Developing Independent Learners

  • On 2013-10-09
  • direct instruction, explicit instruction, independent learners, student centred learning

In John Hattie’s meta-analyses of the highest impacting teaching approaches you will find explicit teacher-led instruction or direct instruction. Quite often teachers ask me what does this mean in practice and what its relation to developing independent learners is.

Direct Instruction does not mean teacher centred learning.Gradual Release

Whilst it is teacher directed it is teaching that is focused on directing student attention toward specific learning in a highly structured environment so as to produce specific learning outcomes.

John Sweller, an academic at the University of NSW specialising in how children best learn, supports Direct Instruction when he writes: “Information should always be presented in direct rather than indirect form. Children, especially boys, need a structured, orderly environment where there are clear guidelines about what needs to be accomplished and where there is immediate feedback” [The Australian, August 18 2012]

An important characteristic of direct instruction involves modelling skills and behaviours and modelling thinking. This involves the teacher thinking out loud when working through problems and demonstrating processes for students. The attention of students is important and listening and observations are key to success.

What is its purpose?

Explicit teaching is useful for introducing topics and specific skills. It provides guided instruction in the basic understanding of required skills, which students can then build on through practice, collaboration, repetition, hands on activities and developmental chewing over.

 How do I do it?

Explicit instruction is a sequence of supports:

  1. setting a purpose for learning
  2. telling students what to do
  3. showing them how to do it
  4. guiding their hands-on application of the new learning.

Explicit instruction begins with setting the stage for learning, followed by a clear explanation of what to do (telling), followed by modelling of the process (showing), followed by multiple opportunities for practice (guiding) until independence is attained. Explicit instruction moves systematically from extensive teacher input and little student responsibility initially — to total student responsibility and minimal teacher involvement at the conclusion of the learning cycle. Vygotsky identified this as the Gradual Release of Responsibility process from student to the teacher.

 Unpacking the Process

The best unpacking of the process in detail that I have read comes from David Didau, an English teacher who writes the Learning Spy blog in the UK. Rather than summarise, here is the sequence of 5 blogs where David unpacked the teaching sequence for developing independence.

  1. Teaching Sequence for Developing Independence – Great Teaching Happens in Cycles
  2. Teaching Sequence for Developing Independence – Stage 1 Explain
  3. Teaching Sequence for Developing Independence – Stage 2 Model
  4. Teaching Sequence for Developing Independence – Stage 3 Scaffold
  5. Teaching Sequence for Developing Independence – Stage 4 Practise


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