Book Review: The researchED Guide to Explicit and Direct Instruction. Edited by Adam Boxer

May 8, 2021


The researchED Guide to Explicit & Direct Instruction: An evidence-informed guide for teachers edited by Adam Boxer. Published by John Catt Educational Limited. £12 

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased. 

This is one of those short, but packed, education books that are probably best bought in bulk, or on special offer. This one covers the benefits of explicit instruction, the history of Englemann’s Direct Instruction, and more detailed explanation of how his ideas might be used in practice. In the end, I think I’d rather have seen more of the first two and rather less of the third.

Having become a teacher in an era where teacher talk was demonised, I think it’s great to see books about the value of explicit instruction. The most interesting chapters are those that talk about the history of Englemann’s Direct Instruction – a method of explicit teaching based on carefully designed scripted lessons – and how it was vindicated by a massive research trial entitled “Project Follow Through” – but somehow subsequently neglected for being against the tide of educational opinion.

Other parts of the book explain the benefits of explicit instruction in general, but also outline what was unique about Englemann’s contribution. A lot of the chapters explain how Englemann sequenced his work through various principles that determined what examples, and patterns of examples, would be most effective. While it’s intellectually interesting to see the connections between pedagogy and reasoning, a lot of these parts of the book assume the reader will have a lot of time to plan examples and sequences of instruction which, unfortunately, is not the case for a lot of classroom teachers. Perhaps those parts of the book are most useful for those creating resources, or planning curriculums.

Some chapters give examples of applying Englemann’s ideas in practice, but in some cases these examples are probably too subject specific for those unfamiliar with the topic to get much from. I was completely lost in the chapter about teaching electrolysis, but more at home in the one about teaching fractions. There’s probably a gap in the market for anyone who can find a way to write about these ideas without relying too much on subject specific examples. Alternatively, what may be needed is subject specific books on these ideas.

Overall, this book reads like a starting point, and perhaps the aim is to get people engaged with a wider body of work that is already out there, rather than a source of ideas that can be immediately applied. Somewhere I have a copy of Englemann’s Theory Of Instruction, and this book certainly increased my enthusiasm to get started on it.


One comment

  1. I haven’t read the book you reviewed, so I can’t speak as to the amount of overlap, but I was sold on Direct Instruction after reading ‘Could John Stuart Mill Have Saved Our Schools?’ by Siegfried Engelmann and Douglas Carnine. The online version on Amzn is about the same price.

    You are correct that trying to design the scripts/sequences yourself with everything structured for maximum effect is hard and very time consuming. Having examples to work from is very useful. However, I had a payoff on my first use with a KS3 dyslexic learner that I was giving one-to-one instruction to. Working through a well conceived script quickly flagged up a misunderstanding they had apparently been carrying around in maths for years which had previously remained hidden.

    I am lucky enough to be working in a support role (I do have a PGCE) mostly in my own subject of expertise, so I have far more time to work on scripts than a teacher would, but its still very slow going.

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