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#334 A Whole-class Direct Instruction approach to Reading in a Complex Needs School – The Parkside School

Jo Carlile, Teacher and Head of Literacy at The Parkside School

What did we do?

The project aimed to implement and demonstrate the effectiveness of a whole-class Direct Instruction approach to teaching essential reading skills to students in a complex needs setting.

The hope was that a whole class approach could meet the individual needs of students and increase the school’s capacity by reducing the need for more individualised input. We wanted to combine what is known about effective reading instruction with principles from Direct Instruction.

This project also aimed to establish whether effective quality first teaching was time and cost effective and increased the school’s capacity by reducing the need for more targeted remedial input.

Many students made references to principles of Direct Instruction as factors that helped them, specifically having the skill modelled to them first, for example;

“It’s good when you say my turn your turn, because if we don’t know it’s you showing us” … “the my turn your turn thing”

Staff indicated that the approach worked well across the team of staff involved and was a straightforward model to deliver:

“everyone had a specific role, as a teacher I could utilise the skills of my team to help in the delivery of the lesson”,  “a clear road map allowing calm and peaceful delivery”,  “students loved the ritual”.

Student feedback was positive about reading skills – “It’s fun. I didn’t like it before but now I like reading”, another student commented “It’s just easy now. Before it was hard.”

Summary of impact

The quantitative data illustrated some promising results. Those students that took part in the Direct Instruction teaching appear to have made greater gains in their phonological awareness when compared to a control group.

The Salford data, although not possible to report on all those taking part in the project, suggests that on average students with moderate learning difficulty made on average 11-month gains in their reading age over a six-month period when taking part in the Direct Instruction project, which is quite remarkable given the student’s learning profiles.

This mirrors previous research that Direct Instruction can be an effective ways of teaching literacy (Rupley, Blair and Nichols, 2009) and is an effective method for students with developmental disorders (florez and Ganz, 2009).

The Simple View of Reading framework was brought into the school the year prior to the project and therefore the ‘teaching as usual’ control groups would have been receiving a focus on phonics, drawing on the letters and sounds curriculum.  As all pupils made significant gains in their phonological awareness, word reading and spelling, it suggests the simple view of reading approach is a useful framework for this cohort.  However, the data also suggests that the explicit, methodical, accumulative and structured method of teaching incorporated into the Direct Instruction classes added additional value.

The data suggests that both staff and students valued the approach and viewed it as a positive undertaking. Students’ approach to learning, confidence and willingness to learn are the messages that come through strongly from the feedback.

Staff and students also seemed to value the rhythm and repetition- as previously identified by Kim and Axelrod (2005).

Students named features of the Direct Instruction approach that helped them, which seemed to refer to the ‘model, lead, test’ scripts.

Staff commented on the difference in attitude towards reading.  It is likely that modelling the sound or word reduces the fear or worry about getting it wrong and therefore enables students to engage more positively in the learning process.

Steps taken

The intervention was delivered daily by the class teacher, for approximately 20 minutes, in place of previous literacy instruction.  The rest of the literacy lesson continued as normal.

The Direct Instruction principles seek to:
1. Review and check previous work; linking previous learning to the new
2. Present new material; explaining why the new skill or strategy is useful
3. Provide guided practice
4. Provide feedback on performance and corrections
5. Provide independent practice
6. Provide weekly and monthly reviews

Teachers were provided with lesson plans and a sequence of skills required for effective reading acquisition, based on sound reading literature and staff training.  Lesson plans aimed to make the instruction explicit and systematic, whilst the training gave teaching staff the understanding of the principles of Direct Instruction to enable a degree of flexibility to be responsive to the individual needs of students and provide differentiation where required.

The intervention also used contemporary reading research and sought to target phonological awareness and reading comprehension as distinct skills, using a student’s language level to inform the instruction given.

To support staff in making judgements about whether a student has achieved a level of fluency (speed and accuracy) and to add rigour to the enquiry, this project will used an adapted version of Professor Tim Rasinski Fluency Grid.

What would we do differently

Feedback gathered about student’s ability to generalise reading skills may suggest that a two-term intervention period is not long enough for these students to begin generalising their skills into different contexts. It may also be that further thought needs to be given to how generalisation of skills could occur and be explicitly taught.

In setting up the Direct Instruction project a considerable amount of training was offered to staff, which is likely to have contributed to the findings. This training and ongoing support and supervision for key staff is likely to have enabled the project to embed itself.

Teaching staff commented that their class teams were key to enabling successful implementation of the approach. Where it seemed to work well; the intervention group of teachers and Teaching Assistants shared a common endeavour, improving teamwork and giving each member a clearly defined role. By supporting teaching assistants and teachers equally it was hoped that the teaching assistants would feel more fully involved in the literacy experience of the students they support. On the reverse side, a reality faced by the school is that staff absence, turnover and competing priorities can mean consistency of a class team can be incredibly challenging to achieve. The hope is that by offering training to all staff, greater consistency in the approach can be achieved.


The total cost of the project was £24,588.  All costs were covered by the Norwich Evidence Based Practice Fund.

The majority of costs was spent on staff delivery and additional training support with £400 being spent on resources.

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The Parkside School

College Road