I have been interested in the amount of discussion that is going on in Australia at the moment around the area of Direct Instruction (DI). There have been some amazing success stories in the far north of Australia where schools have been successfully improving the literacy skills of indigenous children. Comparisons are being made with the success of DI in Chicago with Hispanic children.
As I have been reading this media coverage it became apparent to me that much of the methodology that provides the foundation of DI are also the rudiments behind good ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching methodology.
The term Direct Instruction is based on a pedagogy developed by Siegfried Engelmann way back in 1964 in the USA. DI in simple terms is the method of instruction where children are taught according to their present mastery level and skill by skill. In other words children are not put into large classes based on their chronological age but are streamed into levelled classes according to their skills ability. For example a 10 year old child might be in a maths class with 12 year olds and a spelling class with 8 years olds and a reading class with 9 year olds. Here the teacher can concentrate in attending to each child’s learning needs in a structured and homogeneous environment.
The enthusiasts believe that deeper engagement and deeper learning is the direct consequence. But it is when we get to the methodology of DI that things get interesting. In DI the teacher presents information (input) and the child and peers practice the newly learned content and then the teacher corrects as they practice and finally the child and peers perform or present their new knowledge.
Sounds like a CELTA 101 class?? Correct!
So I guess I am saying that perhaps what we are doing in best practice Teacher Training TESOL courses is in fact best practice teaching methodology that goes quite a way back in non TESOL programs.
A similar debate has also been occurring in the UK through the excellent blog site set up by Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener: demandhighelt.wordpress.com. These authors are focussing on the potential for deep learning: they question whether the tasks and techniques that we often utilise in the ELT (English Language Training) classroom are ends in themselves? They are not putting themselves out to be anti-communicative approach or anti-dogme or anti-task based learning they are simply posing some rudimentary questions and asking for a greater depth of tangible engagement and learning.
Of course the debate would be that all of this flies in the face of Discovery Learning but I have a feeling that the mighty pendulum might be swinging back somewhat to the teaching of the basics and that in Australia at least we might be starting to express our shock at the poor literacy and numeracy skills with which our children are exiting secondary school.
At Phoenix we are about to welcome another cohort of Arabic speaking students and have found in the past that they have reasonable speaking and listening skills but very low levels of reading and writing skills. This is what prompted me to start thinking about streaming and the methodology that we use to teach these types of clients. Interested to hear other educators thoughts on this topic?
Robynne Walsh is the Principal of Phoenix Academy in Perth, Western Australia. The school who is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, offers a wide variety of language courses, from General English to Academic pathways and Corporate training. Over the years, the school has also developed its own ITE- Teacher Training Department and recently, Robynne has initiated networking events for senior teachers and trainers.