Project Follow Through and Direct Instruction
Finally, I'm writing about the Direct Instruction conference that I attended last week in beautiful Eugene, Oregon.
My first two morning sessions was on the myths and research on Direct Instruction. In this seminar, we were introduced to Project Follow Through, a study that was initiated by President Johnson in order to evaluate the effectiveness of educational programs for disadvantaged children. During the years of 1968 to 1976, Project Follow Through studied up to 10,000 children from 120 communities.
There were nine different programs studied and each program was placed in one of three categories: basic skills, cognitive-conceptual learning, and affective learning. The basic skills category focus is on teaching children fundamental skills in reading, arithmetic, language, and spelling. Cognitive-conceptual learning emphasizes "learning to learn" and problem-solving skills. Finally, affective-cognitive learning primarily focused on building up self-esteem, with a secondary emphasis on "learning to learn" skills.
I think the most important aspect of this study is that it was done independent of any of the proponents of these programs. Remember, the study was implemented by the federal government, data was gathered by the Stanford Research Institute and analyzed by Abt Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This data was "derived from a battery of five tests administered to "cohorts" (followed from either kindergarten through third grade or first through third grade) of more than 9,000 Follow Through students matched with a control group of 6,500 students from non-Follow Through school sites."(see Project Follow Through
…A Billion Dollar Government Study That Education Bureaucrats Keep Trying To Bury).
The results of this study were that of all the instructional models, Direct Instruction out-performed them all. Perhaps more importantly, those models whose emphasis was on cognitive learning and affective learning and which one would think would out perform Direct Instruction in those areas, failed to do so. Following is a graph that shows the results from Project Follow Through. (Please note: the first three are considered basic skills models, the second three are considered cognitive learning models, and the final three are affective learning models.)
So, where does this lead us as educators today and why is so little known about Project Follow Through?
To answer the first question, I still strongly feel that as educators it's important to use a variety of strategies to reach all students. However, I also know that in the school that I've worked in for the past five years, I continue to see students coming into 6th grade reading years below grade level. I haven't taught using the REACH program (a Direct Instruction curriculum) but at its core is the belief that using the strategies from this program, students can make incredible gains in a year and a half.
In the upcoming school year, the students in who will be in my REACH classes (a block of three hours) are reading at the 2nd/3rd grade level. The 6th grade Language Arts text that I have taught from in the past is written for those students whose reading level is no more than a year below grade level. As a teacher, I've always had students who were struggling readers manage to be successful because they never gave up. I worry, however, about those students who struggled, despite my best efforts to make the text accessible to them, who at some point in the school year, simply gave up. It is my hope that REACH will help these students by closing gaps in reading (i.e., decoding and comprehension) so that when they are ready to transition into a "regular" classroom, they can be successful.
One of the major criticisms of the Direct Instruction program is the scripts that teachers are required to read. The scripts have been devised to get the most bang for their buck. At this point, I'm holding off on making any comments about the scripts until I've actually taught the program.
So, why do we know so little about Project Follow Through? According to many of the facilitators at the Direct Instruction conference, those in the Department of Education (DOE) refused to to choose any one model over the other. Instead, the DOE sought to publish information about all the models and let districts decide for themselves what curriculum model to choose for their students. Many at the Direct Instruction conference (and also articles online) are very critical of teacher preparation programs offered at colleges and universities because so many of these programs embrace cognitive learning and affective learning models, while brushing aside basic skills models and more specifically Direct Instruction.
Okay, so now I'll leave you with some reading on Direct Instruction so that you can form your own opinion. As for me, school starts in a couple of weeks and I will be using REACH (a direct instruction/basic skills) program. Until I actually use the program, my own opinions will be held in check, but I will be writing on my own experience on this blog.