Direct instruction

Today during third period I went to observe a new teacher, MD.  My cooperating teacher recommended her.  MD has been teaching for long enough that she is almost ready to retire.

The first thing I noticed about MD was that she was using direct instruction.  This seems like an instructional method that’s very popular in the mathematics department at the school I am observing.  Our program emphasizes other teaching methods as having distinct advantages over direct instruction, so it has been interesting to me to see so many people using it.

What I realized as I watched MD was that although she was engaging in something that looked like direct instruction, she was engaging the students in a way that made them an active part in her dialogue.  For example, she would put a problem up on the document camera, and ask the students to start working.  As they did, she would begin talking about the problem.  She might point out how is was similar to another problem the had recently done, or make some other comment to direct the students’ thinking.  Then should would begin to ask the students questions about how they were working through the problem.  At no time did she stand at the front of the class.  As she talked, she walked among the desks, looking at the progress individual students were making.  Sometimes she would make a quiet comment to answer a private question or encourage good work.  Other times she would ask students to share what their thinking with the class as a whole.  Although the discussion was teacher-led and not student-led, it appeared that the students expected to be involved.  When called on, they did not hesitate to share their work with the class.  They often asked questions out loud in a way that made me think they were addressed to the class at large, rather than MD.  She would usually either ask the class to answer, or call on a specific student.  I assumed that in her wandering, she was keeping track of where most of her students were, so she knew who could be a resource on what part of the problem they were working on.

This observation led me to go back and re-evaluate what I had been seeing in other classes.  I realized that while some teachers were engaging in direct instruction in a way that very closely resembled lecture, many were engaged in the same kind of back-and-forth dialogue I had seen with MD (some more that others).


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