New teaching system a hit


With the first day of spring drawing near, Craig Goldman says there are signs all around that his school district has been re-energized. And though it is possible that the unseasonably warm weather is helping his mood, the Mountain View Whisman School District's superintendent says his jubilation is due to the success of a new district-wide teaching system called Explicit Direct Instruction.

"We did not have this a year ago," Goldman whispers on March 8 from the back of Brook Broadway-Stiff's math class at Crittenden Middle School. He is referring to the level of attention apparent in all of the students, even in this far-flung corner of the classroom.

Since the EDI program was introduced at the beginning of this school year, Goldman says that teachers all over the district have reported a significant increase in student engagement and interest in lessons.

How it works

The improvement, he says, is due to the highly systematic approach of Explicit Direct Instruction -- a program the district was able to initiate thanks to a $1 million grant from Google.

The district used that money to hire DataWorks, an education company based in Fowler, Calif., which came in over the summer to teach the EDI program to a group of teachers, who then passed on their knowledge to other teachers throughout the district, until all had at least a working understanding of the system.

Each EDI lesson begins with an explanation of the skill that will be taught; teachers are required to call on all of their students at random (not just upon those who raise their hands); white boards are often used, which allow teachers to better manage their time by quickly determining who understands the lesson at hand and who needs extra help.

All of these components may seem like common sense -- and they are, to a degree. However, according to Karen Robinson, principal of Crittenden, the EDI program does a great job of merging the techniques in a very "cohesive way" that is easily replicated.

Teachers come from a variety of backgrounds and schools of education, Robinson says. Therefore, there are often many different ideas of what the ideal lesson plan looks like -- even among those teaching the same subject at the same school.

"I think EDI gives us a precision tool to instruct," she says. "It gives us a common language."

With an increased emphasis on "mainstreaming" -- moving children from special needs classes and into regular classrooms -- and with English learners accounting for 40 percent of the Mountain View Whisman School District's student population, that common language is proving to be especially helpful, according to Jeannie Son-Bell, a fourth-grade teacher at Monta Loma Elementary School.

"I think it makes it equitable for a diverse population," Son-Bell says of the EDI program. "It's a very good way to keep the kids engaged in math concepts that, in some cases, are really quite challenging."

Son-Bell says the kids appreciate the emphasis on learning why they are studying the concepts, as well as the opportunity to work in pairs (another basic tenet of the EDI system).

Everyone's accountable

Robinson says she has noticed that the kids like that everyone is held accountable through being randomly called on in class.

Students in middle school know how to tune out while looking as if they are tuned in, Robinson says. However, even those students tend to appreciate being forced into engaging, she says.

"It really ups the level of accountability," Robinson says. "The students like that everyone is accountable."

As a teacher, Son-Bell likes choosing non-volunteers -- which keeps all of her students on their toes and paying attention -- as well as the requirement that her kids answer in complete sentences.

"That's really important," Son-Bell says of the full-sentence mandate. "You are teaching them to speak properly, and you are getting a sense of how they arrived at their answer. And when kids say things out loud they learn it more effectively."

She is also a fan of using individual white boards. As she teaches her students about fractions on March 8, she asks them to show her their answers on their white boards. The children furiously scribble numbers with erasable markers and hold up their responses.

"You can tell immediately how much of your room has that concept and how many don't," she explains. Sometimes she will call on a student with the right answer, asking him or her to explain how the problem is solved. Other times she will call on someone who got it wrong, in an attempt to discover where he or she took a wrong turn.

It is immediate feedback, Son-Bell says. Where before she would simply talk at her students for 40 minutes, with the white boards she can instantly check on her class's understanding and adjust her lesson accordingly.

When asked whether there has been any pushback from teachers, both Goldman and Robinson say they haven't noticed much.

Although it is a highly structured system, "you don't have to be robotic," Robinson says. "You can put your own personality into this and everything, and it doesn't take the place of a lab, a special project or a simulation."

Although no hard data yet exists to prove that EDI has worked, both Goldman and Robinson expect they will soon have the numbers they need to validate their investment in the DataWorks program.

The district will soon begin administering the California Standards Tests to students at the end of April, and Robinson said she is confident that she will see an improvement over last year's scores.

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3 people like this
Posted by MV Parent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Voice: For a very different perspective on EDI, interview a cross-section of teachers but withhold their names from publication. You need to understand that the MV-Whisman district is very political and teachers have to be very careful about what they say publicly.

3 people like this
Posted by Oh please!
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Another boondoggle by the district to replace the last three pet projects of the superintendents. All the studies say EDI is the least effective teaching method out there. Yes, having individual white boards in math is a great idea, but that is not what EDI is. Ask the kindergarten teachers about EDI...

