Opinion
Education Opinion

The Instruction War

By Walt Gardner — April 27, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The debate pitting supporters of discovery learning against supporters of fully guided instruction seems finally settled. “Decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance” (“Putting Students on the Path to Learning,” American Educator, Spring 2012).

I agree with the conclusion. But I hasten to point out that there will always be students who, for one reason or another, possess advanced knowledge or are self-directed. Teachers who happen to inherit a class of these students will post impressive results in spite of - not because of - their instruction. They then can claim credit for what they don’t deserve. At the start of my career in the classroom, I happened to be given a 10th grade English class that was composed of students whose parents were professors, doctors, lawyers or corporate executives. They made me look good because of their backgrounds. In today’s parlance, I demonstrated value-added. Yet I didn’t deserve the kudos.

Therein lies one of the problems of the accountability movement. Teachers are understandably reluctant to teach in schools where most students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s not because they’re lazy or incompetent. It’s that they will not likely have students like the ones I had. Therefore, they’ll be saddled with the Sisyphean task of bringing their students up to proficiency. Let’s not forget that no matter how dedicated these teachers are, they have their students for only a small part of the day. The rest of their students’ waking hours are spent in the home and neighborhood.

That’s why fully guided instruction is particularly valuable for students who come to school with deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development. Time in school is limited. Allowing students to discover what they believe is the correct solution and then find out that it is wrong does them a disservice because research has shown they tend to remember their solution - not the correction. I realize that some of the most important lessons we retain come from failure, but I think confusion and frustration should be avoided as much as possible in learning.

In short, laissez-faire education, whereby students design their own education, is a gamble unlikely to pay off. Nevertheless, schools established along this line exist even in today’s accountability era. Their appeal is to parents who want their children to escape the stress caused by regimentation in traditional schools. That is their right. But I doubt that students by themselves can ever learn as much by discovery as they can from inspired teachers.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)