his treatment of frequent formative assessment for students at risk for failure was a bit harsh and incomplete, I thought overall he was outstanding. He brought up one point that tied tightly with alignment, namely the importance of collecting and using "input" or "process" data. That is to say, data about instruction. Collecting and using alignment data fits the bill incredibly well here in my opinion. I was encouraged greatly.
Overall, as I said, it was a great conference. I look forward to processing it some more, and putting some of what I learned to use in my daily practice.


  1. Brad, your perspective on the conference is interesting. Just so I don't assume, can you clarify what you mean by "direct, explicit instruction"? Would this include lecture? (In the Gr. 9-12 realm?)

    Also, how exactly do you view Shanahan's treatment "a bit harsh and incomplete"?

  2. Thanks for posting Becca. I can always count on you to question what is put in front of you. I love it :)! Below is a link with a ton of information about direction instruction and Direct Instruction. In general, lecture would not be considered direct instruction by those who developed DI and di.

    As for harsh and incomplete, Shanahan basically indicated that doing weekly or monthly formative assessment (i.e., in this case what we would call progress monitoring, most typically with CBMs) is too frequent because of the standard error of measurement typically associated with these measures. In other words, there is enough error in these scores that one could believe a change in skill has occurred when really it's just measurement error if you gather the data too frequently. In my opinion, this doesn't take into account things like (a) collecting 3 student scores and taking the median to minimize the impact of error, (b) the need to accelerate student learning for at risk students which increases the need to collect data more frequently, and (c) he neglected to discuss formative assessment for all students using things other than CBMs.

    Although I can see his points, I just thought he rushed through them without giving them what I was say is more, proper context. Part of it wasn't his fault. He didn't have enough time to explain. I just think it's important that when you are as influential as someone like him, that you can't fire things out there like that without giving it more context. It happens though. I know I do that sometimes, and it causes problems. And I'm nowhere near the influence he is :).

    Thanks for asking questions Becca. I really do appreciate it, and your insights as well.

  3. Brad,
    Thank you for posting this information. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Direct Instruction and directed instruction. I'll try hard to look through the eyes of a research consumer as I learn.

  4. Brad, are you referring to direct instruction with a capital DI or lower case? From what little I've read, there seems to be a research base for DI, but I'm not sure about direct, explicit instruction. I'd really like to sit with you sometime and just talk about the differences. I know you're busy, so if you'd prefer to point me to some relevant reading, that's ok too. Also, thanks for being honest and open about your viewpoint.

  5. Thanks Teresa. I have to be much more diplomatic when I'm wearing my Heartland hat :). And I prefer to be diplomatic anyway. But sometimes you just gotta call it as you see it. I appreciate your support for me to express myself freely.

    I'm actually talking about both. And you are correct, there is a stronger research base for DI than for di. di is based on the same theories and principles for the most part, it's just not a specific set of materials, which DI is. The web site I put a link to above has a lot of information on it. I'm sure we can steal some time at some point to chat about it. I actually was just given an article that supposedly talks about how constructivism and di/DI are more about right place, right time. I really want to read it, because I'd like some sanity introduced into this debate :). Thanks again, and thanks for reading my blog!

  6. I realize this is past your original discussion, but I have to add some of my thoughts on the research base behind direct instruction. There is considerable research behind DI programs and materials, but I would also argue that there is research evidence for using direct, explicit instruction. You have to look more specifically at content area intervention research to find it. For example, in the area of beginning reading (since that is the area I am most familiar with) intervention research with struggling students has repeatedly compared outcomes between students receiving a typical small group intervention, and one that was specifically designed using explicit/direct instruction principles (not necessarily a set of published materials). The interventions based on explicit instruction have consistently produced higher student outcomes than the interventions teaching the same skills, but not explicitly. It has been repeated frequently enough that use of explict instruction is one of the most recommended practices in working with struggling readers. While I am less familiar with the specific intervention studies that are being done currently with adolescent readers, I do know the recommendations from the research experts continue to advocate explicit instruction for struggling older students also. I can only assume there is specific evidence recently that would support the principles of direct instruction. I would have to do a more thorough literature review to be confident in that, though.