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'LD Appropriate' Instruction - Frameworks

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Direct Instruction Information Processing
  • assists us in teaching skills and procedures
  • offers a structure to teach basic skills, such as knowing how to decode simple three-letter words,
  • as well as more advanced skills, such as knowing how to paraphrase a reading passage or write a four-paragraph essay.
  • directs us in how to help the learner
  • develop higher-order thinking skills so that he or she can remember information,
  • develop strategies to attack intellectual tasks,
  • remember information through use of graphics and images, and
  • use stories and episodes from his of her life to attach meaning to experiences.

From Bridges to Practice: A Researched-based Guide for Literacy Practitioners Serving Adults with Learning Disabilities, 1999

Direct Instruction

The direct instruction model of teaching offers a structure to teach basic skills, such as knowing how to decode simple three-letter words, as well as more advanced skills, such as knowing how to paraphrase a reading passage or write a four-paragraph essay. The direct instruction model of teaching is well supported by both cognitive and behavioral learning principles. In addition, there is ample research that supports direct instruction as one type of effective instruction for individuals who may enter the learning situation with skill deficits.

There are four essential phases or steps in the direct instruction model. The initial steps are characterized by the teacher's controlling the instruction with an explicit presentation of the skill or information to be learned and then modeling and guiding practice with extensive, elaborate feedback to the learner. Once a skill is learned to mastery in the classroom, the learner takes responsibility for using and adapting the skills learned to meet real-life demands.

Direct instruction is based on the teacher's engaging in some important pre-instructional planning tasks, such as developing clear objectives for the lesson and conducting a task analysis or content analysis of the skill or information to be presented. This helps the teacher define with some precision the exact nature of the specific skill or information to be presented and what the learner needs to do to perform to a desired level.

The four phases of direct instruction are as follows:

Phase 1 : Provide Objectives, Establish Expectations, and Introduce the Skill
Begin the session by ensuring that the learner understands the purpose of the session and the skill/information to be learned. This introduction includes building a rationale for the focus of the session and ensuring that the student is paying attention and is ready to learn. Providing rationales and overviews, and making connections with previously learned skills, can be quickly accomplished and are particularly important for student motivation.

Phase 2 : Introduce and Model the Skill
Present the skill step-by-step and demonstrate/model the skill. The skill should be presented both visually and verbally to assist the learner in identifying the skill steps as they are modeled. Ask the learner to watch observable behaviors, as well as to listen to you self-talk or "think alouds," which demonstrate the thinking skill steps.

Phase 3 : Guided Practice with Feedback
Provide a series of experiences to allow the learner to try out the skill while you carefully monitor performance. The initial practice should allow the learner to actively practice the skill with the support and feedback needed to perform the skill correctly. For example, if a student is learning how to paraphrase, then guided practice can begin with the learner reading a short paragraph and putting it into his or her own words, rather than starting with longer reading passages, such as a page or a chapter. By starting small, you can more easily monitor this phase, and the learner does not get too frustrated.

Some would argue that giving feedback is the most important task in direct instruction. Without clear and explicit feedback, a student can practice incorrectly or never be able to distinguish a skilled from an unskilled performance. Feedback should be immediate and specific. Learners benefit from praise that is clearly targeted at what was done well and from corrective feedback followed by another chance to do the skill correctly. Maintain this phase until the learner is able to demonstrate that he or she can perform the task correctly with little help from you.

Phase 4 : Independent Practice and Generalization
Independent practice takes the form of the learner completing tasks without instructor assistance, and can easily be accomplished through homework. Identifying specific situations outside of the instructional sessions where the skill can be applied in real life encourages generalization. However, the ability to identify such situations does not come naturally for some individuals. You can promote generalization by planning with the learner when the skill can be used and then by having the learner keep track of skill use outside of the session.

You can use the direct instruction model to help students learn basic skills and knowledge. This model of instruction comes from systems analysis, cognitive psychology, and teacher-effectiveness research, and is supported by an extensive research base on its effectiveness for individuals with learning disabilities.

Information Processing

Information-processing theory arises from work in cognitive psychology. This theory offers a useful framework that represents the multifaceted processes involved in learning information and higher-order thinking skills. Information-processing theory is particularly useful when working with individuals with learning disabilities because it helps practitioners think about how information can most clearly and explicitly be presented so that the learner is actively and appropriately involved in the learning process.

