Explicit instruction is a highly structured approach to teaching that involves the teacher guiding students through the learning process in a slow and methodical manner.
In this teaching model, all learning objectives and rationale are clearly defined, and the teacher demonstrates how tasks are performed incrementally. Nothing is left to chance.
Explicit Instruction Definition
There are numerous definitions of explicit instruction in the literature.
For instance, Rosenshine (1987) defined explicit instruction as:
“a systematic method of teaching with emphasis on proceeding in small steps, checking for understanding, and achieving active and successful participation by all students.”(Rosenshine, 1987, p. 34)
Archer and Hughes (2011) identify a total of 16 Elements of Explicit Instruction. They explain that explicit instruction is
“…a series of supports or scaffolds, whereby students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose and rationale for learning the new skill, clear explanations and demonstrations of the instructional target, and supported practice with feedback until independent mastery has been achieved.”(Archer & Hughes, 2011, p. 1)
Explicit Instruction Examples
- Video Lessons: Video lessons often provide explicit instruction by design. There can’t be back-and-forth engagement or student input, so the videos often attempt to break down the task as clearly and simply as possible. Khan Academy is a great example.
- Guided Practice: In the guided practice model, the teacher provides explicit instruction and then gives the student a chance to have a go. While the student is working away, the teacher hovers over them and gives corrective advice based.
- Modelling: When a teacher models a task, they’re engaging in explicit teaching. The teacher is showing exactly how to do something.
- University Lectures: It is common for university lectures to involve clear, direct explanations of information. A simple reason for this is that a one-to-many teaching model doesn’t allow much time and space for active learning scenarios.
- Apprenticeships: Apprenticeships and internships follow the situated learning model, where people learn by working alongside expert practitioners. Often, this involves a lot of practical and explicit teaching rather than theoretical instruction.
- Math Classes: Traditionally, math classes have been infamous for their explicit instruction, leaving little space for active or exploratory learning. The teacher explains how to do a task, then students practice it on repeat until it’s hammered into their heads.
- Recipes: A recipe is a prime example of explicit instruction. The recipe lays out the steps as clearly as possible so the cook just has to follow along and doesn’t need to use too much creative thinking!
- Phonics Instruction: Phonics is a way of teaching reading skills that relies heavily on explicit teaching of letters and sounds.
- Gradual Release of Responsibility (I Do, We Do, You Do Method): The I Do, We Do, You Do method of instruction starts with explicit teaching (I Do), followed by the group doing the task together (We Do), then students doing the task alone (You Do).
- Operant Conditioning of Students: The operant conditioning model of behaviorism relies on explicit teaching. In this model, the teacher will instruct the student on how to complete a task, then provide rewards and punishments based upon their ability to follow the model.
- Banking Model of Education: Paulo Freire conceptualized the banking model as something not to follow. He explained it as an attempt to place information in a student’s mind directly, like putting money in a bank. For Freire, this approach fails because students need to learn through contextualization and by constructing their own knowledge rather than learning only what the teacher wants them to learn.
- Flipped Learning: Flipped learning refers to learning where instruction happens during homework time, so the maximum amount of class time can be used to practice and active learning. In this model, teachers often prepare explicit instruction tasks (recorded in video or written) for students to do at home.
Principles of Explicit Instruction
The following principles are adapted from Archer and Hughes (2011):
1. Focusing instruction on critical content: In explicit instruction, the teacher directly teaches the core pieces of content. The teacher doesn’t force the student to “find it out yourself.” They go straight to the core of the issue and tell students exactly what they need to know.
2. Sequencing content logically: The teacher sets out all the learning content in a clear and logical order so students can directly follow along without having to take indirect action.
3. Breaking down complex concepts into chunks: This is core to the modelled teaching model, which starts with explicit instruction. The teacher walks students through processes clearly and explicitly.
4. Designing clearly focused lessons: Unlike inquiry-based and phenomenon-based learning, lessons reliant on explicit instruction start with a clear focus, know exactly where they’re headed, and don’t leave room for students to take the lessons down a different path.
