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Instructional Model

Arthur Academy Charter Schools use an incremental, mastery-learning approach for teaching basic subjects of reading, math and language found in a series of detailed, pre-planned programs called Direct Instruction. This specialized approach to teaching for the foundational subjects of reading, math, spelling and language skills is based on a comprehensive model of instruction. This model is a way of teaching that also defines our charter school option. Providing this model is based on the belief that a powerful way of teaching exists that is not being utilized in most schools, and therefore our charter schools offer it as a choice.

The instructional model is called Mastery Learning. The instructional programs using this model are called Direct Instruction (DI) for teaching early literacy and the fundamentals of math in grades K-5. This model, with these programs, is the most thoroughly documented educational reform model in elementary and middle school grades. It emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons, designed around small learning increments and prescribed teaching tasks. Learning is arranged very incrementally so that students find learning easy but challenging and, therefore, can be successful in mastering everything that is taught as they progress through the programs.

The DI curriculum materials break down all general objectives into very small teaching progressions. All activities are very carefully sequenced so that they can be easily learned, mastered and gradually accumulated towards larger objectives. The activities are presented to children in very exacting, interactive ways so that children are motivated.

Direct Instruction

What is Direct Instruction (DI)?

Direct Instruction (or “DI”) is a unique and very effective, nationally acclaimed program that teaches children reading, early language, and math skills.

DI is known for its clever and creative way of teaching children. What makes DI programs different and special are the carefully designed lessons. All programs are arranged and organized into precise, small and sequential steps with specific examples and wording. The children learn quickly.

These clear presentations and strategies help children get past typical trouble spots. Lessons gradually progress from simple and easy to more difficult and complicated learning. DI lessons demand active participation from the children in order to maintain their interest and attention. Rapid pacing and choral group response punctuated by individual turns characterize the delivery of a DI lesson. Children progress from directed and guided activities to increasingly more independent work. Over time, they become proud of what they know and can do and confident in their ability to learn.

The steps in DI have been developed from extensive field testing with hundreds of children over thirty years. No other program used today has been as extensively researched and developed.

Because Arthur Academy is a small school, we can be sure that these highly-specialized programs will be implemented correctly and skillfully.

The evidence is clear: DI works with children at all ability levels.

Beginning Reading

DI and Reading

We believe that all children can learn to read beginning in kindergarten. The main purpose of reading is to understand. Yet, to understand, all readers must be able to easily and quickly translate words in a printed alphabetic code into understandable speech. This process of deciphering printed words is often the source of children’s reading difficulty.

The most recent research indicates that the best way to approach this problem is directly, explicitly and systematically. This involves strengthening a child’s sensitivity and skills with speech sounds and linking these sounds to the printed words. This is phonics.

Making this connection must become automatic so a child can focus more on understanding what is read. If a child has to spend a lot of effort simply translating print to speech, he or she will be less able to understand what is read.

The Reading Mastery program uses a phonics-based approach. Children learn in sequential steps and can keep track of their own growth towards becoming good readers.

Connecting Math Concepts

DI and Math

Learning math can be difficult and boring.

Teachers disagree on how best to teach math. Some believe it best to let students “discover” math skills such as the number system or basic math operations. Under this theory, children are given word problems and then learn the computation skills necessary in order to solve them. This approach is considered a “constructionist” or “discovery” approach.

Arthur Academy takes a different approach using a program called Connecting Math Concepts (CMC). Children learn skills first. Then they are taught why the skill works. Finally, the children apply the skill to solve a word problem. Our three-step approach is skill, understanding, application--not the reverse.

CMC does this by teaching skills in small steps from the simplest to the most complicated. Lessons are a mixture of both new and old content which results in a higher level of success for each child.

CMC provides a very logical and reasonable approach to teaching math. Computation skills are taught sequentially and directly, without sacrificing understanding and application. As a result, children gain a firm foundation and can learn and perform math at all levels in future grades.

History of Arthur Academy Instructional Model

Although this way of teaching represents a historic advancement in the field of education, the basic ideas may not be all that new. A quote from Samuel Johnson, enlightened philosopher and educator of the 18th century illustrates this point.

"The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabrics of science are formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions." Samuel Johnson (July 9, 1751) 


Origins of the Mastery Learning Instructional Model

The use of these programs has resulted in high academic achievement. There are good reasons for these kinds of results. The DI programs used in our schools are some of the most evidence-based instructional programs available. They all use a careful logical analysis of core learning and component skills combined with a Mastery Learning approach to teaching. The basis of Mastery Learning is that a child’s rate of progress is determined by the extent to which he or she masters carefully sequenced lessons and activities that lead to mastery of essential foundational skills and knowledge.

The Mastery Learning approach found in these programs is a part of a long line of educational theory and research that dates as far back as the work of Carleton Washbourne (1922) and Henry Morrison (1926) of the University of Chicago Laboratory School. This work was continued by many others, most notable, John Carroll’s (1963) model of school learning and the further work of Benjamin Bloom (1984) and his graduate students, also of the University of Chicago. Most of the Mastery Learning (ML) features also emerged in the large number of Effective Teaching studies reported by Jerry Brophy, “Teacher’s Behavior and Student Achievement”, (1986) and Barak Rosenshine, “Advances in Research on Instruction” (1997) as critical features for effectiveness.

