Engelmann explains

Zig Engelmann, progenitor of Direct Instruction (DI), has posted a video of a talk he gave earlier this month. The presentation is an explication of the underlying principles of DI, “Theory of Direct Instruction.”

In the presentation (video below the jump), Mr. Engelmann shows some of his chops from his undergraduate degree in philosophy. He starts with philosophers’ fundamental arguments and shows how those correspond (or don’t) with learning and teaching concepts. For example, as he works through John Stuart Mills’ five methods of induction from A System of Logic, he makes clear how each would apply to teaching. I suspect that this particular sequence will show many people why DI instruction (the examples used in the scripts, not the teaching behavior) is structured the way it is.

Mr. Engelmann continues by recounting how, during the development of DI programs, Doug Carnine conducted studies examining whether teaching presentations based on these logical inferences would result in predicted learning by children. Mr. Engelmann notes that there were 47 of these studies; I don’t have a complete list, but I know that Professor Carnine was remarkably productive during the 70s and 80s. Here are a few examples from references I have at hand: Carnine (1976; 1980a; 1980b; 1980c; 1981), Granzin and Carnine (1977), and Williams and Carnine (1981).

In summary, over 30 minutes, Mr. Engelmann shows how the combination of reasoned inference and empirical research led him and his colleagues to conclude that learners are essentially logical thinkers who will aquire concepts and operations when instruction admits to one—and only one—interpretation and provides them with adequate opportunities to practice use of the concepts and operations in varied circumstances.

Theory of Direct Instruction from NIFDI on Vimeo.

Link to Zigsite for the original.


Carnine, D. W. (1976). Similar sound separation and cummulative introduction in learning letter sound correspondence. Journal of Educational Research, 69, 368-372.

Carnine, D. W. (1980a). Relationships between stimulus variation and the formation of misconceptions. Journal of Educational Research, 74, 106-110.

Carnine, D. W. (1980b). Three procedures for presenting minimally different positive and negative sequences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 452-456.

Carnine, D. W. (1980c). Two letter discrimination sequences: High-confusion alternatives first versus low-confusion alternatives first. Journal of Reading Behavior, 12, 41-48.

Carnine, D. W. (1981). Reducing training problems associated with visually and auditorily similar correspondences. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 14, 276-279.

Granzin, A., & Carnine, D. W. (1977). Child performance on discrimination tasks: Effects of amount of stimulus variation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 24, 332-342.

Williams, P., & Carnine, D. (1981). Relationship between range of examples and of instructions and attention in concept attainment. Journal of Educational Research, 74, 144-148.

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