I was recently invited to debate the merits of direct instruction and project-based learning with Drew Perkins on the TeachThought podcast. It was fun being back on the other side of the interview table after hosting so many consecutive episodes of Progressively Incorrect.
There are a couple of tweaks I would make to my “performance” if I were to have a do-over, but overall, I am actually pretty satisfied with the result. In my view, teachers should teach with techniques derived from the science of learning and instruction. Worked examples help students to see a more sophisticated way of doing things. Retrieval practice helps to cement previously learned information that is not quite secure. Practice needs to be deliberate and spaced out over time, and feedback opportunities need to be frequent and timely. Rosenshine called this arsenal of teaching ingredients direct instruction (note the lowercase d and i).
If a PBL system maintains all of these ingredients at a similar dosage as direct instruction – such as by doing teacher-led whole class inquiries into a particular topic – it’ll be much more effective than one with a low dosage of these ingredients. Too often, PBL is designed so that students have infrequent opportunities to learn from an expert’s examples and feedback, and retrieval practice is non-systematic or non-existent. The cause is not the project, necessarily, but that the teacher’s attention is divided up across too many students doing too many different projects. This leads to long stretches of discovery learning – which Drew agrees is not an efficient method for teaching – for the students who are waiting for guidance from a multi-tasking teacher.
This is all just a taste, please check out the episode by clicking the link below: