I took my daughter to class today. It was the first one of what I expected to be a “hands on” class. But she had to sit and listen for a half hour before she did anything. It was an archery class, and before the instructor was going to give over a dozen, upper elementary students weapons in close corridors, he was going to make sure that they understood all of the safety rules.
Archery is supposed to be fun, shooting at targets, instead she had to sit and listen to some direct instruction. There is a time and place for direct instruction and in this case it was a matter of safety. She did get to shoot later and next time she will get to shoot more.
I am not a fan of direct instruction. I rarely use it in my class, preferring to give information out to small groups in conversations or lead guided discussions. That said I created a “wheel” diagram to show the cycle and relationships of the multitude of causes and consequences of the Great Depression. I taught a twenty minute lesson as I drew it on the board and had students copy it. At the end of the year when I asked students to share their favorite things from the year some of the students brought that up and said that it was really helpful.
You see, the thing is, as much as I believe in student inquiry and learning along side students, I do have more knowledge and understanding than them on most social studies topics. When it comes to difficult concepts such as economics that they have not had a class in yet, they need some help that I can give them. A good lecture can help frame the big picture for further student inquiry and help clarify complex topics.
There is space in the PBL framework for direct instruction when appropriate. The key is to realize that it should be used sparingly and lead to student inquiry afterwards. Otherwise it would be like going to an archery class and never getting to pick up the bow.