Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

I’m Not Sure This Big Meta-Analysis On Direct Instruction Says What Its Authors Think It Says


A big new meta-analysis has just been released titled The Effectiveness of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research. Unfortunately, apart from the abstract, it’s behind a paywall, but there are ways around it.

It claims that direct instruction is the cat’s meow (obviously my words, not theirs).

But I’ve got some concerns/questions about it though, admittedly, I’m no research expert (see The Best Resources For Understanding How To Interpret Education Research).

First, I don’t think it’s at all clear – at least to me – from the paper what in practical classroom terms they use to define “direct instruction.”   For example, John Hattie defines it as an instructional strategy much closer to “assisted discovery” learning/teaching than what is commonly believe (see What Does “Direct Instruction” Really Mean?). I might very well have missed it since my eyes tend to glaze over trying to read these kinds of academic papers but I don’t believe most teachers, at least, would have a good understanding of the parameters the authors used to identify whether something was direct instruction or another method.

Secondly, as the paper says, the paper “did not attempt to compare the results of each of the DI programs with specific other approaches.” It seems to me that meta-analyses comparing the specific impacts different kinds of instructional strategies might have been much more helpful to educators. Yes, direct instruction might be effective (and, of course, we all use it sometimes), but could other methods be more effective?

In fact, one meta-analysis did just that (see Is This The Most Important Research Study Of The Year? Maybe). That study, as reviewed by Robert Marzano, found direct instruction was less effective than “enhanced discovery learning.”

So, what do you think, are my critiques/concerns valid?

I’m adding this info to The Best Posts Questioning If Direct Instruction Is “Clearly Superior.”

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Hi Larry,

    I can answer your questions and add 1 critique (see also ).
    – on your first question: they are actually pretty clear on what they man by DI as they explicitly refer to the Engelmann-Becker approach as also researched in e.g. Project Follow Through.
    – on your second remark: you are correct but the comparison of the effects of the same approach over many studies over 50 years has it’s value in itself too.

    But… there is another issue. Together with some other researchers we took a look at the list of included studies and that did raise some questions. While they do say that they didn’t take the quality of the studies into account, some of the studies not included and some of the studies who are included do look strange.


    • Thanks, Pedro, for your comment.

      Yes, I agree that they clearly say they are researching direct instruction that uses the Engelmann-Becker approach. My concern, however, that they never explicitly describe what they believe that approach looks like in the classroom. Admittedly, I have not taken the time to examine the details of any of the studies they have included in their meta-analysis. However, as I mention in the post, John Hattie’s description of the Engelmann-Becker approach is very different from the popular understanding of direct instruction. With that confusion, I think the authors not laying out a much more clear description of how they interpret the Engelmann-Becker method to be a major shortcoming that reduces the usefulness of their study.

      I do agree that a comparison of the same approach (if it was indeed the same approach) could have some value. I’m just not sure it has anywhere near the value one comparing different approaches might have….


  2. It is the SRA Reading Mastery, Connecting Math Concepts, etc. curriculum. Specifically. Super specifically.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar