Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann, co-developer of Direct Instruction

News articles, interviews, research, events and lots more - ready for your comments.
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:13 pm

This is world news - and my thanks to Dr Kerry Hempenstall for providing this information and warm tribute to a very special and important human being, Siegfried "Zig" Engelmann - born November 26, 1931 died February 15, 2019 - who co-developed the approach to instruction termed "Direct Instruction" (DI). Zig Engelmann was Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Oregon and Director of the National Institute for Direct Instruction.

Kerry writes:

On a personal note:

I was first introduced to DI in 1980, when the Australian Psychological Society invited Zig’s colleague, Wes Becker, to its national conference in Melbourne. At the time I was a young educational psychologist consulting in primary and secondary schools with the Victorian education department, and becoming aware of how little practical knowledge I had to offer schools with their day-to-day student learning and behaviour issues. I had obtained very few useful resources, either from my teacher training or my post-graduate studies.

Wes’s vibrant presentation on DI was a revelation to me, and he also spoke of its strong results in the huge national US experiment on effective teaching models known as Project Follow Through. The notion of selecting methods of instruction based upon demonstrable student outcomes resonated strongly, and offered a pathway to a workable and productive style of educational practice.

I subsequently employed DI in local schools successfully, and was drawn to further study. I resigned from the Victorian education department in 1992 for RMIT University as a lecturer, and completed a PhD with a study using the Corrective Reading program with mid-primary school students who were low progress readers. I subsequently taught DI to masters and doctoral students engaged in training parents to deliver DI programs.

Meeting Zig in 2004 at the DI Conference in Oregon was a personal highlight in my career, despite my being over-whelmed and unable to express all I wished to say. I have some continued involvement with NIFDI in that I was invited to write a blog for them. However, I have no financial involvement with NIFDI

Kerry continues:

Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann, the co-developer of the educational model known as Direct Instruction (DI), died at his home on February 15, 2019 aged 87 years, after some months of illness. Zig’s career in education was both extended and productive. He received 9 funded research grants, and wrote 18 books, 27 book chapters and monographs, and 47 articles. In conjunction with colleagues, he was primarily responsible for an array of educational programs, including 20 in reading, eight in spelling, 18 in mathematics, 10 in language, and three in writing. Probably the most well-known of these are Reading Mastery, Spelling Mastery, and Corrective Reading. In recognition of his contribution to education, he was awarded a Professorship in Education at the University of Oregon. Engelmann was also the director of the non-profit National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI).

What is Zig’s contribution to education?

Zig had an unusual pathway into education. He was working in advertising, and interested in how an advertising message might be structured so that it was more likely to be remembered by children. Following this slightly chilling start, he became fascinated with the broader implications of this work, and moved into the education field.

Without denying the influence of genetics, he asked what are the limits on instruction to alter the learning trajectory of students - whether young, struggling students, second language learners, gifted, or average students? So, a major step was a shift in emphasis from the quality of the learner to the quality of instruction as a modifiable element in the learning process. For more than 50 years Engelmann productively addressed the conundrum of why some students learn following typical classroom instruction and some don’t. In avoiding the learner-at-fault explanation for the latter event, he began analyses of stimuli, communication, and behaviour as the important addressable variables. He developed a logical technique for designing curriculum with an emphasis on avoiding ambiguities that might distract students. He also considered the gulf between a given curriculum and the resultant student outcomes. His approach focusses upon what processes are necessary when a teacher, working from a curriculum, attempts to ensure students master the concepts/knowledge/tasks/routines that the curriculum contains. Thus instructional quality becomes a necessary component of interventions. That the philosophy and principles of instruction have been able to be translated into so many instructional programs is further testimony to their validity. The wide range of curriculum domains addressed by DI programs includes reading, writing, language, spelling, maths, and spoken English.

For those interested in detail about his programs, there are many journal and web articles. See the NIFDI pages ( and Zig’s own site ( for a start. See also the reference list at the end.

What is the background to his message?

Empathy for students who suffer the indignity of sustained educational failure clearly drove Engelmann’s endeavours. This is reflected in his shifting of the focus from student responsibility to an instructional focus. This empathy was not simply a saddening recognition (a hollow bemoaning) of a supposedly inevitable reality but a determination to do something productive about it. His capacity to show how this can be achieved has changed the life trajectory of many of these students.

Following his death, there will be much written about the substance of his work. I decided to largely let Zig’s words carry his message about Direct Instruction and its development.

“If we are humanists, we begin with the obvious fact that the children we work with are perfectly capable of learning anything that we have to teach. We further recognize that we should be able to engineer the learning so that it is reinforcing—perhaps not “fun,” but challenging and engaging. We then proceed to do it— not to continue talking about it. We try to control these variables that are potentially within our control so that they facilitate learning. We train the teacher, design the program, work out a reasonable daily schedule, and leave NOTHING TO CHANCE. We monitor and we respond quickly to problems. We respond quickly and effectively because we consider the problems moral and we conceive of ourselves as providing a uniquely important function-particularly for those children who would most certainly fail without our concerted help. We function as advocates for the children, with the understanding that if we fail, the children will be seriously pre-empted from doing things with their lives, such as having important career options and achieving some potential values for society. We should respond to inadequate teaching as we would to problems of physical abuse. Just as our sense of humanity would not permit us to allow child abuse in the physical sense, we should not tolerate it in the cognitive setting. We should be intolerant because we know what can be achieved if children are taught appropriately. We know that the intellectual crippling of children is caused overwhelmingly by faulty instruction-not by faulty children.

Because of these convictions, we have little tolerance for traditional educational establishments. We feel that they must be changed so they achieve the goals of actually helping all children. This call for humanity can be expressed on two levels. On that of society: Let’s stop wasting incredible human potential through unenlightened practices and theories. On the level of children: Let’s recognize the incredible potential for being intelligent and creative possessed by even the least impressive children, and with unyielding passion. Let’s pursue the goal of assuring that this potential becomes reality.” (p.725)

Engelmann, Z., & Carnine, D. (2016). Theory of instruction: Principles and applications (Revised edition). Eugene, OR: NIFDI Press.

What is the message?

“The philosophy behind the program is basically simple. We say in effect; “Kid, it doesn’t matter how miserably your environment has failed to teach you the basic concepts that the average five-year-old has long since mastered. We’re not going to fail you. We’re not going to discriminate against you, or give up on you, regardless of how unready you may be according to traditional standards. We are not going to label you with a handle, such as dyslexic or brain-damaged, and feel that we have now exonerated ourselves from the responsibility of teaching you. We’re not going to punish you by requiring you to do things you can’t do. We’re not going to talk about your difficulties to learn. Rather, we will take you where you are, and we’ll teach you. And the extent to which we fail is our failure, not yours. We will not cop out by saying, “He can’t learn.” Rather, we will say, “I failed to teach him. So I better take a good look at what I did and try to figure out a better way.” (Zig Engelmann, unpublished)

DI and Explicit Instruction

It is of interest that many of the long standing elements of DI are now recognisable in those expressions evidence-based practice and systematic explicit instruction that have increasing currency in the world of education. Engelmann employed the term explicit in his writings, as a component of DI because it was represented in the means of instruction, but as his programs also incorporated the curriculum, the term explicit was not an overarching description of DI. Another term direct instruction (lower case) has also been used to refer to a broad set of educational programs that incorporate elements of systematic or explicit instruction. An explicit approach can be content free, and could be applied to any efforts to teach that employ explicit means of instruction. So, just because a program is described as explicit or direct instruction doesn’t necessarily mean it is effective. The quality of the content is as important as the explicit delivery method, and is a prerequisite for success.

Explicit instruction and direct instruction overlap greatly, and some might argue that they are basically the same thing. So when and why did much of the field move from “direct” to “explicit?” (p.143-4)

Hughes, C.A., Morris, J.R. Therrien, W.J., & Benson, S.K. (2017). Explicit instruction: Historical and contemporary contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 32(3), 140–148.

DI is best known for its reading programs, and from early on (i.e., 1969) it incorporated phonology in its approach to beginning reading:

“The difference between the Direct Instruction orientation to phonological skills and that of other early programs that presented children with phonological manipulations is the precise articulation of how the various skills served as necessary preskills for a beginning reading program in which children were to sound out and blend words. For Direct Instruction the needs were very precise and were based on analyses of the various reading tasks presented to the beginning reader. … The single purpose of these [phonological] tasks for DISTAR was to prepare children for specific decoding tasks they would soon encounter. The basic argument that Engelmann used for the necessity of phonological manipulations was that they were components of corresponding decoding manipulations. Component tasks are analytically “easier” to learn than tasks that incorporate the component (because these tasks involve the components plus additional components that must be coordinated). Therefore the components should be mastered before the more complex operations are introduced. The components involve less learning and less coordination. A similar argument would hold that the child should learn the “sounds” for the various letters that appear in the word to be decoded before being required to decode the word. Decoding each individual sound is a component of decoding the entire word. Therefore, the sounds for the various letters should be pretaught. … Another way of viewing the instructional-design question is to consider the possible causes of failure. When a child attempts to decode a word like ran (by sounding it out and then identifying it) the child could fail if the child did not know the sound for any component letter; similarly, if the child could not blend the various sounds, the child could fail. If the child has been pretaught various components (verbal blending, the sounds for the various letters, the orientation of ordering the sounds from left to right) the likelihood of failure is greatly reduced. Also, the ease of correcting the child who makes a mistake is greatly increased.” (p.43)

Engelmann, S. (1999, Winter). Phonemic awareness in Reading Mastery. Effective School Practices, 17(3), 43-49. Retrieved from ... /file.html

It’s not enough to simply write a curriculum. The orchestration of the detail of instruction is critical, and is a separate variable to the curriculum content.

Zig may downplay DI’s complexity; however, anyone reading of Theory of instruction: Principles and applications will quickly be dissuaded from the belief that instructional design is a simple matter, and that instructional issues are easily handled by most teachers.
“There is no big thing. It’s all pick, pick, picky details. Direct Instruction is just attention to a lot of tiny details” (Engelmann, 1977)

Hempenstall, K. (2014). Review of T. W. Wood (Ed.), Engelmann's Direct Instruction: Selected writings from the past half century. Eugene, OR: NIFDI Press.

“The field has to recognize that because highly effective educational programs are inventions, there is no intellectually honest way to describe their structure or why they are highly successful without presenting a myriad of criteria. These would not paint in brush strokes the size of a bulldog, but in picky details of how the tasks are formulated, how the example sets are designed, how the details of lessons are organized and sequenced from lesson to the next so that only about 10-15% of each lesson presents brand new material, how exercises are designed so they are unambiguous about details of the content, and therefore, how the analysis of the content permits the progressive and systematic transmission of the content to the average and low-performing students. If you think about it, you see that the program has to be an orchestration of detail. If it weren't the moment-to-moment performance of the students would not be smooth and successful but lumpy, with no control of tiny details that could make it smooth.”

Engelmann, S. (2004). Prologue to the Dalmatian and its spots: Why research-based recommendations fail Logic 101. Retrieved from
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Re: Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelman, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:17 pm

Kerry continues:

Is their evidence that these details have a beneficial effect on instruction?

“Engelmann did not formulate these principles from books or from abstract speculation about the way children learn. He formulated them through a painstaking process of trial and error in the classroom, then applied them to create a series of unique programs that outperform others in their power to teach many different subjects, to all kinds of children. His ideas have shown great predictive power: of the 55 studies conducted to test the validity of different assertions in Theory of Instruction, 54 confirmed the hypothesis tested.” (p.11)

Barbash, S. (2012). Clear teaching. Education Consumers Foundation. Retrieved from

Beyond attention to details is field trialling of all programs.

How many program designers field test every one of their programs, and modify elements based on student responses in classrooms to their tasks and routines? And this is done prior to publication.

“If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught—that’s not a slogan, it’s an operating principle,” he says. “You cannot fall in love with your own judgment. Every program we’ve ever done was significantly revised after field testing. The kids teach us how to do it. We let their mistakes show us where we stepped off the wrong side of the boat (Engelmann)” (Barbash, 2012, p.32)

Barbash, S. (2012). Clear teaching. Education Consumers Foundation. Retrieved from

Zig’s rationale for field trials?

