Posted in Education, Humanities, Teaching

Is Teacher Directed Instruction Necessary?

When I was a student, the only way teachers taught was through direct instruction.  My teachers didn’t seem to trust us as students and so everything was spoon fed to us as though we were just pods in the factory.  Thanks to them, I had a lot to learn later in life.  If only my teachers had taken a risk and allowed me to think for myself and solve problems in creative and innovative ways, I might have blossomed into a doctor who found a cure to a communicable disease.  Sure, I learned something from my teachers, but most of that was what my textbook already told me.  I do wonder though, would I have benefited more from a mixture of student-centered and teacher directed instruction?

Yesterday, in my Humanities class, we decided to tryout some teacher directed instruction, as we know that our students will face classes like that in their future years as students.  We explained what we were doing and the purpose for doing so.  We introduced our new unit on Native Americans through short, teacher directed lessons on three of the tribes that at one time had inhabited the state of NH.  My tribe was the Androscoggin Tribe.  I had a short slideshow presentation with some arrowhead artifacts.  I explained the key attributes of the tribe while the students took notes.  I asked for a few student volunteers and called on some students to keep the conversation moving.  The boys seemed engaged and asked some insightful questions.  I kept my lesson to about eight minutes in length.  Even though the students seemed to enjoy the content of Native American tribes, would it have been more effective to allow the students to drive the conversation and research?  I never asked the students what they wanted to know about the tribe.  Would they have been more engaged with the content had I done so?  What if we had forgone the teacher directed lessons and gone right into the student-centered research project?  While we used this lesson as an opportunity to discuss how to take notes from and effectively sit through teacher directed instruction, was our content lesson necessary?  Couldn’t we just have explained how to stay focused and take notes from teacher directed lessons without the modeling?  Did this take away from what we were doing?  Is teacher directed instruction necessary?  Brain-based learning and research tells us, no.  Students need to be engaged with and find the relevance in the content.  If we tell our students what and how to think, will they be able to make connections and want to learn more?

Following the lesson, my co-teachers and I talked about how uncomfortable teacher directed instruction felt.  We don’t like talking that much.  Although the students seemed interested, we were not necessarily feeling that same way.  We would have rather introduced the research project in a more fun and engaging manner.  Did we need to do it through teacher directed instruction?  Is it necessary for our students?  If we want our students to learn and love doing so, we need to do away with teacher directed instruction and move towards creating a student-centered learning environment.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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