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Direct instruction: A whole school longitudinal evaluation

Fahrner, Helke (1996) Direct instruction: A whole school longitudinal evaluation. Professional Doctorate thesis, Murdoch University.

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Longitudinal school evaluations which investigate outcome and process variables are rare. When a West Australian primary school became the first regular school in Australia to adopt Direct Instruction (DI) reading and spelling programmes across the school in 1986, the opportunity arose to evaluate the implementation of this teaching method on a long-term basis. The effectiveness of DI reading and spelling has been researched extensively and over considerable periods of time, but rarely in a natural setting without the direction and involvement of a research team. Also, most research has centred on student academic outcome variables and has omitted effects on teachers.

This study sought to provide (1) additional evaluative data concerning the effectiveness of the DI Reading Mastery and Spelling Master curricula over seven years in a regular school with a high proportion of disadvantaged students, (2) to address the question of a possible effect of DI on leisure reading (3) to investigate how student behaviour in the classroom is influenced by DI, and (4) to evaluate what effects a DI programme might have on teachers.

Student results for reading comprehension, reading vocabulary and spelling were monitored over seven years. DI students (eight cohorts) were followed for varying lengths of time and three groups of DI students were contrasted with groups from a neighbouring school over three years. Grade 7 comprehension test results were compared with those of two neighbouring school groups over seven years.

A reading survey was conducted among grade 7, 8, 9 and 10 students to investigate the effect of DI on leisure reading. Students' behaviour in DI and non-DI lessons was monitored for one whole year in five classrooms of the DI school. Time off-task and teacher praise were analysed in DI and non-DI reading lessons for grade 3 and grade 7 classes. The impact of DI on teachers was measured by administering two measures: a questionnaire investigating teachers' perceptions about DI three years after the initial start of the programme, a stress questionnaire comparing DI and non-DI teachers' perceived stress relating to the teaching of reading and spelling, and by investigating teachers' length of employment in the DI school and a contrast school.

Results indicated that the academic status of the school had changed positively when comparing 1986 pre-DI results and results in subsequent years up to 1992. DI cohorts performed near or at the national norm in reading comprehension, reading vocabulary and spelling after exposure to DI of between one and five years. DI students performed as well as, or better than, their peers at the comparable contrast school. A steady increase in mean reading comprehension test scores was evidenced for grade 7 DI students between 1987 and 1991; by 1991 this group was achieving significantly higher than their peers from two neighbouring schools. DI students in grade 7 as well as at high school were reading more as well as wider than their peers. Cautiously, the findings could be interpreted as indicating generalisation into amount of leisure reading.

There were unequivocal findings that students incurred less infringements in DI lessons than in other core lessons, and student off-task behaviour was less and teacher praise more frequent in DI reading lessons than in non-DI lessons. Teachers perceived the teaching of DI reading and spelling as significantly less stressful than teachers using basal readers and normal spelling programmes. The majority of teachers found DI valuable and successful for most students after teaching it for three years and changed employment less frequently than their counterparts following the introduction of DI.

The evaluation supports the use of the DI reading and spelling programmes in a regular school which had minimal outside professional support and which was initiated and conducted entirely by a principal and his teaching staff. To produce even better results, less student turnover and increased parent support should be actively promoted.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Leach, David
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