Published: Wednesday, April 18 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT
Discovery learning is nothing new. It keeps coming around as a fad every 30
years, except the colleges of education teach nothing else. Project
Follow-Through is a far bigger study than any cited in this article. It proved
conclusively that Direct Instruction is better in the short run AND in the long
run. However discovery learning, like spice to a meal, is good in limited
doses.College of Education advocates of discovery learning preach
nothing but discovery learning. That caused the counter-reaction that gave us
the accountability movement and NCLB - the fact that teachers are taught to NOT
do direct instruction and to use discovery only. If teacher trainers could get
the right balance (10% discovery and 90% direct instruction), we wouldn't
I agree mostly with you Chuck. College of education students are taught to use
direct instruction sparingly, even in graduate level courses. Direct instruction
is set up to be a weaker delivery method and last resort and those teachers that
use it most of the time are shown as being less-effective.That being
said, most direct instruction is stale (it doesn't have to be, but is).
Students tend to get bored; teachers tend to get bored. I have found that my
students really enjoy the discovery method more. I get more out of them and have
less to worry about with discipline and getting kids to pay attention.So, why some of the studies may show that direct instruction is more
beneficial, that would only be true if the kids were actually paying attention.
My classroom is pretty much set up to be a 50/50 split between the two and it
works pretty well. At least based off of my observations, as well as my
administrators observations, and my students' test scores.
The words "hot teaching trend" are a big part of what plagues schools
today. Everyone from politicians to entrepreneurs claims to know the answer,
even though they generally have no training to back up their assertions and
their conflicts of self-interest make their motives suspect. The real truth
about education is that there is no one, single answer. Every child is unique.
Teachers can learn the subject matter and general theory but, like parenting, it
is individual attention and experience, not testing and punitive measures, that
provide the greatest hope for children.
As a teacher, I've always wondered exactly where the line is. These
studies seem to suggest you choose one or the other. If I'm lecturing and
I pose a problem to the class, they brainstorm possible solutions, then I
elaborate on the correct answer, which have I used? One doesn't have to
teach either with dry lecture or with complete lack of instruction. I agree
with Chuck, direct instruction 90% of the time, with the occasional moment of
discovery learning is best.
Ugh...not again. The largest education study ever conducted anywhere, anytime,
is called Project Follow Through. Google it and you'll see what a miserable
failure discovery learning is. It should be used sparingly as a tool, not as a
Here we go again. Every 20 years or so there is a new fad that is going to
revolutionize teaching. Team teaching, open classrooms, New Math, computerized
learning, and now Discovery Learning. Anything to keep from recognizing the
truth that teaching (and learning) is hard work.Sure, we learn
better when we discover the rules ourselves. The problem is that we then
don't benefit from the fact that our teachers discovered the rules.
Progress is going to be slow if we have to re-invent the wheel each
generation.I took Constitutional Law at Stanford, a thousand years
ago, learning a tremendous amount about thinking skills, legal reasoning, and
more U.S. history than I had learned in four years at Columbia. But at my
professor's insistence, I started out by memorizing the cases. "Never
despise the lowly fact," Dr. Horn used to say. And he was right. Until you
have a basis, you can't build a superstructure.Gordon S.
JonesMA Ed Stanford 1968
Good teachers look for good ideas that produce good results. Good teachers have
a broad palate filled with all kinds of colorful, exciting, effective methods.
They seek new ideas, try them, evaluate them, hang on to the ones that work and
discard the rest. Learning to be a good teacher is a never ending process. Some of the worst teachers I ever encountered were the Education
professors who were supposed to teach me to be a teacher.Every time
I was called upon to supervise a student teacher, the first thing I tried to do
was convince them they could forget most of what they'd learned in those
How do you think these education guru's make any money...They find an old
"hot fad" and reintroduce it then charge $5,000 a workshop to go from
district to district training the unenlightened. The other concept that needs
to be addressed in our over crowded system is the classroom management of our
glorified day-care system. How do you keep 36-40 youngsters focused on some
obscure problem. At least direct instruction keeps them all in their seats and
facing forward and that keeps the principal's happy. As Mark
Twain is attributed to saying, never get schooling confused with education.
I am a software engineer. In my work I have to learn something new daily, and it
is usually "discovery learning". Of course, is somebody wrote a list
that told me a piece at a time and in the right order everything I needed to
learn for the day, I would get the job done faster. But such lists do not exist.
When I know enough write one, I often automate the task, so its execution is a
matter of typing one single command instead of following several pages of
instructions. Thus the value of an employee is in his ability to learn via
discovery learning. So I teach my children (in home school) like this. Give them
a challenge and watch them struggle. Then give hints. When they provide a wrong
answer, show them how they could have seen for themselves their answer was
wrong. Never give a hint until they've paid the price. Lead them like that
to the solution.It does not matter how much material you cover if you do
not learn how to learn.
