“Play-based learning” proven not effective – direct instruction method proven highly effective

The “Follow Through project” was a huge US study of effectiveness of different approaches for dis-advantaged kids grades K-8.

In his article, “Project Follow Through: In-depth and Beyond,” (broken link) Gary Adams writes,

“The Follow Through project was the largest, most expensive educational experiment ever conducted. This federal program was originally designed to be a service-oriented project similar to Head Start. However, because of funding cutbacks the emphasis was shifted from service to program evaluation. Over 75,000 low income children in 170 communities were involved in this massive project designed to evaluate different approaches to educating economically disadvantaged students from kindergarten through grade 3”

The project found that the “Direct Instruction” models far outperform others. So much for the “play based” approach.

Comment: This may be so because direct instruction requires much more relationship/interaction and conversation between the child and a specific adult and therefore builds the adult-attachment that Drs Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate say is required. Think of actually learning to tie shoes or sing a song or clean up or count or being read to…that’s not the ‘play based’ method. The activities and programs like swimming, dance, language, and music lessons that “educated” parents do or pay for use direct instruction. They are usually intense and very short – a half hour or so maximum at the preschool age – whereas all-day loosely supervised play among 15-30 same-age peers does not demand much interaction of a specific teacher/adult.

Note: “High/Scope,” mentioned below, was the program used in the Perry Preschool Project

Check out the charts in the Adams article—”Cognitive Curriculum (High Scope)” kids were worse off after program. Adams writes,

“In fact, the Direct Instruction Model was the only model of the nine that had a positive cognitive score (and the results were extremely positive—over 35%). In contrast, students in two of the three cognitively-oriented models [TEEM and Cognitive Curriculum (High Scope)] had the lowest cognitive scores…”

“In contrast, all Basic Skills models had positive affective scores with the Direct Instruction model achieving the highest scores . The theory that an emphasis on basic skills instruction would have a negative impact on affective behaviour is not supported by the data. Instead, it appears that the models that focused on an affective education not only had a negative impact on their students’ basic skills and cognitive skills, but also on their affective skills.”

From “Conclusions”

“Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Follow Through results is the persistence of models that are based on what data confirms is whimsical theory …. The notion of the teacher being a facilitator and providing children with incidental teaching was used by the British infant school model (Open Education). It was a flagrant failure, …”

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