By Kathryn Petersen, a SkillCorps alum on the Jan. 2017 Kenya team
The focus of this SkillCorps trip to Kenya has been Direct Instruction. Direct Instruction is group instruction, focusing on choral responding and a script that the teacher closely follows. It is also something that I have not had much experience with, outside of studying it just enough to pass my BCBA exam. We spent the first week identifying how to incorporate this style of teaching into the intermediate and advanced rooms. SkillCorps members read articles, watched videos, and discussed how to fit this model into Kaizora’s current system. We spent mornings in workshops with the Kaizora staff discussing, role-playing, and collaborating on scripts to apply in the classrooms. We had used our knowledge of the science and the staff’s knowledge of the students and the center and knew we’d come up with something good.
Then, we tried to actually implement it in the classroom with the students. In the advanced classroom, this worked beautifully. But in the intermediate room, we failed. The script was too confusing and the behaviors too challenging for this to be effective. So, what did we do? Like good behaviorists, we went back to the research to look at how to apply it for this developmental level. We found nothing. After a few group discussions stressing over the lack of information, we were excited to realize that we could pioneer what we think would work best with these students, this staff, and this culture. We scrapped the script, discussed how to promote group responding, how to deliver reinforcement, and how to correct if a student made an error in this classroom. This second week, we have seen the two styles of DI effectively teaching the students of Kaizora. That is the whole goal, right?
It has been an eye-opening experience showing us that the science is there, but it’s not flawless. There may be gaps in research or irrelevance given particular situations. What worked best for us to promote sustainability and effectiveness was our knowledge of the empirical evidence, their knowledge of the culture of the center and the students, and a collaborative conversation on how best to combine the two.