Explicit instruction – the teacher models, demonstrates and presents content to students (often with worked examples on a board).
When teachers are pictured in movies or on TV they are usually implementing some form of explicit instruction – standing at the front of the class, writing on the board, asking questions, giving feedback, having students answer specific questions from their textbook and so forth. What audiences see is similar to explicit instruction – the structured, systematic, routine, teacher-led, step-by-step delivery of course content. When non-teachers imagine a teacher in a classroom they think along the lines of explicit instruction – this is however only half the picture. Aspects of explicit instruction are rooted in old-fashioned traditional teaching methods with a few modern twists. Explicit instruction focuses on fast-paced short activities, worked examples, questioning techniques, feedback, adjustments, goals, reflection, opportunities to practise and a data-driven environment that targets areas of need.
Explicit instruction classrooms are highly controlled but are safe and engaging learning environments – students know what is expected of them and what they need to do to achieve it. These classrooms are goal-oriented and data-driven.
Explicit instruction is not a strategy per se, but a style of teaching that utilises a set of tried and tested strategies such as revision, modelling, guided and shared learning, worked examples, board work, pair and small group work, questioning and feedback techniques, formative assessment and short, sharp activities delivered in a high-paced ‘waste-no-time’ format.i Explicit instruction classrooms are highly controlled but are safe and engaging learning environments – students know what is expected of them and what they need to do to achieve it. These classrooms are goal-oriented and data-driven. Teachers work hard to develop rapport with students but do not go as far as trying to ‘befriend’ them.
Explicit instruction is considered by many to be good-old fashioned teaching: the teacher determines what students need to know and then teaches it – no new-age strategies with fancy names, no special resources or other ‘scientifically-proven’ techniques – simply show students what they need to know in small manageable steps and then let them practise. This definition of explicit instruction is not entirely incorrect, but it does oversimply what might just be one of the most difficult teaching strategies to master. Explicit instruction is the ultimate in multitasking: chunking, scaffolding and explaining complex content, answering tricky questions, completing worked examples, using think-alouds to explain your every thought, checking for understanding, accounting for various abilities, managing behaviour and doing all of those things with 30 students carefully watching, listening and analysing your every move. Explicit instruction is very teacher-centred, high-paced and highly structured, which can be intimidating for newcomers.
Explicit instruction is very teacher-centred, high-paced and highly structured, which can be intimidating for newcomers.
There are several key elements to explicit instruction which are outlined below:
Explicit instruction should not be confused with direct instruction or DI. Direct instruction requires the teacher to follow a pre-written script (from a textbook) which tells teachers what to say (literally word by word). It is not dissimilar to a movie script. DI is mainly associated with language and literacy learning. Students repeat words after the teacher in fast repetitive bursts of 2-3 seconds per word. For example, a teacher reads a word, students repeat the word, the teacher reads the next word, the students repeat it etc. As DI is used for foundational skills such as learning to read, it is mostly found in lower school grades.
A variation of DI is explicit direct instruction (EDI), which is actually quite different to DI. For starters, it doesn’t use a script, which is the main focus of DI. Unlike explicit instruction however (which is a set of recommended strategies such as modelling and feedback), EDI is much more rigid in what teachers are expected to do (explicit instruction is not much more than a loose collection of suggested techniques used in a lesson that broadly follows a traditional structure).iii
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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