The Direct Instruction(DI) programs, developed, researched and published by Engelmann, Becker and Carnine, are known for carrying Mastery Learning principles of high-quality instruction to their ultimate, systematic conclusion in curricular materials.

Supportive Evidence

These materials alone have been the subject of numerous studies. The two most recent studies involved reviews conducted by the American Institute of Research (AIR) in 1999 and 2005. In these reviews, 22 widely adopted comprehensive elementary school reform teaching models were identified. The DI programs were one of only two programs that received the highest rating for having evidence of positively impacting elementary level student achievement in both reviews.

Collectively, the reform models reviewed in the 2005 study served thousands of mostly high-poverty, low-performing schools nationwide. According to these studies, the models that received a high rating, such as the Direct Instruction programs, are considered “research-based” and provide the training to achieve student success. These reports are the most extensive and comprehensive reviews of elementary school reform models ever issued. The DI literacy programs also met the No Child Left Behind(NCLB) criteria for scientifically based evidence and were on the NCLB list of approved programs.

Early intervention in beginning reading has been a well-recognized need in schools, especially within the last two decades. Researchers, Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich, have produced a large body of research that examined the value of early prevention of reading failure. They summarized the results of their studies in a 1998 report, “What Reading Does For the Mind”, found in the Spring/Summer issue of the American Educator. The focus of their studies was on the effect of volume of reading in a child’s life on over-all intelligence. Children who begin reading early have a distinct advantage in accumulating reading volume, and thus, are more likely to acquire reading skills at a higher level. These researchers found that reading volume accounts for differences in several measures of smartness: growth in reading comprehension at grades three and five, high-school grade average, IQ tests, and a Practical Knowledge test.

In a unique ten-year longitudinal study, the authors found that all three standardized measures of first grade reading ability (decoding, word recognition and comprehension) predicted eleventh-grade reading volume. These first grade reading measures were an even stronger predictor of reading volume than IQ measures. Children who accumulate high levels of reading volume do so mostly because they learn to read early. This volume of reading, in and by itself, has a powerful affect on future learning and on the shaping of the mind. We have learned that, if at-risk children who have the highest likelihood of learning problems can start kindergarten in a strong academic program, many of their learning difficulties can be prevented. Just within the 2007-08 school year, 55% of all 138 kindergarteners, in all six schools, started the year below average in reading. By the end of the year, only 2% were below average. Giving this kind of accelerated progress in kindergarten provides all children with a huge advantage for success in future grades.

We also, now know, from national reports by Reid Lyon of the National Institute for Child Health and Development (NICHD) and the work of Sally Shaywitz, M.D., Co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention, and others, that proper early instruction can bring about permanent, measurable changes (MRI brain imaging research) in the activation patterns of the brain to prevent and overcome future reading problems. This all provides strong evidence and cause for providing careful, highly effective instruction in reading in the early grades. All of the Arthur Academies are providing this instruction with outstanding results.

Mastery Learning also shows up in the writings of the distinguished psychologist, Albert Bandura. According to a 2002 survey, Bandura is the most frequently cited living psychologist and the fourth most frequent of all time. In his work on Self-Efficacy: the Exercise of Control (1997), he identifies four sources of Self-Efficacy that are consistent with Mastery Learning theories. Self-Efficacy is defined as the ability to achieve or accomplish results. Perceived self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capabilities. Such an outlook produces personal accomplishments and reduces stress. Self-Efficacy is based on mastery experiences, which are initiated by learning through demonstration and modeling, strengthened by encouragement and reinforcement that result in a student’s belief in their capacities. We believe that schools based on Mastery Learning can play a large part in producing these qualities in children. Accord to studies conducted by Bandura, measures of self-efficacy are strong predictors of school success.

The Reading Mastery program, a component of the full body of Direct Instruction programs, implements the recommendations made by two national reports commissioned by the US Congress, reports by the National Research Council (1998), which resulted in the publication, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, and the National Reading Panel (2000).

The approach to beginning reading found in this program and supported by these national reports is consistent with a long line of research reports beginning with Jeanne Chall’s 1967 book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, her many later publications, the work of Isabelle Libermann and Donald Shankweiler on phonemic awareness, the work of Kieth Stanovich on causes and consequences of reading difficulties, (“Matthew effects in reading,” 1986), Marilyn Adams’ 1990 book, Beginning Reading, and Reid Lyon’s historic summary of NICHD research on reading “Reading: A Research-Based Approach.” This is just to mention a few of the vast amount of publications made within the last 20 years along these lines. It is also important to call attention to Bonnie Grossen’s 1997 report, “Thirty Years of Research: What We Now Know About How Children Learn To Read: A synthesis of research on reading from the NIHCHD.” Dr. Grossen is a member of the board of directors of Mastery Learning Institute (MLI).

