In an effort to improve reading scores, schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña has reintroduced balanced literacy to the city's schools. While the teachers and schools that are adopting this approach may be well intended, they are nonetheless misguided. There is a large body of research that thoroughly evaluates the effectiveness of various instructional strategies and confirms that this type of "student centered" approach to teaching reading is not a particularly effective strategy, especially for at-risk students.
With the goal of maximizing the impact of instruction, the National Research Council, the National Reading Panel, and a host of other researchers have identified scientifically verified effective instructional practices. Among the many instructional strategies used in American classrooms, one methodology stands out among all others: direct instruction. The term "direct instruction" refers to a rigorously developed, structured method of teaching that requires teachers to develop specific learning objectives and provides constant interaction between students and the teacher.
Support for direct instruction comes from a plethora of research studies including Project Follow Through, which was the most extensive educational experiment ever conducted. This study, which began in 1968 and continued through 1977, was designed to identify the best way of teaching at-risk children from kindergarten through third grade. Thousands of children in over a hundred different communities were included in the study. The program that produced the best results in general was direct instruction. The other program types, which included precursors to current instructional methodologies, such as student-centered learning and balanced literacy, produced inferior results. Students receiving direct instruction did better than those in all other programs when tested in reading, arithmetic, spelling and language. Contrary to assertions of proponents of balanced literacy and other student-centered approaches, direct instruction dramatically improved cognitive skills (higher order thinking skills) relative to the control groups and also showed the highest improvement in self-esteem scores compared to control groups.
Many other researchers have reached the same conclusion: direct instruction is far more effective than balanced literacy not only for at-risk students, but for all students. Despite a preponderance of evidence supporting the use of direct instruction, especially with at-risk students, far too few teachers make use of this strategy. Research-proven strategies such as direct instruction should be part of every teacher's repertoire.