“After we lay out a series of activities for teaching the subject, we have a choice. We can either say, “We’re done. The program is completed, and it will work,” or we can try out our rough-draft product in the classroom. We’ll choose the latter alternative because we have some concern for the kids, and we’re not arrogant enough to assume that the sequence we created in the sterile confines of our office will automatically translate into lively, effective instruction in the classroom.” (Zig Engelmann, unpublished)

Project Follow Through

As part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, this huge study pitted various educational models against each other to discover which would have the strongest impact on the educational performance of disadvantaged children. Over 700,000 children in 170 disadvantaged communities across the United States participated in this 1 billion-dollar study. Data on a variety of standardized achievement measures were collected by Stanford Research Institute and analyzed by Abt Associates. Broadly, the models were those emphasising the development of self-esteem, others aimed to stimulate higher order cognitive processes, and the third category comprised basic skills instruction. Engelmann's Direct Instruction was first in reading, math, spelling, language, and self-esteem - raising participating children's average scores in the basic skill areas to near the national average. However, there was little change in educational circles regarding the unpopularity of DI, much to Zig’s chagrin:

“It was pretty devastating. From the beginning of Project Follow Through, there was the promise that the models of instruction that performed best would be disseminated by the feds. We won every category, but the feds changed the rules and even denied that there were any winners. That was after we worked with our schools for ten years. … We lost at every turn. We have not been able to influence decision-makers to treat instruction of kids and training of teachers as technical enterprises that feed on data.”

Deitrick Price, B. (2018). Interview with Siegfried Engelmann: One of America’s great educators. Retrieved from ... educators/

Evidence of program effectiveness?

“Our results support earlier reviews of the DI effectiveness literature. The estimated effects were consistently positive. Most estimates would be considered medium to large using the criteria generally used in the psychological literature and substantially larger than the criterion of .25 typically used in education research (Tallmadge, 1977). Using the criteria recently suggested by Lipsey et al. (2012), 6 of the 10 baseline estimates and 8 of the 10 adjusted estimates in the reduced models would be considered huge. All but one of the remaining six estimates would be considered large. Only 1 of the 20 estimates, although positive, might be seen as educationally insignificant. … The strong positive results were similar across the 50 years of data; in articles, dissertations, and gray literature; across different types of research designs, assessments, outcome measures, and methods of calculating effects; across different types of samples and locales, student poverty status, race-ethnicity, at-risk status, and grade; across subjects and programs; after the intervention ceased; with researchers or teachers delivering the intervention; with experimental or usual comparison programs; and when other analytic methods, a broader sample, or other control variables were used.” (p. 500)

“Many current curriculum recommendations, such as those included within the Common Core, promote student-led and inquiry-based approaches with substantial ambiguity in instructional practices. The strong pattern of results presented in this article, appearing across all subject matters, student populations, settings, and age levels, should, at the least, imply a need for serious examination and reconsideration of these recommendations (see also Engelmann, 2014a; Morgan, Farkas, & Maczuga, 2015; Zhang, 2016). It is clear that students make sense of and interpret the information that they are given—but their learning is enhanced only when the information presented is explicit, logically organized, and clearly sequenced. To do anything less shirks the responsibility of effective instruction.” (p.502)

Stockard, J., Wood, T.W., Coughlin, C., & Khoury, C.R. (2018). The effectiveness of Direct Instruction curricula: A meta-analysis of a half century of research. Review of Educational Research, 88(4), 479–507. Retrieved from ... f_Research

“One of the common criticisms is that Direct Instruction works with very low-level or specific skills, and with lower ability and the youngest students. These are not the findings from the meta-analyses. The effects of Direct Instruction are similar for regular (d=0.99), and special education and lower ability students (d=0.86), higher for reading (d=0.89) than for mathematics (d=0.50), similar for the more low-level word attack (d=0.64) and also for high-level comprehension (d=0.54), and similar for elementary and high school students .The messages of these meta-analyses on Direct Instruction underline the power of stating the learning intentions and success criteria, and then engaging students in moving towards these. The teacher needs to invite the students to learn, provide much deliberative practice and modeling, and provide appropriate feedback and multiple opportunities to learn. Students need opportunities for independent practice, and then there need to be opportunities to learn the skill or knowledge implicit in the learning intention in contexts other than those directly taught” (pp. 206-7).

Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York: Routledge.
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Re: Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelman, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:20 pm

Further, Kerry notes:

Popularity? Nada!

