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The Dilemma of Scripted Instruction: Comparing Teacher Autonomy, Fidelity, and Resistance in the Froebelian Kindergarten, Montessori, Direct Instruction, and Success for All


by Barbara Beatty — 2011

Background/Context: More than a century before modern controversies over scripted instruction, the Froebelian kindergarten--the original kindergarten method designed by Friedrich Froebel--and Maria Montessori's pedagogy were criticized for rigidly prescribing how teachers taught and children learned. Today, scripted methods such as Direct Instruction and Success for All are condemned for limiting teachers' autonomy and narrowing students' learning, especially that of students from low-income backgrounds, for and with whom scripts are often designed and used. Proponents of scripted instruction counter that it is helpful for teachers and effective with students. Comparing historical and modern scripts offers an opportunity to explore teachers' reactions to this hotly debated approach to school reform and to think about some possible implications for teacher education.

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: I examine how teachers reacted to four different models of scripted instruction. I chose to compare the Froebelian kindergarten, Montessori, Direct Instruction, and Success for All because of their longevity, wide use, and the amount of information available about them. I focus on the scripts' theory and research base and teacher training, and on teachers' assessments of the scripts' effectiveness, and ask how these factors might influence teachers'autonomy, fidelity, and resistance when using scripts.

Research Design: Using historical methods, I summarize the history of scripted instruction; selectively survey research on teacher autonomy, fidelity, and resistance; and interpret primary and secondary sources on the Froebelian kindergarten, Montessori, Direct Instruction, and Success for All.

Findings/Results: Teacher autonomy, fidelity, and resistance varied in these four scripts. Froebelian kindergarten and Montessori teachers autonomously chose to receive scripted, lengthy, intensive, pre-service training and professional development in closed professional learning communities. Direct Instruction and Success for All teachers receive scripted, relatively limited pre-service training and ongoing professional development in schools in which teachers often do not autonomously choose to teach. Despite the scripted training, most Froebelian kindergarten teachers, and many Montessori, Direct Instruction, and Success for All teachers modified these scripts at the classroom level; some Froebelian and Montessori teachers made very overt, substantial changes when the social class backgrounds of the students changed. Many Froebelian and most Montessori teachers seemed to believe that these scripts helped their students learn. Direct Instruction and Success for All teachers express more mixed views of these scripts' effectiveness. Some say that the scripts "work" for their students but that as teachers they feel constrained, a situation I see as a professional dilemma. Anecdotally, some new teachers with little pre-service training say that they feel limited by scripts but daunted by the task of creating curricula and instruction on their own.

Conclusions/Recommendations: My research raises questions about teachers' reactions to scripts. The examples of Froebelian kindergarten, Montessori, Direct Instruction, and Success for All teachers I studied suggest that there may be unpredictable contradictions in scripted instruction. Scripted, autonomously chosen, intensive training may strengthen teacher fidelity and resistance, by giving teachers a deep repertoire of pedagogical skills that some continue to use and others use to autonomously modify scripts in response to students' perceived needs. Scripted, externally imposed, less extensive training may give some teachers a sense of security but also create tensions between the scripts' perceived effectiveness and the teachers' desires for autonomy, and, for new teachers, between autonomy and the difficulty of independently designing curricula and methods. I argue that these reactions suggest that educators in traditional pre-service teacher education programs may want to experiment with offering an autonomous choice of distinctly different instructional models, including scripted ones such as Direct Instruction and Success for All, in which teachers in training in professional learning communities may become deeply skilled. I also argue that script developers may want to experiment with giving teachers more explicit autonomy, both in choosing scripts and in modifying them, and more extensive pre-service training. I recommend more comparative research on teachers' reactions to scripts, especially on new teachers.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 3, 2011, p. 395-430
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16048, Date Accessed: 4/17/2014 8:29:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Barbara Beatty
    Wellesley College
    E-mail Author
    BARBARA BEATTY is professor of education at Wellesley College. Her research focuses on the history of preschool education, teacher education, and the relationship between psychology and education. She is co-editor of When Science Encounters the Child: Education, Parenting, and Child Welfare in 20th-Century America (2006) and author of Preschool Education in America: the Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present (1995), and other publications.
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