Explicit teaching – what’s in a name?

Educational terms are slippery things. They always apply to some level of abstraction and so cannot be given technical definitions. Some have used this quality to overreach and argue that specifiable teaching methods do not exist. Clearly, they do. Any teacher is aware that there are different ways they could approach teaching a particular class. However, we can always point to the presence in Teaching Approach A, however minor, of a key quality of Teaching Approach B. It’s often a matter of emphasis.

And you may be surprised to learn that I am not in charge of all of these definitions. My word is neither definitive nor final. You can describe a teaching method however you like. Nevertheless, this may perhaps generate some confusion and even unintentionally mislead.

Take, for instance, the definition of ‘explicit teaching’ used by Denyse Ritchie in this Twitter thread:

Explicit teaching appears to be something that happens ‘at point of need’ and is definitely not part of a ‘linear’ process:

Sure. Go with that definition if you wish, but you need to know that all of the evidence people usually draw upon for explicit teaching, such as the evidence summarised in Rosenshine’s Principles, cannot now be used to support the effectiveness of explicit teaching according to this alternative definition.

No, the form of explicit teaching that is supported by evidence is not provided just in time within some other context, it is a well-planned, linear sequence. This does not mean that it is unresponsive to student need. Quite the reverse. Checking for student understanding and reteaching when necessary is integral to it.

I am just finishing work on my new book, The Power of Explicit Teaching and Direct Instruction, where I will expand on these themes.


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