‘Drill and kill’? English schools turn to scripted lessons to raise standards

The Guardian reports that in a converted office block in an unprepossessing corner of west London, a year 10 class is working with intense concentration. The walls are grey and virtually bare; on the whiteboard is a cartoon-style story about a pilot marooned on a desert island.

At all times eyes are either down or focused on the school’s deputy head of English, Sarah Cullen. It’s as if there’s no need for any other visual stimulation, for she’s a one-woman whirlwind: the lesson is conducted at a frenetic pace; questions are rapid-fire and answered with an instant sea of hands.

At the end of each written exercise – for instance, adding a missing full-stop and capital letter to a sentence in a printed workbook – she’ll shout out: “3-2-1 …!” and clap her hands for the children to stop.

The generic name for what’s going on at the Michaela community school, a free school in Wembley, is direct instruction – a scripted lesson. This group of students are using these particular materials because they’re struggling with the English language, but most classes in the school have similar features – children and a teacher working through printed lesson materials, a quick-fire question and response interspersed with short written exercises.

Direct instruction is not widely used in the UK but it is on the rise, along with other structured or semi-scripted methods such as Shanghai maths – known here as maths mastery – and phonics programmes, in which teachers are given explicit instructions and materials.

There is new evidence here on the subject, too: Jeremy Hodgen, a professor of maths education at the UCL Institute of Education, has conducted two reviews of the evidence on what works in maths teaching, one for the Nuffield Foundation and one for the Education Endowment Foundation. The reviews are due to be published this month, and their findings will be largely positive.

Tom Bennett, the DfE’s behaviour tsar and the founder of ResearchED, a teaching conference company, says DI is much misunderstood. “Direct instruction is mischaracterised as ‘drill and kill’ – the idea that you lecture to passive students, that you don’t give feedback and that they’re not allowed to object, question or query. But you speak to the students a lot. You explain things incredibly clearly. Rather than: ‘I would like you to find out for yourself,’ it’s, ‘Here’s what you need to do to progress to the next level.’”

Read the full article ‘Drill and kill’? English schools turn to scripted lessons to raise standards

Have you ever used or do use daily scripted, direct instruction lessons? How do you feel about them? Has it helped those pupils with a lower abilities? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Malcolm Greenhalgh

    The process described has much wider connotations than just teaching to pass a standard or a test. It is a process, when used excessively, that takes away the creative, questioning and thinking mind. In its extreme, it is the type of process that Nazi Germany thrived upon. If we value freedom of thought and value that the ideas and thoughts of children should be respected regardless of their age there are better and more meaningful ways that children can be encouraged to learn and to enjoy learning. Yes, certain facts have to be learnt and not questioned, times tables for example, and society as a whole requires conformity to be successful, but use this process more widely and you are stepping over a dangerous line that can lead to the sort of fascist idealism that destroys free societies.

  2. Anonymous

    If you think it’s tosh I suggest you do a bit of research into GERM, for-profit charter schools in the USA and the development of the knowledge based curriculum … read this, learn this, regurgitate it. Don’t think, just remember.

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