Explicit Instruction: An Instructional Strategy Lost in Translation
It’s no secret that teachers interpret and implement instructional strategies in different ways that meets the needs of their students. Last week I wrote the blog post “My Students are Below Grade Level…..Now What? and posted the article in the Facebook group Mathematics Education Research. I was blown away by the responses that I received in objection to using direct explicit instruction and not discovery to introduce math concepts to my students. I was kind of confused as to why teachers would object to an instructional strategy that helps struggling students to effectively learn concepts. Then out of no where the voice of reason spoke in the form of a Facebook comment that said,
“I don’t think language around pedagogy is universally consistent enough for this kind take-away. I bet what this author was referring to as explicit instruction before a problem-solving activity is what I would consider a “launch” to make sure all the kids can access the context and mathematics necessary to *make sense of what the problem is asking,* not the math necessary to *solve* the problem.”
When I read this comment it resonated with me because she was absolutely correct. During the discussion on Twitter and Facebook the educators’ understanding of what explicit instruction is was not consistent. They believed that discovery was best even when students had a history of failure and gaps in learning.
Using discovery to introduce a concept has its place but in the words of Dr. Anita Archer it is not an either or….but a when to use explicit instruction and discovery.
Teachers are like doctors we assess and then diagnose our students’ achievement or lack of achievement. If the pedagogical knowledge is not consistent, then using explicit instruction is not an option for many teachers. The lack of using explicit instruction as an another instructional strategy can be detrimental for many students who have a history of failure and little or no background knowledge of the topic. When students have a history of failure it signals that students have gaps in learning or do not have a good frame of reference of what the thinking should look like in order to achieve mastery of a concept.
I know many teachers view professional development as a waste of time but sometimes is can be very valuable. Even though I have been teaching for 15 years and I sometimes feel like I have heard it all, I treat each professional development session, Twitter Chat, and Facebook discussion as an opportunity to learn something new. If I don’t learn anything new then I look at it as time well spent with like minded educators!