Learner rehearsal — making sense of direct instruction

A new addition to the coaching toolkit, perhaps — not quite instruction or demonstration, but not “guided discovery”, either — learner rehearsal.

The conversation was sparked by an article posted by Alex Lascu to Medium.com earlier this week: Combating the plight of traditional coaches. In the article, Alex described a challenge she has faced as an advocate of CLA coaching — “traditional” coaches jumping in to provide players with the “oven ready” solution, rather than allowing the player to find their own way.

Which led, in turn, to a discussion of the role of Instruction in coaching, and, indeed, to the understanding of “direct instruction” as a coaching intervention.

Prof Cushion (with Ed Cope) has recently published an article that addresses the topic: A move towards reconceptualising direct instruction in sport coaching pedagogy.

I saw this article when it came out, subconsciously labeled it as “difficult”, and bookmarked it to read later (and still hadn’t read it when Prof Cushion recommended it, this week)…I wonder how many other coaches saw “reconceptualising…pedagogy”and thought it wasn’t for them? A mistake, as I have found out.

“Telling” as a coaching methodology has got a bad press, recently — the game is the teacher; let the players find their own way. But there does still seem to be a place in good coaching practice for some instruction or demonstration. It’s a question of how much, and when.

But I think there can be a misunderstanding of the phrase “direct instruction”. To me, it means “telling” — if I gave a group of students a direct instruction not to socialise in large groups, I wouldn’t really expect them to experiment with how many people they can fit into a bar without initiating a COVID-19 super-spreader event!

But for the educator, the phrase “direct instruction” can define the whole process of teaching, from instruction & modelling through practice and on to understanding (or at least “learning”…not necessarily the same thing, always).

Better, perhaps, to speak of learner rehearsal — what we encourage students to do after receiving an instruction or demonstration.

The concept of learner rehearsal appears in Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction — research-based strategies that all teachers should know. Although the phrase itself isn’t used, the concept appears to be central to Rosenshine’s principles — the words “rehearse” or “rehearsal” appear 14 times across the 9 pages of the article.

Educators are to provide a model solution, then to facilitate extensive practice (or rehearsal), both supervised and independent.

Perhaps tellingly, the article does not use the phrase “direct instruction” — maybe we (coaches) need another phrase to describe the process of showing & telling?

There are interesting parallels with Whitehead’s Romance-Precision-Generalisation model — introduce and practice a solution [developing Precision], then take that solution back out into the wider world to test and refine in the light of experience [Generalisation].

Whitehead’s “Romance” is absent, perhaps, from Rosenshine’s Principles — perhaps it is not the role of the modern educator to spark enthusiasm?

Simple summary — tell or show your players how to do something, then give them lots of chances to try out your solution, adapt and modify, until it becomes their own.

With thanks to Professor Chris Cushion for indulging my curiosity via Twitter, and to Alex Lascu for once again posing such an interesting challenge.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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