Examining the basic processes that govern learning can help literacy providers think about the problems individuals with learning disabilities can have when they try to learn new information. For learning to occur, the material must be input through one or more of out senses, attended to, perceived, and remembered.

According to information-processing theory, experiences are first received as input through one or more of the senses. Typically, reading instruction can be presented using visual, auditory, tactual, or kinesthetic input. For most individuals, and especially individuals with learning disabilities, the more modalities that are used, the better the chance that the input will be remembered. Thus, many programs for individuals with learning disabilities encourage the use of multiple input channels.

Once information is presented to one or more of the senses, attention comes into play. Attention is the learner's ability to focus on the information at hand. In most situations, the learner can only pay attention to selected information. Sometimes the learner pays attention to information that does not help him or her learn. For example, during a lesson on the short "a" sound, the learner may pay attention to the teacher's red shirt of the rainy weather outside the window, rather than the content of the lesson. In other situations the learner may pay attention to the information presented, but not to the critical attributes of the lesson. For example, a practitioner may present words that begin with the letter "b," such as band, banjo, or bong, and the learner may pay attention to the meaning of the words rather than the sound of the first letter. It is critical to identify clearly what the learner should specifically pay attention to and to check throughout the lesson that his or her attention is focused on the critical attributes of what is being taught.

Once input information has been attended to, how the information is perceived can be a challenge. Based on a person's specific learning disability, that individual may have difficulty correctly interpreting information from one or more of the sensory input channels. For example, a person with an auditory processing disability may misperceive what is said to him or her. The statement "she was very bad" could be misperceived as "she was very mad." An individual with a visual perceptual disability may read slowly due to difficulty perceiving the difference between "b" and "d." This disability makes words with those letters challenging to quickly recognize.

Working Memory
Once information is perceived, it enters working memory (also known as short term memory) where the information is briefly stored. Working memory has a limited capacity, and functions most efficiently when the perceived information is immediately acted upon. For example, Shawn asks for an unfamiliar telephone number in order to place a call. Once Shawn recognizes the number, the information enters working memory; this allows Shawn to briefly store the information at hand. In order for Shawn to remember this unfamiliar series of numbers, she must perform some sort of "mental work" to keep the information active. In this case she might keep repeating the numbers as she dials. Working memory can easily become overloaded when too much information is presented and attended to. If a learner does not perform some sort of "mental work," like self questioning, thinking about how the new information fits with what he or she already knows, or looking for patterns in new information, the information that enters working memory is lost.

Long-Term Memory
Information in short-term memory can be quickly forgotten unless it is transferred to long-term memory. Long-term memory has been compared to a computer because it encodes and stores information. Long-term memory stores four types of information: verbal knowledge, intellectual skills (i.e., knowing how to perform a complex task like paraphrasing), visual images, and episodes. This type of memory storage can be compared to four types of instruction: teaching information, teaching strategies (how to acquire and remember information), teaching through visual images, and teaching through use of memorable experiences, stories and narratives.

Long-term memory is conceived as an intricate network of connected information and memories which help individuals make sense of their world. Information-processing theory tells us that connecting new information with a person's prior knowledge helps new learning find a place in long-term memory. Highly successful learners actively and appropriately engage in new learning and automatically take new information and connect it with what they already know, naturally building on their long-term memory knowledge networks. many individuals with learning disabilities do not automatically do this and thus need help connecting new information and experiences with what they already know. Use of mnemonics, concept maps, visual images, and graphic displays can be importance tools for enabling individuals with learning disabilities to remember what is being taught. These devices help the learner see how information is organized and can aid long-term memory.

A learning disability can interfere with any of the stages of information processing. Understanding the learner's unique set of information-processing strengths and needs can guide you in structuring instruction to build on those strengths, as well as help the learner compensate for his or her areas of need.

Whereas the direct instruction model assists us in learning skills and procedures, the information-processing model directs us in how to help the learner develop higher-order thinking skills so that he or she can remember information, develop strategies to attack intellectual tasks, remember information through use of graphics and images, and use stories and episodes from his of her life to attach meaning to experiences.

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