Exploratory Direct Instruction

Posted on July 22, 2011


Usually, anti-DI stuff doesn’t make much of an impression on me. I expected the same from this article at Slate.com saying that preschool shouldn’t be like school and specifically challenging the edicts that federally funded pre-schools have more direct instruction.
After all, I don’t teach pre-school, so I expected to agree, to a point… and I expected the usual “DI stunts creativity and discovery” mantras – the ones that imply that if you have DI in your curriculum, you spend the entire day droning out responses in chorus, as if grinding out scales practice absolutely precludes being able to make real music, ever.
However, this article got into some specifics. To wit:
“For one group of children, the experimenter said: “I just found this toy!” As she brought out the toy, she pulled the first tube, as if by accident, and it squeaked. She acted surprised (“Huh! Did you see that? Let me try to do that!”) and pulled the tube again to make it squeak a second time. With the other children, the experimenter acted more like a teacher. She said, “I’m going to show you how my toy works. Watch this!” and deliberately made the tube squeak. Then she left both groups of children alone to play with the toy.

All of the children pulled the first tube to make it squeak. The question was whether they would also learn about the other things the toy could do. The children from the first group played with the toy longer and discovered more of its “hidden” features than those in the second group. In other words, direct instruction made the children less curious and less likely to discover new information. ”

and then, a different “give kids a new toy” study:
Daphna ran through the same nine sequences with all the children, but with one group, she acted as if she were clueless about the toy. (“Wow, look at this toy. I wonder how it works? Let’s try this,” she said.) With the other group, she acted like a teacher. (“Here’s how my toy works.”) When she acted clueless, many of the children figured out the most intelligent way of getting the toy to play music (performing just the two key actions, something Daphna had not demonstrated). But when Daphna acted like a teacher, the children imitated her exactly, rather than discovering the more intelligent and more novel two-action solution.

I vividly remember Doc McNelis putting problems on the board and feigning complete confusion. It was really effective — but we did *not* have “I don’t get math” baggage.
I can’t imagine it would be particularly easy to set up an interactive activity that starts out with “what on earth could we do here?” but I’ll keep it in mind 😉

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