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Direct Instruction & Discovery Instruction: Definition & Differences

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  • 0:07 Direct and Discovery…
  • 0:34 Direct Instruction
  • 2:01 Discovery Instruction
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Two of the most popular teaching strategies are direct instruction and discovery instruction, which are frequently discussed in contrast with each other. In this lesson, we define each type of instruction and discuss the differences between the two.

Direct and Discovery Instruction in Childhood

When did you learn about the color wheel and how to make the secondary colors of purple, green, and orange from the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue? If you were like most people, you were probably in elementary school. But do you remember how you learned to make the secondary colors? Did your teacher tell you how, or did you get to experiment until you figured out how to do it on your own?

Direct Instruction

Showing the class how to make a cake involves direct instruction.
Direct Instruction Example

If your teacher told you how to make the secondary colors, then he or she was using direct instruction, which is when a teacher gives the information or step-by-step instructions directly to the students. The teacher would have told you that blue plus red makes purple, blue plus yellow makes green, and yellow plus red makes orange. Then, maybe you were given some paint in the primary colors, and you were able to try it out and mix the colors as directed to see that those combinations really do work.

Direct instruction is the most common type of instruction that teachers use. It is any time that the teacher is directing the students' learning. The role of a teacher during direct instruction is that of a controller, organizer, and expert. Supporters of direct instruction point to the fact that it helps students develop their deductive reasoning, which is reasoning from the general to the specific. When using direct instruction, a teacher presents a general principle or rule, like how to add. Then, she has students work with specific examples to see that principle in action.

Additional examples of direct instruction could include a teacher showing an instructional video about dinosaurs or demonstrating how to bake a cake.

Discovery Instruction

Think again about mixing primary colors to make secondary colors. If, instead of telling you how to make the colors up front, your teacher let you experiment to figure it out on your own, then he or she was using discovery instruction. Discovery instruction is when students discover information or a process for themselves through experimentation with little to no help from the teacher. Your teacher might have given you paint in the primary colors and then asked you to paint a picture of purple, green, and orange flowers. He or she would probably have also hinted that you had all the tools you needed to complete your goal. Then, after playing for a while, you might have noticed that when two of the paints touch each other, they create a whole new color. After experimenting, you would have discovered on your own that blue plus red makes purple, blue plus yellow makes green, and yellow plus red makes orange.

Giving specific examples helps students apply them to general principles.
Inductive Reasoning Example

Discovery instruction is when there is a high level of student involvement in observing, investigating, and drawing conclusions. It takes advantage of students' interest and curiosity, often encouraging them to generate alternatives or solve problems. The role of the teacher shifts from director to that of facilitator, supporter, and resource person. Supporters of discovery instruction believe students are more likely to remember concepts they discover on their own. They also point to the fact that it helps students develop their inductive reasoning, which is reasoning from the specific to the general. When using discovery instruction, a teacher presents specific examples to the students. The students then work with those examples until they discover similarities and formulate a general principle or rule.

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