Direct Instruction establishes the fundamentals necessary for higher level
applications and thinking methods. DI also allows rapid assessment, full
participation and a very high level of structure which students thrive in.My views on Discovery based learning are mostly based on my college
experience where Investigations math was being implemented. I remember after my
first observation of a live classroom where this approach was being orchestrated
being dismayed. There were about thirty students, our college professor, the
classroom teacher and about a third of my cohort group in the room. What our
professor lauded as a brilliant lesson I knew deeply was a disaster. There were
way too many students who had been programmed to coast on other people's
work. One table of six students, two bright young girls did the entire problem
by themselves allowing the others to sign on to the completed work. I saw at
least three groups in that room where one or two students had achieved the
expected outcome.Discovery based learning is better done one on one
than in groups.
I think the problem most teachers have is the lack of funding for materials.
Most teachers pay out of pocket for items to be used in their classroom. Even
one simple experiment, as discussed in the article, could mean 20 dollars out of
the teachers pocket. Do that 1 -2 times a week, and it adds up fast. Most
teachers want to teach like this, but don't have the personal funds to do
I think the Discovery method is great - for highly self-motivated students. What
happens when you put kids in groups for a project? A couple do the work, a
couple watch (which ends up being direct instruction of a sort,right?), and a
couple goof off. A mix of methods is usually best when you have a mix of
Wonderful article! Thank you.
Home Schooling is the only answer. Utah is to tied up with the Feds in
Washington who tell us what we can teach and not teach. The Feds tie the
teachers hands and thoughts. Gone are the days that our teachers could use love
of children and their talents to teach successfully.
There are two awful things about this article:1. It doesn't
acknowlege that DI has been proven, over and over as most effective in bringing
students to mastery, teaching them critical thinking AND gaining confidence as
learners (as many above have said, see "project follow through".)2. It erroneously ties discovery learning to the CCSS. The CCSS
(Common Core State Standards) are standards - a framework of content - but not a
pedagogy. DI and Discovery Learning are pedagogies.Discovery
Learning is effective in VERY limited settings, while learning very specific
things and in a controlled manner. In any other case, students often make
erroneous conclusions when left to their own "discoveries", which are
invisible to the teacher, and remain with the student, polluting their learning
until the time the misconceptions are revealed and a teacher has to help correct
them (and all the subsequent conclusions the student drew based upon the first
@Sasha - I too am a software engineer. Yes, we have to "discover"
solutions to new problems every day. But how often do you program in assembly
code? Or pascal? How often do you write code that generates random numbers
instead of using the predefined random() function? How often do you write the
code for calendar/date/time functions?The fact is, we don't
reinvent the wheel every day. We build on the blocks that have been laid for us
by predecessors. Discovery learning happens and needs to happen, but without
direct instruction on how structures (basic or complex) work, you'll never
get to a point where "discovery learning" can happen.
I don't know exactly what kind of instruction I'm using as a teacher
so help me out.Sometimes in my classes I lecture, ask questions, get
feedback but I'm doing much of the talking.Sometimes I am
leading a discussion, asking higher level questions, getting responses from my
students, being like a talk-show trying to get students to talk nicely to each,
present points, debate topics, defend positions.Sometimes, I put
students in group to work on projects and figure out problems.Sometimes I show a video or a movie that might give more insight on a topic or
augment past lessons.Sometimes I have my students read something.Sometimes I bring in guest speakers or go out in the field and show
students how they can apply concepts.Sometimes I challenge my
students to work on their own time, involving even their parents to solve a
problem, discuss issues etc.To sound evil to the one poster above,
sometimes I work with another teacher and try to show students how subjects
integrate together. In fact, if I had one education reform I could make, I would
put two teachers in a classroom.
To be continued:I also where I can love to use technology to
instruct and also enjoy seeing my students produce something to show their
learning whether it be research reports, a power point, a multi-media
project.Every once in a while I like to do mock simulations such as
debates, role playing games etc.I guess I probably use direct
instruction and discovery learning. I will use whatever I can to not only teach
content but teach the joy of learning. I don't apologize for my methods, I
think I can get results.And lastly, and perhaps the best teaching of
all, in my coaching my athletes could actually "do" the skill. So
whatever skill I was teaching, it was best that I model it, and let them do it
over and over again and give feedback to them. But I also learned (gasp) that
sometimes my athletes could invent their own techniques that were useful if they
were based on solid principles and that sometimes they learned skills better
when they had to teach them and sometimes they learned the skill faster from
other athletes. Sometimes they also learned from trial and error
Obviously both direct instruction and discovery learning are useful techniques
and should both be used at times.
Instruction? Direct discovery? These questions shouldn't be the focus.At the end of the day, kids need to know how to read and be subjected to
great literature, they need to have an intelligent grasp of history, they need
to know how to solve math problems etc.
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