Dear Sage On The Stage: Alternatives to Direct Instruction

Picture this: you sign up to attend a professional development program and you’re fired up about the speakers and topics. You’re eager to soak everything in and really get some great takeaways from the experience. But then the speaker comes up and just…lectures.

As adults, we sometimes forget that lecture-style teaching isn’t the best way to make information resonate and ‘stick’ with learners. Click To Tweet

As adults, we sometimes forget that lecture-style teaching isn’t the best way to make information resonate and ‘stick’ with learners. This traditional style of teaching became popular during the Industrial Revolution, when the learning environment consisted of desks in rows. The focus was on delivering information to students, who did not have access to it any other way, and encouraging rote memorization.

Fast forward to today, and we have access to way more information than we could ever want. The demands from our modern workforce dictate that we need learners to enter the world with the ability to collaborate and think critically. Teachers have the opportunity to use all of their creative abilities to create amazing learning experiences for students. Students can easily gain these skills now because teachers don’t have to spend time delivering information that is readily available.

Direct instruction seems like it’s an effective way to pass on information, but in reality, very little of this information sticks with learners. Unless learners are able to apply the information in real-time and learn in a hands-on way, it’s unlikely that they will absorb the information.

That means that direct instruction puts a bigger burden on teachers, who want to pass on information, as well as students, who need to learn.

What can we do?

Alternatives to direct instruction

There are many alternatives to lecture-style teaching. The key is to ensure learners are actively engaged in the process of learning. Listening to a lecture isn’t the best way for students to synthesize information that ‘sticks.’

Try these alternatives to direct instruction to motivate students to take the reins of their own learning.

Learning groups

Learning groups are a great alternative. Place students in clusters of desks where they have the opportunity to collaborate with one another. Let the students conduct research on a particular topic. They can create roles and norms to govern how the group operates.

Learning groups enable students to both teach themselves and teach others in their group. Click To Tweet

Learning groups enable students to both teach themselves and teach others in their group. The educator acts as a facilitator, answering questions and guiding learners through the research process. The educator can then also pull small groups for more effective direct instruction in smaller groups.

Simulations

Many students learn through example. Simulations are a fantastic way to encourage learning through real-world applications.

For example, if you’re teaching professional ethics, you can stage skits put on by the students about different ethical situations. Freeze the skits and quiz the class on what they should do in the situation. Simulations also work well in history classes to re-enact famous speeches, English classes to breathe life into Shakespeare, and even math classes to demonstrate how math principles translate into the real world.

Simulations shake things up in the classroom and allow students to explore their creativity while learning. Bringing the lessons to life deepens the understanding and retention of information.

Problem-solving in the community

Learners need to be Future Ready, and that means they should emerge from our public schools as educated citizens.

In our fast-paced digital world, it’s important to instill a sense of empathy in our students. Direct instruction makes it difficult for students to concern themselves with real-world issues. A great way to encourage learners to develop empathy while they learn is through community problem-solving.

Let’s say you’re an English teacher and your 7th grade class is reading the book Holes. Once students read the book, they can take on a group project addressing the issue of prison reform. Students conduct research through a structured process and present their findings to the class at the end of the project.

Tackling a community problem gets learners more engaged when they realize they can take on real-world issues. Click To Tweet

Tackling a community problem gets learners more engaged when they realize they can take on real-world issues. It’s an excellent way to provide relevant learning experiences.

Looking for more resources? Here are 50 other alternatives to direct instruction.

Active learning can take many forms. The key is that learners are in charge of their learning while feeling motivated. That’s much more powerful and effective than listening to the sage on the stage.


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