Outstanding Lessons – A quick guide to Explicit Instruction – Better Learners Series

Outstanding lessons involve having a deep understanding of learning.  Explicit (direct) Instruction has been found to be a highly effective way to teach. Explicit instruction is where the teacher guides the student through the learning. Sharing knowledge and  taking the students through graded worked examples. As the students gain confidence and expertise, the support is  gradually removed  until the students are working independently.

The main features of Explicit Instruction:

Design Phase

  1. The teacher has carefully thought about the ‘big picture’ or ‘big question’ How what they are learning relates to other topics. Prior skills and knowledge are connected and built on.
  2. Carefully thought out and shared objectives that consider what knowledge is needed  – things to know (declarative) , skills (procedural)  and when to use/not use these (conditional) or problem solving
  3. What knowlege and misconceptions the students may start with is thought about and how to find out/deal with these planned for
  4. The skills are broken down with , if appropriate, the simplest and most frequently used ones taught first. Complex skills are taught in parts to build up a sequenced whole
  5. Working memory and cognitive load are considered with only single skills being taught at a time with plenty of practice
  6. Lots of examples are prepared that are graded, allowing scaffolding – supporting the students as the tasks and skills get harder

Delivery Phase

  1. Objectives are shared with the students
  2. Students consider what they already know
  3. Feedback ensures the teacher knows the starting point and misconceptions and uses these to inform the rest of the lesson
  4. The knowledge and skills required are explicitly taught in a step by step way with plenty of feedback and student involvement
  5. Many examples are given showing what works and what doesn’t. The teacher verbalises their thought processes (Visible Thinking) as they work through these examples.
  6. The students are given the graded examples and guided through by the teacher
  7. The students continue to solve the problems and learn the material  until they become fluent (Deliberate Practice)
  8. The teacher removes support, but continues to gather feedback and reteaches concepts if needed
  9. Previously learned skills are also practised (Interleaving)
  10. Students are regularly tested and the data used to inform future lessons.

Dissect Phase – For Truly Outstanding Teachers

The teacher considers what worked and what didn’t and updates the plans

What is good about Explicit Instruction ?

Explicit instruction is a very efficient way of passing on knowledge. There is a huge amount of research that suggests that for early learning of literacy and numeracy that explicit instruction is the way forward . A great post by Jo Kirby outlines the research . Teachers can be taught exactly how to deliver lessons even to the point of scripting them. The debate rages as to whether this reduces teaching to mere acting or  is actually a good idea. In some countries where the quality of teaching can be very low schools such as The Bridge Schools offer a complete package – A tablet is given to the teacher and every child in every school will listen to exactly the same lesson at the same time.  Sensible, as the students all get the same opportunities in education or dehumanising robotics?

Explicit instruction is a very good way of teaching students how to pass tests where the questions will be familiar.

Whats not to like?

I will declare here that I usually hate being taught in this way, unless I know very little about what I am learning. The very nature of explicit instruction is that the teacher dictates what happens. I get bored and restless if someone controls the pace at which I am learning.I also accept that I am probably an outlier and hope not to fall into the trap of teaching like I like to be taught.

Critics of Explicit Instruction also point to the assumption that this way of imparting knowledge  leads to improved problem solving abilities.  The evidence for this link is not clear across all subjects. As with all educational research there are so many variables that results can be difficult to replicate

Explicit instruction does not always take into account cultural differences nor the outliers. Fundamentally it comes down to the argument of whether the teacher should follow a systematic, ‘best’ route or adapt to what class is in front of them at the time.

The biggest problem with explicit instruction is that it is often done very badly. Common problems

  • Not focussing on the ‘Big Idea or question’ and students not fully aware of what they are doing
  • Insufficient linking of learning with other areas leading to little transferable akill development
  • Not fully appreciating the skills required, nor the best order to teach them
  • Too teacher centred – Too little student interaction. Students are passive
  • Not withdrawing support and creating dependent learners (Seems to me to be particularly prevalent in high achieving girls’ schools )
  • Teaching to the test so students score very highly if the questions are familiar, but struggle if they are not

I feel that explicit instruction is a very powerful tool if used correctly. I also believe that it isnt the only tool we should use. Please follow this blog for the latest updates in the better learners series for implicit and soon to be released Outstanding Lesson planning sheets a draft one is shown below – I set a time limit of 7 minutes to fill it in so it is very much a draft

Draft Design  planning for Energy Topic
Draft Design planning for Energy Topic

I am going to create a series of these so please follow the blog if you want more


One thought on “Outstanding Lessons – A quick guide to Explicit Instruction – Better Learners Series

  1. Neil I really enjoyed the session on how to have an Outstanding lesson on Monday at Kenton. I am already implementing a lot of your ideas in my class. The ipad session was a bit rushed but I will ask ICT dept to help me out as this is an area that freaks me out.

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