Direct Instruction: The Effect on Special Education Students
Direct Instruction Overview
Direct instruction is an increasingly popular and supported education technique that has been utilized for several years. Direct instruction has historically been used as a method of instruction for special education students (Goral, 2001). Many educators have claimed that direct instruction has helped students regardless of their learning capability or any defined learning disabilities (Goral, 2001). Direct instruction is based on the idea that a teacher led classroom that involves active participation and well choreographed lesson plans and learning instruments is a more effective learning environment than a less involved or student led learning situation.
Kozloff (2002) a firm proponent of direct instruction suggests that it provides an effective method for instruction by helping students learn to organize and activate knowledge. Further Kozloff suggests that direct instruction shifts the emphasis of teaching to mastering and acquiring proficiency of tasks rather than focusing on deficits, which may sometimes serve as an inhibition to learning for learning disabled students. Direct instruction requires that students are given instruction that is precise and defined, and that teachers model by illustrating, not simply lecturing to children using precisely defined lesson plans and tools and accessories that help facilitate learning (Kozloff, 2002).
Direct Instruction is a highly teacher led teaching style that requires design of effective instructional intervention particularly for reading or learning disabled students (Allington, 2001). It also supports the use of instructional aids with emphasis on facilitating student achievement (Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain, 1998). These aides may come in many different forms including charts, worksheets, instructional guidelines and workbooks.
Overview Research Reports
The study "Direct Instruction in Math Word Problems: Students with Learning Disabilities" by Paul Sindelar and Cynthia Wilson (1991) examined elementary school mathematics curricula with an emphasis on students with learning disabilities. The intent of the study was to discern whether a direct instruction approach would help learning disabled students cope with problem solving, and suggests that other programs, particularly basal programs fail because of a "lack of adequate provision for practice and review and absence of adequate teaching strategy involving step-by-step protocols (Sindelar & Wilson, 1991).
This study involved 62 participants with learning disabilities from nine elementary schools in Florida (Sindelar & Wilson, 1991). Students selected for the study had to be labeled learning disabled, attend a special education math program, have scored a minimum of 80% on basic addition/subtraction skills and had to be identified as needing help with regard to problem solving (Sindelar & Wilson, 1991: p. 512). The test utilized for examination purposes in this study consisted of 216-word problems divided in four types including: simple action problems, classification problems, complex action problems and comparison problems (Sindelar & Wilson, 1991).
The results indicated that the direct instruction approach worked best when teaching students with learning disabilities to solve word problems related to addition and subtraction (Sindelar & Wilson, 1991). These results correlate with other studies that suggest that the direct approach results in superior performance when compared with other approaches, and suggests that it be used as the primary teaching strategy for instructing learning disabled students. The direct instruction method specifically utilized in this study used features including explicitly teaching each step of the translation process, provision for detailed correction procedures and use of scripted lessons by teachers (Sindelar & Wilson, 1991).
In the article "Advanced Story Map Instruction: Effects on the Reading Comprehension of Students with Learning Disabilities" Gardill and Jitendra (1999) conduct a multiple baseline study that specifically examines direct instruction. The aim of the study is to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of instruction when used with a story map procedure to affect the reading comprehension performance of students. For purposes of this study six middle school students diagnosed with learning disabilities are examined.
The results of the study suggest that story grammar and basal comprehension performance of all students participating in the study increase with the use of direct instruction techniques. The study was conducted because learning disabled students have been identified as a population with significant problems related to reading comprehension (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). The researchers point out that a large body of research supports direct instruction as an effective tool for teaching learning comprehension as well as general analytical skills to students with learning disabilities.
Reading comprehension is thought to be difficult for LD students because it requires that they derive meaning from printed material (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). Participants in this study were sixth and eighth grade students, all white, all having active individualized education programs. All students were also receiving instruction in reading or language arts. Selection criteria was based on students that had been identified as having a learning disability by the Pennsylvania special education eligibility standards, students who had difficulty with reading comprehension specifically as determined by instructors and students who met criteria on a word identification and passage comprehension test which had to meet at minimum fourth grade reading level standards (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999).
For purposes of this study direct instruction was carried out during the school day in a separate classroom. Students were assessed using instructional and testing passages (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). The story maps used for purposes of direct instruction were designed with the intent of helping students recognize critical details in passages and subsequently inferring unstated ideas (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). Students were able to write in information on the story map including information from passages such as character information, problems, and issues or themes in the story (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999).
In the research report "Integrated Learning: Explicit Strategies and Their Role in Problem Solving Instruction for Students With Learning Disabilities" by Hollingsworth & Woodward (1993) direct instruction strategies are investigated with respect to problem solving in learning disabled students. Specifically this study was geared at examining the effectiveness of direct instruction methods as a means to help learning disabled students link facts, concepts and problem solving when dealing with an "unfamiliar domain of learning" (Hollingsworth & Woodward, 1993). The participants in this study consisted of 37 secondary level students who were diagnosed with learning disabilities (Hollingsworth & Woodward, 1993).
Students in the experimental group were given direct instruction teaching techniques for solving problems through use of computer simulated games; the comparison group was given supportive feedback rather than direct instruction and was encouraged to discover their own method or strategy for learning (Hollingsworth & Woodward, 1993).
Hollingsworth & Woodward point out that a majority of learning disabled students spend a large portion of time participating in drill and practice programs particularly when working on computers, which doesn't allow them to conclude or infer information that might help them problem solve (Hollingsworth & Woodward, 1993). Students participating in this study were selected from a city in the Pacific Northwest and a community in Alberta, Canada; five students were in the 7th or 8th grade and the remainder 9th or 10th grade (Hollingsworth & Woodward, 1993).
Student criteria were that students had to have a reading disability and students had to be performing at minimum at 2 years below their grade level. A written curriculum and computer simulation were used as tools for purposes of this study. Results of the study suggested a large differentiation in learning between the direct instruction group and the comparison group, with students in the direct instruction group exceeding the performance of their peers substantially.
The majority of previous literature provided on special education and students with learning disabilities suggests that students with learning disabilities will benefit from direct instruction techniques. Hollingsworth & Woodward (1993) conclude that direct instruction may be particularly advantages for learning disabled students struggling with problem solving in the classroom, because direct instruction techniques enable students to infer information from the text they might otherwise overlook.
Sindelar and Wilson (1991) show that direct instruction facilitates problem solving capabilities in learning disabled students because it provides a framework and strategy for analyzing problems, which isn't typically provided in a traditional curriculum according to their argument.
Further Gardill & Jitendra (1999) conclude that direct instruction is also advantageous with regard to reading comprehension.
All of these studies have one thing in common: they focus on direct instruction as a teaching intervention and strategy for students with learning disabilities. The majority of literature and research reports conducted of direct instruction focus primarily on reading skills and mathematical ability in learning disabled students. The studies are strong because they typically compare direct instruction with at least one other method of instruction when evaluating the effectiveness of the technique. Most of the studies require that students test at a certain level and meet specific criteria, further substantiating the evidence provided by the results of each of the studies.
There is a large body of other research that is not directly research involved that supports the use of direct instruction in the classroom, both with special education or learning disabled students and with student populations as a whole. Some examples of these analyses…