“So why isn’t DI more popular? Critics—most of them outside the classroom— have a litany of complaints, all duly noted and refuted in this report. Their overriding reservation, however, is that DI contradicts much of what educators are taught to believe about “good” teaching. DI is old-school. It uses teaching practices that were scorned by Progressive Era reformers but widely used until education was swept up in the cultural revolution of the sixties and seventies. These include teacher-led exercises, skill grouping, choral responding, and repetition. DI also provides a carefully designed and tested script, not just a content outline or lesson plan from which the teacher endeavors to create an effective lesson.”

Barbash, S. (2012). Clear teaching. Education Consumers Foundation. Retrieved from

“Direct Instruction has been the subject of empirical research since its inception in the 1960s and has garnered a strong research base to support it. Despite its proven efficacy, Direct Instruction is not widely implemented and draws much criticism from some educators. This literature review details the components of Direct Instruction, research to support it and reported attitudes towards it. The aspects of Direct Instruction that attract the most criticism are broken down to determine just what it is that educators do not like about it. In addition, this review attempts to outline possible ways to improve the landscape for Direct Instruction by reviewing research on how best to achieve a shift in beliefs when adopting change in schools. This includes pre-service teacher education and professional development and support for practising teachers as a means of improving rates of implementation of Direct Instruction.” (p.137)

McMullen, F., & Madelaine, A. (2014) Why is there so much resistance to Direct Instruction? Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19(2), 137-151.

See also: Why does Direct Instruction evoke such rancour? In reference list.

Zig’s commitment to student success saw him impatient with education systems that did not match his determination to teach every child. Thus, his writings could be acerbic.

“Colleges of education: The product of nearly all colleges of education is a hopelessly ill-trained person with very few technical skills. Although the basic requirement of teachers in most districts is to "appropriately adapt instruction to the individual needs of the children," the graduates know little about corrections, firming, cumulative reviews, and procedures for teaching new discriminations and operations. Colleges are typically based on the "lecture model," with instructors who know very little about the technical side of instruction.

Anyone who has worked much in colleges knows that there is very little hope of achieving a "cooperative" effort from the faculty—the kind of effort necessary to introduce a good training program—because faculty members do pretty much what they want to do. They are not supervised, coordinated, or ordered to teach a certain way. The college, in other words, is the quintessence of laissez faire, operating on the assumption that if the faculty is permitted to be diverse and do their own thing, a reasonable product will emerge. Empirical data suggests that no such evolution has occurred, and the colleges remain as tributes to incompetence.”

“Local school districts: The greatest shortcoming of the districts is their failure to recognize that they must be responsible for the training and monitoring of teachers. Nearly every school district suggests that any new teacher must be able to "adjust instruction so that it is appropriate for individual students." Yet, this ability is never tested, and the district has virtually no capacity to induce it in the teachers who can't do it (which would include the vast majority of teachers). We have analyzed the skill level of teachers in typical school districts, and the results are appalling. The teachers typically know very little about the instructional programs that they use, have a very vague understanding of students' skill level or ability to perform on the topics that are "taught," and teach in a way that is not well designed to transmit information to the average student. Despite their skill deficiencies, however, the teachers are not monitored or trained.”

Educational publishers: Nearly all instructional material published by major publishers is not written by people who are experienced and effective teachers, is not actually "field tested," and is not designed in a way that will make instruction manageable. … Publishers of methods textbooks promulgate the party line of an armchair approach to instruction, rather than a scientific one. The teacher is presented as an omniscient assimilator of information and mediator of appropriate solutions; however, the texts avoid discussing the gritty detail that a teacher must deal with in teaching any topic. In summary, the publishers provide no relief from the incompetence created by the law, the colleges of education, and the local school districts. Instead, the publishers provide a compatible interface that tends to cement these components together.”

Engelmann, S. (1982). Advocacy for children. Retrieved from

“We should respond to inadequate teaching as we would to problems of physical abuse. Just as our sense of humanity would not permit us to allow child-abuse in the physical sense, we should not tolerate it in the cognitive setting. We should be intolerant because we know what can be achieved if children are taught appropriately. We know that the intellectual crippling of children is caused overwhelmingly by faulty instruction—not by faulty children.”

Engelmann, S., & Carnine, D. (1991). Theory of Instruction: Principles and applications. Eugene, OR: ADI Press.

