Post Script

Feb 1, 2016 | Effective Practice

Assumptions based on our own experience do not necessarily inform a debate.


I have been interested in the debate around using DI scripts, instigated most recently by David Didau here and responding to some superficial responses here. I also noted this post by Alex Quigley, who seemed to think that the scripts he developed as a novice were somehow equivalent to the Direct Instruction scripts that were largely the subject of the debate. There is perhaps a lack of familiarity in the UK with Direct Instruction scripts, how they are developed and their purpose.

There are scripts, and scripts. Some people have suggested that preparing detailed lesson plans is equivalent to preparing a script. This is not correct, for the following reasons:

  1. DI scripts are prepared by experts, not novices.
  2. They require a very deep understanding of the subject matter.
  3. They are field trialled multiple times to check that they work when confronted with reality.
  4. They focus on serious, substantive elements of the curriculum, particularly the foundational skills that students need in order to achieve success in complex academic tasks.

It is important to understand the thinking behind using a script. Firstly, there is never any intention for all lessons to be scripted. That would be silly and completely unnecessary. But there are essentials that, when taught, are not always learnt by all students. DI scripts are prepared to ensure that the communication itself is logically faultless. This does not mean that the script will automatically work: the teacher has to observe student responses and correct errors where required. A script will contain a clear error correction procedure to ensure that the student’s attention is drawn to the salient features that constitute the teaching point. The teacher also has to ensure that students can demonstrate mastery of each small step, which the script will carefully calibrate to ensure that only one thing at a time needs to be mastered.

The intention, with using a script, is to ensure that there are no misconceptions. Are you certain that all students in your class have learnt exactly what you intended to teach? Will what they have learnt need adjusting or correcting later because of ‘exceptions’? If so, the script was not good enough. Have they learnt it well enough to remember it later? If not, the script required a better variety of practice examples.

Also, using a script should mean that a student can induce mastery of the content within a few minutes. In order to achieve this, Engelmann and Carnine developed optimum sequences for different knowledge forms. The basis for DI is philosophical; Engelmann himself was trained in logic and is famously intolerant of those who do not bother to be meticulous in their reasoning.

So next time you hear people talking about scripts who have written lesson plans as novices, who have written a list of questions before class, or who have collaboratively planned lessons, remember that these are several levels below the league of Engelmann and Direct Instruction. A script is so much more than just a script …


This post – The Road to Swindon Goes Ever On – is the talk (with the accompanying slides) that I gave at the ResearchED English and Literacy Conference in November. It covers aspects of DI: knowledge forms, faultless communication and the use of scripts.

You can read about Corrective Reading Decoding and Comprehension programs on the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) website.

McGraw-Hill Education have downloadable sample scripts as PDFs on their website. These sample lessons from Corrective Reading Comprehension teach definitions, analogies, classification, inference, following directions, and parts of speech.

You can, of course, write your own scripts. Zig has a Rubric for Identifying Authentic Direct Instruction Programs, as there are many that purport to be Direct Instruction but lack some elements.


You may also be interested in:

Improving Outcomes For Low Attainers

Six Ways to Help Struggling Readers in Your Classroom

Building on the Evidence

Pulling the Strands Together

A Matter of Sensitivity



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