Is Direct Instruction Better Bite-Sized?
I’m not sure why I can’t stop watching this video, because it’s “delivering” scientific content in probably one of the most ineffectual teaching modalities in today’s classroom, direct instruction. Besides just being a euphemism for “lecturing”, direct instruction has been on the decline in several classrooms due to the always-connected, media rich learning environments that students today have become accustomed to. I can recall endless hours listening to the drone of the instructor, and dutifully taking notes during my World History course in high school, or my Modern East Asia course as an undergrad, and while I passed the tests and quizzes in those classes with ease, I really can’t recall any specific piece of knowledge or information that I can attribute having learned in either of those courses.
However, watching this video, which really doesn’t do a whole lot to change the model of lecture besides adding some illustrative graphics and animations, I’m left wondering if it’s the brief nature of the instruction that makes me feel as though it’s going to stick in my head for quite some time.
Perhaps it’s just my inner digital native clinging to the imagery, or the slightly clever delivery, but I’m curious to know if more direct instruction were cut into bite-size chunks like this, would it be much easier to “deliver content”, and get to some of the deeper conversations revolving around that content, such as why is it even important that we know so much about the moon?
I’ll admit, I don’t have a full mastery of every teaching technique, strategy, or practice out there, and I doubt that I ever will, but having experienced various forms of direct instruction as both a student and a practitioner, I know that it isn’t always the most effective form of instruction, especially for students that are much more sensory or visual/spatial in nature. Whether it’s heavily scripted instructional materials, or a 45-minute lecture on the significance of Roman architecture, the old stand-by lecture seems to have gone missing as of late in many classrooms in favor of problem-based learning and hands on exploratory learning.
Not to cherry pick data to support my thesis, but Purdue published research that indicated hands-on projects trump direct instruction in terms of engaging students in the area of technology and engineering, so it’s not too far of a leap to say that a different approach to instruction might be equally engaging in other areas. Which is what takes me back to the beginning of this piece; I find this video on the Moon, while obviously done slightly tongue-in-cheek, to be very engaging, despite its roots in typical lecturing pedagogy. Which led me to believe that perhaps the brief nature of the video is what made it so engaging for me. The quick facts, humorous delivery, and animations delivered in rapid succession is something that you rarely see in classrooms, especially by teachers that are far too busy to have the time to create material like this (myself included).
This tiny snippet of direct instruction gets my brain thinking about the moon in ways that typical lectures usually don’t engage me; if the moon really is moving away from the Earth at a rate of 4cm per year, and we gain 15 microseconds each day because of it, how does a leap year figure into that equation? What happens to the gravitational effect of the moon on the oceans as it drifts farther away, and where can I go to corroborate all of this information (don’t want to be gullible just because it’s well done). I used small snippets of video in the computer lab when introducing concepts that were foreign to my students. Short clips from Bill Nye about e-waste, or NASA video about satellite imagery when studying Google Earth helped introduce concepts beyond the experience of a typical 5th grader, and I’m left wondering, if this strategy of presenting small bite-size clips of direct instruction worked for me, does it work in other classrooms as well.