“The educational system fails because it has a disregard for data. This disregard is nearly universal, even among those who cite data. The field's nonscientific stance pre-empts it from shaping educational practices by using the techniques that characterize scientific or systematic endeavors. The solution is implied by the problem: Install people who respect and understand data. In other words, put the kids first and use data on their performance as the ultimate yardstick of what actually works.”
Engelmann, S. (2004). Chapter one, data be damned. Retrieved from
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Re: Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelman, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:21 pm

Kerry adds:

When he wasn’t excoriating education systems, Zig found satisfaction in painting in watercolours, a number of which can be viewed at


It is perhaps too early to make firm judgements about Zig’s legacy. One hopes that the general acceptance in education that eluded him during his lifetime will eventually be bestowed as the movement towards evidence-based practice gathers momentum.
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Re: Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelman, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:25 pm

A few of the many references available:

Parsons, J.A., & Polson, D. (2017). Siegfried Engelmann and Direct Instruction.Psychology Learning Resources, Athabasca University. Retrieved from

Hempenstall, K. (2013). Why does Direct Instruction evoke such rancour? Retrieved from ... ncour.html

Hempenstall, K. (2018). Reviews supporting Direct Instruction program effectiveness. Retrieved from ... eness.html ... lf-century

Stockard, J. (2015). A brief summary of research on Direct Instruction. Retrieved from ... -2015/file

Engelmann, S. (1993). The curriculum as the cause of failure. Oregon Conference Monograph Journal, 5, 3-8. University of Oregon. Retrieved from

Education Consumers.Org (2015). Supplement: A summary of the results of Project Follow Through. Retrieved from

Engelmann, S., Becker, W. C., Carnine, D., & Gersten, R. (1988). The Direct Instruction Follow Through model: Design and outcomes. Education and Treatment of Children, 11(4), 303-317.

Gersten, R.M., Keating, T., & Becker, W. (1988). The continued impact of the Direct Instruction Model: Longitudinal studies of Follow Through students. Education and Treatment of Children, 11(4), 318-327.

Cathy Watkin's Book: ... 1881317048

Project Follow Through Wikipedia:

Bonnie Grossen on Project Follow Through:

Project Follow Through on NIFDI site:
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Re: Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelman, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:27 pm

Thank you to Yvonne Meyer for sharing this tribute to Zig written by Noel Pearson:

Siegfried Engelmann’s legacy: teach first and ask questions later

NOEL PEARSON, The Australian, FEBRUARY 23, 2019

Last week the inventor of direct instruction, Siegfried Engelmann, died at his home near Eugene, ­Oregon, in the US. The great American pedagogue was 87.

Among the lauded educational theorists of the 20th century — John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Paolo Friere and Lev Vygotsky — Engelmann was the greatest, if the most controversial.

His rich educational legacy is denied to too many schoolchildren because of the ideological stand-off between social constructivism and Direct Instruction. This is exemplified in the so-called reading wars between the exponents of whole language and the exponents of explicit teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness. The stand-off is between the exponents of inquiry and discovery learning by students, and teacher-led instruction.

I started focusing on this debate 20 years ago and began reading the evidence, visiting schools, talking to educators, theorists and practitioners and policymakers. I was persuaded by the evidence in favour of teacher-led, explicit instruction. I met Engelmann with a group of teachers and community education leaders from Cape York Peninsula in 2009.

That year the New Zealand academic John Hattie published Visible Learning, the most influential educational publication of the 21st century. Hattie’s meta-analyses of the evidence of what works in school education confirmed the effectiveness of DI.

We decided to introduce DI into two schools in Cape York the following year.

So what is direct instruction?

The cornerstone of direct instruction is effective teaching. This means lessons are teacher-directed and teacher communication is careful and deliberate, aiming for transparency and the avoidance of unintended miscommunication.

Learning objectives are clear to learners, and lessons follow an established plan from beginning to end. There is clear intent in every lesson, in terms of what the teaching is aiming to achieve and what learning is sought to be achieved.

There is today a wide variety of explicit and direct instruction methods. These can be understood as comprising denominations under a broad church of explicit pedagogy. Teachers may prefer a particular denomination, but they share many basic commonalities.

Since the 1960s an array of explicit pedagogies has developed: these are derivatives of Engelmann’s DI.

