Direct(ing) instruction

I liked the idea in this chapter of Wiggins that direct instruction is only one aspect of causing learning, and that design is perhaps more important. I especially appreciated the amplification of uncovering as way to provide hierarchy; that seemed to tie in with Ellen Gagne’s network/system ideas. I expected Wiggins to extend the concept of “textbook as information tool” to Google; I see my kids using Google to look up facts (dangerous, but I see the value) which could be a valid and innovative approach if they relied on the Internet for facts to keep their minds free for big ideas (I doubt they actually do that–they are probably keeping their minds free for social activities). That would tie in with Rousseau’s observation that the (unlearned) child sees objects (facts) but not the relationships that link those; the linking requires experience. Google provides the facts; immersive problems would provide the linking experience.

I loved the very practical suggestion to pull statements out of textbooks and turn them into questions, but I found myself wanting examples of how to provide appropriate (not over) simplification. Two strategy-application pairings provided clarity: direct instruction with discrete knowledge that asks students to hear and answer (seems like S-R); constructivist methods with ill-defined problems (prone to misunderstanding) that asks students to reflect and extend. The third pairing–guided practice with revision–seemed like a separate concept that would work in either case. The same was true in the discussion on timing: direct instruction and facilitated instruction seem distinct types while performance applies to both. This was somewhat implied later in the admonition to, “use knowledge quickly”; whether it’s declarative or conceptual knowledge, learners should apply it as soon as possible.

The guidelines were excellent although I have to think how these can be applied in an online course:

  • Less talk
  • Less front-loading
  • Pre- and post-reflection
  • Use models

The established knowledge versus new knowledge chart made sense although I would have liked more explicit application to design. To some extent this was developed later in the chapter when the idea that factual knowledge (but only what’s necessary to get started) must be learned and then applied to a more complex (and conceptual) performance; then more facts are learned and applied to an increasingly authentic performance task. At this point, I expected Wiggins to draw the connection between factual mastery and automaticity. I disagree that direct instruction occurs only while learners perform and after they perform; it occurs before as well (it’s just that we can’t spend too much time up-front on direct instruction; the learners need to jump in quickly).

The techniques were useful although duplicative (at least in intent); the ones I found most useful were:

  • Summary
  • One-minute essay
  • Analogy prompt
  • VisualĀ  representation
  • Misconception check