A mom called this week to talk to me about the school district offering a computer program (“Orton-Gillingham based, was the claim) that was providing “direct instruction.”  The mom questioned whether the program was “direct instruction,” as the school was telling her it was.

Listen, if I get a tennis ball machine to feed balls to me, that can be very valuable for improving my game, but it’s called “PRACTICE.”  When the tennis instructor breaks down the skills for me, shows me how to do a skill, watches me hit, and gives me feedback, it’s “Direct Instruction.”

Related to the issue of direct instruction vs. practice, parents will also be told that their child is slated to receive “in-class support.”  In-class support may involve direct instruction, but this needs to be clarified, as chances are the in-class support is of the “don’t-let-the child-drown in the deep end of the pool” variety.  That is, a lifeguard is  close by in the deep end of the pool with the child, but not teaching the child to swim.  That is usually what “in-class support” involves.

Direct instruction involves the teaching of specific skills in a structured, sequential manner, with one skill being directly taught to mastery, leading to the next skill to be taught.

As a side point, while it is nice if the child is given one-on-one instruction, direct instruction can also be delivered in a small group (ideally, no larger than four in a group).  A tennis teacher can do a fine job directly instructing in a group.

Takeaway Point

Practicing on the computer with a program that has been designated as “evidenced based”  (aren’t they all) or that has the elements of, say an Orton-based program, may be very good for your child to do as an activity.  It is not “direct instruction.”  Chances are “in-class support” isn’t either.