Arthur Academies’ Unique Contribution
Arthur Academies have found that children can gain a head start in learning to read in kindergarten. Yet, very few schools start this process seriously until first grade. Also, in spite of the research reviews done by AIR, which have been widely publicized (front page Oregonian, 12/14/05), very few schools use a Mastery Learning approach to teaching. There also is still a delay in recognizing and implementing the results of the recent reading commissioned reports. The Arthur Academy Charter Schools demonstrate the effectiveness of these teaching practices and therefore can have an influence in disseminating their use, in various forms, in other schools.

Direct Instruction
Beginning Reader
Connectig Math Concepts
History of Instuctional Model

Project Follow Through

​​The Biggest Educational Study Ever

One large study that parents really should know about is Project Follow Through, completed in the 1970s. This was the largest educational study ever done, costing over $600 million, and covering 79,000 children in 180 communities. This project examined a variety of programs and educational philosophies to learn how to improve education of disadvantaged children in grades K-3. (It was launched in response to the observation that Head Start children were losing the advantages from Head Start by third grade.) Desired positive outcomes included basic skills, cognitive skills ("higher order thinking") and affective gains (self-esteem). Multiple programs were implemented over a 5-year period and the results were analyzed by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Abt Associates (Cambridge, MA). The various programs studied could be grouped into the three classes described above (Basic Skills, Cognitive-Conceptual, Affective-Cognitive).

The program that gave the best results in general was true Direct Instruction, a subset of Basic Skills. The other program types, which closely resemble today's educational strategies (having labels like "holistic," "student-centered learning," "learning-to-learn," "active learning," "cooperative education," and "whole language") were inferior. Students receiving Direct Instruction did better than those in all other programs when tested in reading, arithmetic, spelling, and language. But what about "higher-order thinking" and self-esteem? Contrary to common assumptions, Direct Instruction improved cognitive skills dramatically relative to the control groups and also showed the highest improvement in self-esteem scores compared to control groups. Students in the Open Education Center program, where self-esteem was the primary goal, scored LOWER than control groups in that area! As Dr. Jones puts it, "The inescapable conclusion of Project Follow Through is that kids enrolled in educational programs, which have well-defined academic objectives, will enjoy greater achievement in basic skills, thinking skills, and self-esteem. Self-esteem in fact appears to derive from pride in becoming competent in the important academic skills."

Dr. Jones goes on to explore the lamentable reaction of many educators who found their ideologies undercut by the hard data. Rather than change, many simply ignored the study and continued as before. (A more recent example of this is the continued use of whole language reading education in schools, in spite of overwheling evidence of failure). Today, we find schools spending more and more to implement forms of "affective" and "cognitive" educational programs, while continuing to turn away from anything close to Direct Instruction. This has not resulted in improved basic skills, improved thinking, or improved self-esteem.

Jones also discusses research on the long-term effects of those who received Direct Instruction in Project Follow Through and in a separate study conducted by Gersten and Keating. Kids receiving true Direct Instruction were much more likely to graduate from high school and to be accepted into college and to show long-term gains in reading, language, and math scores.

Among the multiple references Jones provides for Project Follow Through, I'll list three:

  • Stebbins, L.B., R.G. St. Pierre, E.C. Proper, R.B. Anderson, and T.R. Cerva. Education as Experimentation: A Planned Variation Model, Volume IV-A, An Evaluation of Follow Through. Abt Associates, Cambridge, MA, 1977.

  • Bock, G., L.B. Stebbins, and E.C. Proper. Education as Experimentation: A Planned Variation Model, Volume IV-B, Effects of Follow Through Models, Abt Associates, Cambridge, MA, 1977. [Also issued by U.S. Office of Education as National Evaluation: Detailed Effects Volume II-B of the Follow Through Planned Variation Experiment Series.]

  • Meyer, L.A. Long-term academic effects of the Direct Instruction project follow through. Elementary School Journal. 84: 380-304 (1984).


The following sources have been recommended as studies showing the long-term benefits of Direct Instruction on a child:

  • Gersten, R., & Keating, T (1987). Long-Term Benefits from Direct Instruction. Educational Leadership, 44(6), 28-29.

  • Gersten, R., Keating, T., & Becker, W. (1988). The Continued Impact of the Direct Instruction Model: Longitudinal Studies of Follow Through Students. Education and Treatment of Children, 11(4), 318-327.

  • Gary Adams, Project Follow Through and Beyond, in Effective School Practices, Volume 15, No. 1, Winter, 1995-6 Theme: What Was That Project Follow Through? This is also available at


Research on Direct Instruction by Gary Adams and Siegfried Engelmann. Available for $24.95 + $4 shipping and handling through Educational Achievement Systems, 319 Nickerson St. - Suite 112, Seattle, WA 98109. (Did you know that the average percentile score of students in DI reading is .72 percentile and .87 in DI math? Not bad!)

Project Follow Through
Instructional Model
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