The elements of teaching practice were collated into a formal taxonomy by Barak Rosenshine in 1976, and derivatives included Anita Archer’s explicit instruction (US), John Hollingsworth and Sylvia Ybarra’s explicit direct instruction, Kevin Wheldall’s MultiLit (Australia) and John Fleming’s explicit instruction (Australia).

The core paradigm at the heart of these approaches is common: it starts with the teacher teaching. Engelmann called it “model, lead, test”. Archer more colloquially called it “I do, we do, you do”.

Engelmann’s most fundamental insight was that the teacher teaches first.

And yet what is the instinct of every adult who faces a classroom, each and every time, almost without fail? To ask a question.

It is ingrained into classroom practice for teachers to first ask questions. Indeed, the prevailing pedagogy is “question and answer”. Who knows this? Who can tell me that? What do you call this? Who can tell me why such and such?

Teach first turns the prevailing paradigm around to “provide answer and then ask question”. Always. Teach first says that there can be no learning first, until there is teaching first.

Sure, some or many of your ­students may be able to answer your question, but what about the students who cannot? Either because they do not know — because they have not been taught yet — or are not confident about their learning yet?

Be fair to all of the students: don’t ask them questions before you have taught the answer. The lesson is not a quiz, or a test to work out who is naturally smart, or who has prior knowledge thanks to their learning out of school or their family and social background.

Yes, the activation of prior knowledge is an important feature of effective teaching. But there are two ways to do this. The incorrect way is to ask questions first about the prior learning. The correct way is to remind and to recollect the prior learning.

Essentially, the rule about questions — particularly for novice, early-stage learners — is to avoid questions “out of the blue”.

It is true that Socratic teaching — via questions — can be a powerful mode of learning. However, the rigorous logic and content knowledge required of a teacher utilising a Socratic approach is beyond those without the pedagogical skills of Socrates, and while possible with one-on-one teaching, is impossible with a classroom po­pulated by a diversity of students.

Explicit pedagogy follows the same logical sequence of a Socratic approach, except that the sequence is taught up front in a transparent way rather than discovered through questioning.

Effective teaching through explicit pedagogy preferences teaching by the teacher before inquiry by the student. The evidence in favour of teaching before what is also called “discovery learning” is now clear. It is time to acknowledge and follow the evidence.

There is a place for inquiry, and it follows teaching.

The balance between teaching and inquiry in terms of emphasis and time must be properly calibrated. The latest evidence compiled by McKinsey & Company shows that the best-performing school systems in the PISA 2015 results are those in the Oceania region that have got the balance right between teaching and inquiry. The emphasis must make a more decisive shift to teacher-led instruction.

The “colour and movement” of inquiry learning, particularly the multimedia and multi-literacy ­aspects of “rich tasks” and “culminating projects and performances”, should not be confused with the learning progress. The evidence warns that too much inquiry learning involves students articulating what they know, rather than making learning progress through new teaching. Thousands of Australian schools that are fair, remain fair and do not make progress to good because the balance between teaching and inquiry is not right.

Thousands more that are good, remain good and do not progress to great for the same reason.

Engelmann leaves behind a prodigious legacy in favour of teacher-led instruction in school education.

His jaundice was always for social justice for the students who needed teachers to teach them if they were going to have any chance for a future: African-American kids, Hispanic kids, poor white kids. His operating principle for DI was: “If the student has not learned, the teacher has not taught.”

His 1981 Theory of Instruction, written with protege Doug Carnine, is the educational equivalent of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica or Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, a first-principles description of the science and logic behind direct instruction.

If ideology continues to deny the benefit of his pedagogy to the children who so require it, the science underpinning Engelmann’s art of effective teaching will stand the test of time regardless. ... afd8feb680
User avatar
Posts: 1878
Joined: Sat May 23, 2015 4:42 pm

Re: Tribute to Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann, co-developer of Direct Instruction

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:46 pm

Teacher-blogger, Greg Ashman, writes a tribute to Zig:

So long, Zig ... -long-zig/

With the parting words:

I think all of us would like to leave the world a better place than we found it. Zig Engelmann certainly achieved this, but I cannot help feeling that it could have been even better if more of us had listened.

Return to “Around the World: News and Events”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests