May 9, 2007

The State of “Direct Teacher Centered Instruction”

Carroll Andrew Morse

I was reading an article in the current issue of City Journal by Sol Stern about the state of Catholic Schools in general and of New York City’s Rice High School in particular when I came across these sentences that startled me a bit…

When I went unannounced into classrooms [at Rice High School], I encountered teachers standing at the front of the class and students working quietly at individual desks, aligned in straight rows. (This method of direct, teacher-centered instruction is, of course, anathema to progressive educators, but it surely works.)
Any of the teachers, students, or parents in the audience have any idea what Stern is talking about, and/or any comments on the state of “direct, teacher-centered instruction” in the state of Rhode Island?

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Gee, that's how I learned and I can read, make change, know who the founding fathers are, and do long division.

Posted by: Greg at May 9, 2007 11:04 AM

Honestly, I'm asking the question because I'm really not sure what the alternatives are and how prevalent they are.

Posted by: Andrew at May 9, 2007 2:28 PM

If one Google's the subject of teachers colleges, one finds much material (including a Congressional hearing some years ago) decrying the low standards of educational programs, including:

They are often used as cash cows for the sponsoring college rather than as a real academic venture);

The low caliber of students who enroll in these programs (makes sense, wouldn't the under-skilled and under-motivated be attracted to the relatively high-paying, un-demanding and unaccountable (i.e., job security) field of public education ... with summers off to boot!

The emphasis on "socialist world view" pedagogy / political correctness /indoctrination rather than substantive knowledge of content areas or educational accomplishment / achievement.

This latter is what explains "teacher centered instruction" that is an anathema to "progressive educators" (i.e., "professors" of "education").

Posted by: Tom W at May 9, 2007 3:01 PM

Well (because you seem truly interested), a workable definition (sourced from of both teacher and student centered learning is at the end of this post.

A very basic college level example would be big lecture hall (teacher-centered) versus a small discussion section or laboratory (student-centered), which also illustrates why both methodologies have their uses and can be used in conjunction with each other. It is probably unfair for any conclusion to be drawn by walking into a given classroom for a single, short observation. Unfortunately, as with so many other issues involving education, these methodologies can become the subject to a political debate.

Student-centered learning (SCL), or learner-centeredness, is a learning model that places the student (learner) in the center of the learning process. In student-centered learning, students are active participants in their learning; they learn at their own pace and use their own strategies; they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated; learning is more individualized than standardized. Student-centered learning develops learning-how-to-learn skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and reflective thinking. Student-centered learning accounts for and adapts to different learning styles of students (National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. 1999).

Student-centered learning is distinguished from teacher-centered learning, which is characterized by the transmission of information from a knowledge expert (teacher) to a relatively passive recipient (student/learner) or consumer. According to McCombs and Whisler (1997), learner-centered learning is
the perspective that couples a focus on individual learners (their heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities and needs) with a focus on learning (the best available knowledge about learning and how it occurs and about teaching practices that are most effective in promoting the highest levels of motivation, learning and achievement for all learners). (p. 9)

Posted by: Bob Walsh at May 9, 2007 3:13 PM

Different methods work best for different kids & different situations. One size does not fit all.

For example, I am a visual learner. If I see it, I can recall it by "visualizing" where I saw it. If you taught me using only an oral method & I counld't write it down, I'd be lost.

Some teaching situations work best with teacher-centered instruction. An example is if I presented the periodic table to you. If it were taught as student-centered, I'd guide students through situations wherein they would discover the same info on their own.

While student-centered may not work that well for teaching the periodic table, it would work quite well for learning about gravity.

What works best in a heterogenous classroom situation is a combination of methods inclusive of all. To accomplish this, you need well-trained teachers. And if you're going to stick them for most of the day in little rooms that often have no windows, you need small class sizes. Size does matter.

Without the proper materials to promote varied learning styles, you're sunk.

