Repeal the Law of Gravity – It’s Old and It Sucks


Yesterday I received a telephone call from a fellow educator. His dream is to build a digital conduit for teachers through which good ideas and good lesson plans could be shared. While I liked his excitement, I also noted my reservations, namely that well-designed lessons needed a certain quality.

·      They have to cover a domain of knowledge.

·      They must reveal the rules or phenomenon by which that domain operates.

·      The lesson must teach both examples of when the phenomenon applies and non-examples of when it does not.

·      Students need to be taught to fluent levels of performance

For example, in teaching students correct spelling, there is a rule which determines whether you pluralize nouns and verbs by adding either “s” or “es” to the end of the word.

·      The rule covers the complete domain of English nouns and verbs.

·      A well-designed lesson would present the students with examples (e.g. churches, taxes, brushes, etc.)

·      and non-examples (e.g. robots, dogs, dinosaurs).

·      The students would be taught the rule that if the word ends with “ch, sh, s, x, or z” use “es” to make it plural.

·      If it does not end “ch, sh, s, x, or z” use “s” to make it plural.

·      Students would be taught to apply the rule to examples and non-examples at the rate at which they can write without making more than 2 errors.

Lessons designed by teachers do not tend to meet these standards. There is a very good reason for that. Our teachers are rarely provided with this level of training in instructional design. They simply have not been given the tools – just the responsibility. Competent instructional designers are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Secondly, well-designed lessons need to be field tested, their flaws discovered and repaired so that students come away from the lesson with one and only one interpretation of the phenomenon under consideration.

Interestingly enough, we have had this level of design within education for almost 50 years and have chosen to ignore it. The best designed curricula has been exhaustively studied in a national research study over a multi-year experiment which compared the effectiveness of various methods involving hundreds of thousands of students and costing more than a billion dollars.

A couple of years ago, the What Works Consortium, the agency of the U.S  Federal Dept. of Education,  that determines which research will be distributed, decided unilaterally to discontinue disseminating the results of Project Follow Through ( the source for the comparative research) and of the Sacajewea Study ( the research on the importance of measuring results) because they were more than 20 years old.

This decision occurred as both of these leading methods (Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching) were making a comeback in public education, especially for children with learning deficits.

If we decide to unilaterally suspend the empirical results of educational research, I propose that we have to cover all of the scientific domains and renounce all of the laws of science. Let’s start with the Law of Gravity. It is much more ancient than Direct Instruction and it sucks.

Oh, by the way, if you need the other 13 spelling rules, contact me. They are old, but they work wonderfully.

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