5. Begin lessons with a statement of learning outcomes: This is a common tactic in university lectures (which are a typical example of explicit instruction). Start the lesson telling students: this is exactly what you will learn by the end of this lesson.
6. Review prior knowledge before the lesson: It’s best practice in explicit instruction to ensure you know exactly what your students know and understand. If you’ve done this, then you can explicitly teach exactly what the students need to know.
7. Use clear and simple language: When providing direct instruction, it’s important for the teacher to be intentional about their language. Ensure every word and phrase is clear, and if there is new language being introduced, make sure you define it.
8. Provide plenty of examples: When giving explicit information, it’s often extremely valuable to provide examples so people can understand the information in a practical way.
9. Provide guided and supported practice: Explicit instruction is central to models like the “guided practice” model, where the teacher is always there to model how to do things, then be there to watch, monitor, and give advice as the student tries it for themselves.
10. Get fast feedback on your teaching: Fast ways to get feedback include asking open-ended questions, asking for a show of hands, or even getting a student to quickly paraphrase the information you just provided. See: formative assessment.
12. Monitor student performance: Ensure you’re regularly and frequently monitoring your students’ progress and be prepared to pivot in the middle of the lesson if necessary. See: reflective teaching.
13. Provide immediate constructive feedback on student learning: While the goal is to ensure the instruction is clear, direct, and helpful, you’ll still need to support the student by giving them explicit feedback on their progress.
14. Provide time for practice: A typical example of this is in math classes where the teacher demonstrates the task and students spend the rest of their lesson doing practice worksheets to reinforce the knowledge.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Explicit Instruction
|This model ideally leaves little room for confusion because tasks are explained very clearly and learners aren’t expected to make assumptions about anything.||Students aren’t asked to do much thinking for themselves. They simply have to follow instructions. This means very little creative or critical thinking occurs.|
|This is a time-tested model that is highly beneficial in language and math instruction. For example, research shows phonics (which relies on direct instruction) to be more effective than whole language learning.||Learning often happens without contextualizaton. Research into cognition demonstrate that context is needed to reinforce knowledge into long-term memory.|
|Many students need clear and well-structured instruction to help them understand things. Lessons that don’t involve direct instruction can lead to confusion and disillusionment.||Students are learning passively, which tends to make students feel bored and disengaged.|
|The teacher is positioned as an authority figure whose comments are not allowed to be questioned.|
|Today, many progressive educators argue that learning happens best through discussion and communication rather than simply listening to instructions.|
Alternatives to Explicit Instruction
- Role Modeling: In role modelling, students learn through socialization rather than instruction. In other words, students will learn by observing their role models and wanting to follow their lead (see also: observational learning).
- Constructivism: The constructivist theory of learning (e.g. Piaget’s model) argues that students learn best when they learn actively and build knowledge themselves rather than simply being told what to know and think.
- Social Learning Model: The social learning model asks students to talk, collaborate, and interact with one another. Through conversation, students see different perspectives and hear different ways of explaining the one concept. Arguably, this is more effective than just hearing the teacher’s explanation.
- Play-Based Learning: Play-based learning involves learning through playing. In fact, children learn most of the foundational skills for life like hand-eye coordination, cooperation skills, and language skills through play rather than direct instruction.
Explicit instruction is focused on ensuring that students have mastered the assigned material before moving onward. Although the learning process is gradual and incremental, this approach ensures that all students achieve the desired results.
Explicit learning emphasizes that students should possess the prerequisite skills needed for the next lesson. Teachers then clearly define targeted learning objectives and provide a thorough explanation of the rationale for those objectives.
When the teacher demonstrates skills, it helps students learn techniques, which they then apply during practice sessions.
Teachers carefully monitor those practice sessions which are distributed across time and combined with both corrective and affirmative feedback.
Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.
Frayer, D., Frederick, W. C., and Klausmeier, H. J. (1969). A Schema for Testing the Level of Cognitive Mastery. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81–112.
Rosenshine, B. (1987). Explicit teaching and teacher training. Journal of Teacher Education, 38(3), 34-36
Torgesen, J. K. (2004). Lessons learned from research on interventions for students who have difficulty learning to read. In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pg. 355-382). Baltimore, Brookes.