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; Online; 2020

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #244
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
Area: EDC; Domain: Theory
Chair: William 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.

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.


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.


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.


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.




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