5 people like this
Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

It's the flavor of the week and nothing more. The district must think we are all morons.

5 people like this
Posted by Martin Omander
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Oh please!: would you please link to the studies you cite? A casual Google search didn't turn anything up for me.

3 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm

WOW... What a concept... a Teacher actually learning which students ar doing well, and which ones are not doing well.

Individual responsibility ??? HEY.. that is NOT an SEIU concept.. what goes here ?

I'm sure glad that tomorrow's surgeons and engineers will learn how to use a white board... Go for it MVWSD....

It makes no teacher responible for the student's scores, and brings the basic Socialist idea of "conformity" and mass learning to the fore.

5 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I would just like to know what has been going on in the classroom up until now? Nothing?

"Teachers all over the district have reported a significant increase in student engagement and interest in lessons." Is this quantifiable? If so, how? And when Goldman says "there are signs all around that his school district has been re-energized" how is that quantified? What criteria was measured to come up with such a statement? Or is the data driven decision making the district was selling a few years back now been thrown out the window?

So now we have a "highly systematic approach" in the classroom whereas before it was just chaos? So are we looking at teaching from a system of systems approach? Or is this replacing Ghysels' corporate approach to teaching whereby the students were stakeholders with decision making authority?

It sounds to me that all this mumbo jumbo is nothing more than an attempt to get pay raises all around for the administrators. Haul out a new label for teaching the old fashioned way, dress it up in fancy terms with acronyms, and then claim that it has improved learning and test scores.

It's just utter nonsense.

3 people like this
Posted by MV parent
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 20, 2012 at 8:59 pm

My child's teachers have been using individual white boards for at least 2 years already before the "new" system was brought to the district. The idea of calling on all students rather than letting the air time be hogged by the students who already know all the answers sounds like it is simply the way teachers would deal with that issue. All I know is that the EDI program has eaten up a ton of professional development time for teachers and has pulled them out of the classroom periodically on regular class days for training.

How does the EDI program dovetail with the Khan Academy math instruction pilot programs that are also going on in the district? That's a totally different approach - individualized learning, on-line and taken at a kid's own pace with the teacher becoming a mentor and guide of small groups of students who need specific skills reviewed or taught. Quite the opposite of instructing the entire large group on a scripted math lesson and using white boards to see which kids get it or not.

3 people like this
Posted by Le dude
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 21, 2012 at 8:16 am

Great point, MV parent.

And the district's response... duh, duh, duh, duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

3 people like this
Posted by MV parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Observer, "nothing" pretty much sums up what happens in my sons class room this year.
I would love to see a breakdown of how the district spent the 1 million from Google. The article states that the EDI program was taught to a group of teachers who then "passed on their knowledge" to other teachers until all had "at least a working understanding of the system". Seems like that million could have gone to something that would actually benefit the students.

5 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth D. Intero
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm

If Craig Goldman thinks this is such a great program, than he should go into the classroom for 6 hours and teach this new great program. The Google grant could have been used for WAY better things in the schools such as Art and Music programs, teacher salary increases, replace portables with actual classrooms, multi use rooms to be remodeled for better use of space. The district officials need to put their words to good use and become teachers for a day. Then we will see how excited they are after others come into the classrooms and belittle their teaching.

3 people like this
Posted by Student Teacher-Mom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 25, 2012 at 7:19 am

A ProQuest search on "Explicit Direct Instruction" turns up only two recent research articles, both dissertations, both examining the impact of EDI on closing the achievement gap (Latino v White) in a California school. Both show that EDI was useful in these case studies.

Key research by major names in the field of English-learning (Krashen, Cummins, Dutro, etc) shows that much more than just explicit instruction is needed for students to authentically acquire the kind of academic language they need to succeed in school. But- it's a start.

My personal experience using EDI techniques tell me that it's useful in a large classroom- trying to make sure the kids are all participating in a whole-group lesson, for example. However, EDI should only be one tool in a teacher's "bag of tricks" to keep the classroom moving forward. I hope that's the real implementation.

3 people like this
Posted by Jane Doe
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2013 at 8:53 am

I would like to see a random number of parents being picked to step into the shoes of the teachers for a day and live their world. Having the students informed of them being a sub for the class. Teach the lesson left for the day, observe children in their school setting. Ans not in your own childs class either. How much time and effort do you as parents put into your childs learning? Try to observe and listen in the eyes of your own childs needs. Don't always leave it up to underfunded schools and the teachers who are atleast trying to educate our children. Its all about people working together to find solutions, community learning, visual learning, and not verbal.

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