Posted by: eileen at May 10, 2007 1:36 AM

There was a landmark Department of Education study from 1967 – 1995 referred to as Project Follow Through (I could not find a direct link but a search will turn up plenty of references to it). This seems to be the largest and most expensive education study ever undertaken. It’s purpose was, as a part of the war on poverty, to study which teaching methods are most effective in the classroom, especially the inner city/lower socioeconomic classroom. The study specifically compared Direct methods of teaching to other Constructivist (student centered) methods. The results show that Direct methods of teaching are by far the most effective instructional technique. There is no comparison, Direct methods were shown to be far superior to all other methods.

With respect to this study, the education establishment has been criticized for ignoring the science when it comes to Direct methods. This fits nicely with Bob Walsh’s comments. He clearly favors student centered methods. He also seemed to try to imply that Direct methods are ill favored because they are associated with larger classroom size, while student centered methods and their small class sizes are superior. It’s not surprising that the NEA would be promoting small classroom sizes, which would result in more union dues, but why are they not emphasizing the most effective teaching methods?

Posted by: Frank at May 10, 2007 12:08 PM

>>It’s not surprising that the NEA would be promoting small classroom sizes, which would result in more union dues, but why are they not emphasizing the most effective teaching methods.

Because NEA / AFT are not concerned with quality education.

Never have been; never will be.

In fairness to them, that is not the role of a labor union.

Their theoretical role is to maximize the pay of members, while minimizing the workload (and accountability) of their members, which in serves to maximize their members' compensation. By definition this means that unions are inherently averse to productivity and quality, for these necessitate workloads and accountability on the part of members.

The practical role of labor unions usually then morphs into the aggrandizement of the union officials at the expense of the membership.

The above is why unionization is inherently undesirable in the realm of taxpayer-financed, quasi-monopolistic public education.

Exhibit 1: the high cost and poor quality of public education in Rhode Island.

Posted by: Tom W at May 10, 2007 2:19 PM

The reason you cannot have intelligent conversation about issues on this BLOG is due to folks like Frank and Tom W.

I was simply providing some quick information to Andrew, and metioned "both methodologies have their uses" and specifically used an example from common experience that showed how both methods can be successfully integrated.

With apologies to those who seek real debate about the issues, I think it will be better in the future to focus on issues that matter, including quality public education, in other forums.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at May 10, 2007 3:05 PM

Ha! Good one Bob! Since when did real debate about real issues in public education not include discussion of the effectiveness of teaching methods?!! What a disgraceful position for you to take. Your point must be that the only real issues are those that the NEA does not get challenged on.

You shamelessly promoted an instructional style that has clearly been shown to be less effective than Direct instruction because it obviously benefits your organization’s political agenda. And now you’re complaining because you got called on it. Grow up.

Posted by: Frank at May 10, 2007 5:38 PM

If you are a fan of 'discovery' learning and an enemy of the standard algorithms, you are going to love the RI Dept of Ed's rollout of "First Steps in Mathmatics", the so-called "Australian" math model. RIDOE has contracted with Pearson Learning to provide professional development in First Steps.
The first training sessions have just been completed and Pearson is conducting a very hard sell, using sophisticated group-think techniques to quash dissent and promote its product. First Steps is a "constructivist" model that eschews not only algorithms, but textbooks, relying on the elementary school teacher---as if she is not already overburdened---to construct her own instructional materials for math. In short, it is pretty much the same 'Whole-math' approach that sparked the famous Math Wars in California 15 years ago and gave birth to "Mathematically Correct" the citizen group that eventually prevailed against it.

How could this be happening here in 2007?

Well, first, money, of course. Pearson and Edith Cowan University, the developers of the approach, stand to make a bundle.

But, most important, if there is anything you MUST understand about the 'Progressive' education thought-world, it is that it is absolutely insular and incapable of learning from its past mistakes. Who in Rhode Island education has heard of what happened regards math in California, or even in Massachusetts, for that matter?

Welcome to the Math Wars, Rhode Island!

(This news has not hit the press. No doubt, the publicity campaign will begin in the Fall. Right now, you must dig among your elementary school teacher connections. As for the First Steps research trail---good luck. There apparently isn't any. Very clever of Edith Cowan and Pearson. For the state of Australian education in general, start with Chester Finn's account of his recent Down-under sojourn at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation site. You might also enjoy the First Steps literacy program that is being pushed by the New England League of Middle Schools.)

Posted by: iggy at July 8, 2007 10:42 AM
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