Explicit & Direct Instruction: An Evidence-Informed Guide for Teachers

5th March 2020

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Explicit & Direct Instruction: An Evidence-Informed Guide for Teachers, Edited by Tom Boxer, Series Editor Tom Bennett. This wonderful short book lays out everything you need to know about Direct Instruction, a precise way of teaching that research has shown to be one of the very best approaches to use in a classroom. (Doug Lemov’s admirable Teach Like a Champion uses many techniques of Direct Instruction.) What we found to be most useful in this book was the discussion of how to select the best set of example problems when trying to give students an intuitive foundation for what they are learning.  Real people, after all, must often learn from very limited data-sets, unlike many of the approaches used in artificial intelligence. We also appreciated learning the history of why Direct Instruction has been too long been ignored, and is only now coming into its deserved prominence. Enjoy!

Research Culture: Framework for Advancing Rigorous Research

Check out this new research paper (Barb is amongst the co-authors), on the pressing need to increase the rigor of research in the life and biomedical sciences. There is even more need for educating about the need for rigor in educational research.

Change Can Be Made to Align with Teaching with Scientific Findings

This outstanding article from the New York Times shows how research findings related to phonics have finally made headway in changing and improving how reading is taught to students. And here are followup thoughts on the article from the ever-reliable Dan Willingham. This provides hope for much-needed improvement in the area of math education—as noted below.

Want to Be a Real Social Justice Warrior?  Criticize Reform Math Educators and Curricula

Even with our hard-bitten, curmudgeonly eye towards trends in modern education, we’ve been taken aback to learn of the latest attempts, in our opinion (we pointedly add),  to impede educational advances through the use of lawsuits and intimations of legal action. Those who think that proper science eventually wins often don’t consider how clever use of legal action and the threat of legal action can block the proper back and forth that allows scientific processes to unfold.

A parent, Blain Dillard, who has been sued by a discovery math curriculum vendor MVP, (can you even imagine a curriculum vendor suing a parent for critical comments?) has written a blog post “Surviving a SLAPP Lawsuit: Advice for Education Activists.” Key grafs: “I started this blog with that article because there was simply too much in my head I wanted to communicate and I didn’t think Facebook was conducive for laying out my case in what I thought was a well-presented argument outlining my reasoning.  Little did I know then that my words would eventually be cited in a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) against me, courtesy of Utah-based Mathematics Vision Project (MVP), the math curriculum vendor which provides resources and professional development to my school district (Wake County Public School System, NC), one of the top 15 largest districts in the USA.”

“Without talking directly about my particular lawsuit, I would like to share some advice with the many fellow parents and educators who are using social media or the public square (ie. school board meetings) to fight for the educational futures of students everywhere.  

“In the event you are being effective in your critique, you too may become a target of a SLAPP lawsuit. According to Wikipedia, these are ‘lawsuits that are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition…’ 

“In the area in which I am an activist – education – the opposition runs in vicious circles and has dollars backing them.  They are often driven by ideology, and may find it more effective to file a SLAPP lawsuit to silence criticism from an individual, versus engaging in debate using publicly available data and peer-reviewed research.”  

Lend a Hand to Parent Who Is Standing Up for Your Rights

If you’d like to contribute to courageous Blain’s GoFundMe debt payoff, go here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mvp-lawsuit-debt-payoff. (We donated.) If you’re a parent, remember that Blain is standing up not only for your children’s rights to a good education, but for your rights as a parent to speak out.

Quick Fixes and True Believers

Along those lines, another concerned parent adds “The challenge is people want a quick fix and it’s often embraced at the cost of teaching. There is no magic bullet. Teaching math requires diligence and a solid plan to lay down basic skills that are often thought of as boring topics by adults, but not children! I listen to followers of Jo Boaler and some of the other gurus and I am flabbergasted at the zeal and ‘closed ear’ syndrome—it seems they will die believing what is said is gospel truth.” 

Incidentally, philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote a book about this type of fanaticism, True Believer, [available free on Kindle] based on his observations of national fanaticism during World War II. And of course, followers are often perfect examples of pathological altruists.

In the Front Lines of Scientific Truth

Professor Robert Craigen at the University of Manitoba provides another example of why math education often does not shift as it should in response to solid scientific criticism. He occasionally tweets critical comments related to the poor scientific underpinnings of a surprisingly large percentage of “research” in education, which of course means that he also tweets about Jo Boaler’s work.  Rather than address the scientific issue, Boaler’s response is to tweet back that she has made her lawyer aware of his statements. We can’t help but gasp—What? This is the response of a legitimate researcher? 

Craigen continues: “It is an error to back down when you are certain what you’ve said or done stands up to legal tests and you feel strongly enough about them.  The whole point of threats is to use your fear of litigation as a means to coerce behavior you wouldn’t otherwise do, and once you start backing down you’ve really lost the battle.  SLAPP is indeed a problem and I wish there were solid anti-SLAPP legislation here in Canada, but threats of the same nature begin long before you’re actually hauled before a court — the very suggestion that it might happen may be enough for bad actors to get satisfaction from those who aren’t ready to battle it out.  It’s a form of bullying. (Though, of course, it is you who are accused of being the bully. That’s all part of the game.)

Don’t Miss researchED Philadelphia 2020

If you are interested in meeting fellow educators and parents who are concerned about good teaching in accordance with what cognitive psychology and neuroscience is actually telling us, plan to attend researchED in Philadelphia on October 24th, 2020!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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