Preface from Book
As educators, we all have the same goal: to help our students make the maximum possible academic gains in a positive, respectful environment that promotes their success and nurtures their desire to learn. One of the greatest tools available to us in this pursuit is explicit instruction—instruction that is systematic, direct, engaging, and success oriented. The effectiveness of explicit instruction has been validated again and again in research involving both general education and special education students. While it has proven to be very helpful for normally progressing students, it is essential for students with learning challenges. Explicit instruction is absolutely necessary in teaching content that students could not otherwise discover. For example, without explicit input, how would an individual discover the sound associated with a letter, the quantity associated with a number, the steps in an efficient math algorithm, the order of operations in algebra, the process for sounding out words, the construction of a persuasive essay, the elements in scientific inquiry, or a spelling rule for dropping the final e? Explicit instruction is helpful not only when discovery is impossible, but when discovery may be inaccurate, inadequate, incomplete, or inefficient. For example, a student may generate a strategy for taking notes on text, but the strategy may be laborious and the notes incomprehensible. This student would benefit from explicit instruction on a more effective alternative. Another student may have a cursory idea of a concept through reading text, but may need explicit instruction to ensure that the nuances of the concept are understood.
The goal of this book is to empower teachers in the use of explicit instruction, given that it is both an effective and efficient procedure for teaching our children. We begin in Chapter 1 with a review of the basic elements, principles, and research on explicit instruction. In Chapters 2, 3, and 4, explicit instruction is applied to skills and strategies, vocabulary and concepts, and rules—three types of content that all educators teach and that students have difficulty discovering independently. Within these chapters, basic instructional procedures are presented and illustrated with example lessons representing many content areas, grade levels, and student populations (special education and general education). In Chapter 2, a general model of instruction including the steps of modeling, prompted or guided practice, and unprompted practice (referred to as I do it. We do it. You do it.) is introduced and applied to the teaching of skills and strategies in which students perform some behavior (e.g., sounding out a word, writing a coherent paragraph, completing a science experiment). Chapter 3 focuses on research-validated practices for selecting and teaching vocabulary terms and their underlying conceptual base, using both examples and non-examples. Chapter 4 concentrates on the importance of using examples and non-examples when teaching rules or lawful (If–Then) relationships.
Although teachers are certainly empowered when they understand the explicit instructional steps involved in teaching this content, there is so much more to teaching than developing lesson plans. In Chapter 5, we focus on establishing an environment and climate that supports both teachers and students. We provide suggestions for organizing the physical space and for establishing and introducing classroom rules, guidelines, procedures, and routines. When these systematic actions are taken, the resulting environment will be more peaceful and productive.
Perhaps the most important aspect of explicit instruction is the delivery of lessons. A teacher can design a perfect lesson plan, but if this plan is delivered in a manner that fails to involve or engage students, learning will not occur. Because effective delivery of instruction is paramount in explicit instruction, two chapters are dedicated to this topic. Chapter 6 presents scientifically validated procedures for gaining responses in small or large groups, with abundant examples to enliven the procedures. Chapter 7 extends the discussion of delivery skills with an emphasis on monitoring students’ responses, providing feedback on correct and incorrect responses, and maintaining a brisk pace that helps to engage students
Chapter 8 concentrates on a topic too seldom discussed and implemented in classrooms: appropriate practice, including initial, distributed, and cumulative practice implemented as independent work or homework. If skills, strategies, vocabulary, concepts, or rules are briefly introduced without adequate subsequent practice, the result is that students are “overexposed and underdeveloped,” lacking the level of mastery and automaticity needed for effortless performance.
In keeping with the book’s focus on explicit instruction, we have marshaled the same procedures in writing each of the chapters. Each teaching procedure is explained, then modeled with example items and lessons and in some cases contrasted with non-example lessons, and finally practiced through the application exercises. However, it is difficult to capture in print the dynamic, interactive nature of instruction. For this reason, we have established a companion website (www.explicitinstruction.org) where you can watch or download video clips of lessons illustrating the book’s procedures. Other materials, such as additional example lessons and application exercises, are also posted on the website.
You may be wondering: How does this book fit into a series titled What Works for Special-Needs Learners? The answers are intervention and prevention. First, explicit instruction is at the heart of scientifically based interventions for special-needs learners in all of the content areas covered in previous books in this series: word recognition, reading comprehension, writing, and mathematics. Research (see Chapter 1) has made it very clear that interventions for special-needs students, whether intensive or strategic, require well-organized, explicit instruction that is unambiguous if they are to thrive academically. Second, explicit instruction is also at the heart of prevention—those actions taken in our schools to reduce the number of students requiring strategic or intensive interventions and to promote achievement gains across students. Given that the research supporting explicit instruction is equally strong in regard to teaching academic skills, strategies, and concepts in general education classes (especially in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics), initial instruction must be clear, explicit, and engaging so that all students can thrive.
Our desire in writing this book is to support you, the teachers, who have the very demanding task of delivering instruction on a daily basis, knowing that the fate of children’s academic growth is truly in your hands. As you read these chapters, including the embedded example lessons, you will find that they reinforce much of what you already know. Be sure to acknowledge your current knowledge. In some cases, you will be reminded of a practice that you are currently not using but could include or reinstate within your daily teaching. Finally, we hope to expand your knowledge of effective and efficient teaching, for it is our strong belief that “how well you teach = how well they learn.”
As you will see, effective and efficient explicit instruction requires that we attend to the details of instruction because the details do make a significant difference in providing quality instruction that promotes growth and success. Thus, we must remember our English teacher’s mantra: Don’t forget to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. (Did you miss the designer’s humor in creating the cover?)
With deep respect and humility, we thank you for your dedication to children and our shared profession.
Anita L. Archer
Charles A. Hughes
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