Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


46th Annual Convention; Washington DC; 2020

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #333
Siegfried Engelmann’s Direct Instruction: Faultless Communication, Measurably Superior Learning, and the Quest for Widespread Adoption
Sunday, May 24, 2020
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M4, Independence A-C
Area: EDC; Domain: Theory
Chair: William L. Heward (Ohio State University)
Discussant: Patrick C. Friman (Boys Town)
CE Instructor: Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D.

Siegfried “Ziggy” Engelmann (1931-2019) dedicated his life to developing and refining Direct Instruction (DI), a powerful teaching system that combines logical selection and sequencing of examples and high rates of responding by students. Countless children and adults owe their literacy to teachers who skillfully presented DI programs developed by Engelmann and colleagues. This symposium will review Engelmann’s achievements as a pioneering scientist, examine the DI research base, show how DI's theory of instruction is harmonious with behavior analysis, and discuss factors that impede the widespread implementation of DI in schools.

Instruction Level: Basic
Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe two examples of how Siegfried Engelmann was a pioneer in modern cognitive psychology and two examples of how he advanced the field of instructional design; (2) describe the overall findings of a recent meta-analysis of over 300 studies on Direct Instruction and two suggestions for extending and improving the research base; (3) describe three Direct Instruction components that combine to communicate one logical interpretation by the learner; (4) describe why modifying Direct Instruction programs often undermines its effectiveness; (5) describe three reasons why many educators find Direct Instruction aversive.

Science in the Service of Humanity: The Astonishing Contributions of Siegfried Engelmann


A pioneering scientist and educator for more than 50 years, Siegfried ‘Zig’ Engelmann was among the first to apply the scientific method to the design and delivery of instruction. He stood alone for his ability to create programs that accelerate learning in even the hardest to teach children and that most teachers can learn to use. He wrote more than 100 curricula, covering the major subjects from preschool to high school. As a professor of education at University of Oregon and founder of the National Institute for Direct Instruction, he attracted students from around the world. No one did more to help the underdog. Millions of poor children learned when taught by teachers trained in his methods, often when nothing else worked. He never gave up on a child or blamed children for the failings of adults. He lived by his motto: If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught. More scientific evidence validates DI’s effectiveness than any other mode of teaching. I will present an overview of Zig’s life and achievements.

Shepard Barbash has been a writer for forty years. His work has appeared in The New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington PostSmithsonian MagazineCity JournalEducation Next and other publications. He is former bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle in Mexico City and is the author of five books, including Clear Teaching, published in 2012 by the Education Consumers Foundation. He and his wife, photographer Vicki Ragan, have published an alphabet book of limericks and three illustrated books (including one for children) on the folk-art wood carvers of Oaxaca, Mexico. He has advised the Georgia Governor’s Office and the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) on curricular issues and has organized teacher training programs and written grants for APS. He has also worked for E.D. Hirsch at the Core Knowledge Foundation. He is a graduate of Harvard University.


Factors in Education and ABA That Work Against Adoption and Maintenance of Direct Instruction

TIMOTHY SLOCUM (Utah State University)

A great deal of evidence demonstrates that Direct Instruction can be extremely effective for efficiently building academic repertoires in a wide variety of learners including those with disabilities. However, Direct Instruction is not widely implemented in schools or ABA service settings. This presentation explores the interaction of features of Direct Instruction and the resources and contingencies in potential implementation settings that account for the under-utilization of this powerful technology that addresses a high-priority need. First, Direct Instruction must be well-implemented to have the powerful effects it is capable of producing. Second, implementing Direct Instruction well requires a good deal of expertise, on-going support, and ongoing effort by educators. Third, few schools or ABA service providers understand how and why Direct Instruction is powerful; therefore, they often undermine its effectiveness when making modifications, fail to generalize its powerful features, and select less effective programs for reasons that are irrelevant to student achievement. Fourth, many educators find some features of Direct Instruction aversive because of verbal relations surrounding those features, in spite of the fact that Direct Instruction could help them achieve highly-valued outcomes.

Dr. Timothy A. Slocum earned his doctorate in Special Education at the University of Washington in 1991 and has been a faculty member at Utah State University (USU) in the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation since that time. He has been involved in behavior analysis and reading research for more than 25 years. He has conducted research on phonological skills, vocabulary, and school-wide implementation of research-based reading instruction, and evidence-based practice. He teaches courses at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels on topics including evidence-based reading instruction, single-case research methods, statistics, advanced topics in behavior analysis, and verbal behavior. Dr. Slocum was recognized as 2011 Teacher of the Year by the USU College of Education; received the 2011 Fred S. Keller Behavioral Education award from Division 25 of the American Psychological Association; was inducted into the Direct Instruction Hall of Fame in 2013; and was named 2018 Mentor of the Year by UtABA.

What’s the Evidence for Direct Instruction?

JEAN STOCKARD (University of Oregon)

More than fifty years and 300 studies document DI’s effectiveness. A recent meta-analysis found that the average effect size for DI was over .50, substantially larger than the level typically found in studies of other programs. Estimated effects were similar across time, methodologies, student characteristics, settings, outcome variables, and comparison programs. However, they were larger when students were exposed for longer periods of time and with greater fidelity, surpassing the effect associated with the average achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Future research might most effectively focus on ways to improve implementation fidelity and understand resistance to the programs.

Jean Stockard has Bachelor of Arts degrees in mathematics and sociology, a Masters of Arts in Sociology, and a Ph.D. in Sociology. She taught at the University of Oregon from 1974 to 2011 and currently holds the rank of Professor Emerita. She has published eight books and over seven dozen articles in a wide variety of areas, including sociology of gender, urban sociology, sociology of education, sociology of health and demography. She has taught a variety of courses related to these areas as well as numerous classes on methodology and quantitative analysis. Professor Stockard was President of the Pacific Sociological Association in 2008, the regional association serving the western United States, Canada, and Mexico; served as co-editor of Sociological Perspectives, a general sociological journal; and was employed for nine years as Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Institute for Direct Instruction, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping schools in disadvantaged areas better serve their students.


Faultless Communication: The Heart and Soul of DI


Engelmann and colleagues realized that a scientific analysis of learning needed to control for one of two variables: either the learner or the instruction. As no two learners are alike, they focused on controlling instruction—in the form of logical, “faultless communication.” For most novice learners, normal instruction is riddled with confusion and ambiguity. To reduce misinterpretation and maximize learning, DI's instructional components (such as content analysis, explicit teaching, judicious example selection, and structured sequencing) are designed communicate one logical interpretation. The effects on the learner's performance are then observed, and the communication redesigned until faultless. DI's “Theory of Instruction” is harmonious with behavior analysis and beneficial to anyone interested in the heart and soul of good instruction.

Janet Twyman received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She currently holds the positions of Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Director of Innovation and Technology for the Center on Innovations in Learning, having served previously as Vice President of Instructional Development, Research, and Implementation for Headsprout. Dr. Twyman is widely recognized as an authority on instructional design, fully informed by behavior analytic research and conceptualization. Her leadership contributions at Headsprout were pivotal in managing a project of more than $6 million, which reached more than a million children with effective reading instruction. Similarly impressive were her contributions and her leadership at the Fred S. Keller School, where she served as executive director for eight years, arranging a behavioral approach to every aspect of the school’s functioning and inspiring many students, staff members, and parents in doing so. Dr. Twyman has also provided significant service to the field, with leadership roles within the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Research and for ABAI, where she served as president, Executive Council member, and chair of several important boards and task forces.



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