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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Direct/Explicit Instruction - Topic 35

What is it?

Broadly defined, direct instruction is a set of pedagogical practices derived from an empirical, behaviorally informed theoretical foundation and can encompass teacher behaviors, classroom organization, and elements of curricular and instructional design (Gersten, 1985). Direct instruction describes any practice where the instructor plays a prominent role in presenting information to students. In this conception, the terms “teacher-centered” or “teacher-led” are sometimes used interchangeably with direct instruction and refer to any type of academic instruction that is directed by the teacher, irrespective of the content or quality. According to Rosenshine (2008), however, direct instruction is a multifaceted concept with direct empirical and theoretical influences. Specifically, direct instruction represents the culmination of studies regarding effective teaching, cognitive strategy instruction, and the Distar curriculum.

Why is it important?

Several studies have favorably compared direct instruction to other approaches. Kavale (2007) found that direct instruction was more effective for special education students than instruction based on individualized learning styles. As more schools adopt systems such as RTI to prevent academic failure, remediate gaps in learning, and identify students with LD, general educators and special educators (as well as other professionals such as school psychologists and administrators) will need to collaborate to ensure all children receive quality, research based instruction and intervention services that can address the specific needs of the students. The premise of tiered intervention is that students will receive, high-quality, evidence-based instruction in the general education setting (Tier 1; Fuchs, Mock, Morgan & Young, 2003). If a student is not responsive to practices and curricula that have empirically demonstrated effectiveness for the majority of students, the student will progress through successive levels of more intensive and individualized instruction before receiving a referral for special education services. In such a structure, it is imperative that the Tier 1 instruction is of sufficient quality to produce the most positive outcomes for the majority of the students.


Fuchs, D., Mock, D., Morgan, P.L., and Young, C. L. (2003). Responsiveness-to intervention:

Definitions, evidence, and implications for the learning disabilities construct. Learning

Disabilities Research and Practice, 18, 157-171.

Gersten, R. (1985). Direct instruction with special education students: A review of evaluation

research. The Journal of Special Education, 19(1), 41-58.

Kavale, K. A. (2007) Quantitative research synthesis: Meta-analysis of research on meeting special

needs. In Lani Florian (Ed.), Handbook of Special Education (pp.208-223 ). Thousand Oaks,

CA: Sage Publications.

Rosenshine, B. (2008). Five meanings of direct instruction. Retrieved from Center on Innovation &

Improvement website:

Web Links

National Institute for Direct Instruction

Association for Direct Instruction

Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann & DI

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