The Third Way: Direct Instruction in France Imprimer Envoyer
Pédagogie Explicite - Historique du courant
Écrit par Françoise Appy   
Lundi, 01 Janvier 2007 00:00

Common Knowledge - The Newsletter of the Core Knowledge Foundation - Vol. 20, n° 1, janvier 2007

The Third Way: Direct Instruction in France

Core Knowledge

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Françoise Appy and her husband, Bernard, have become regular contributors to Common Knowledge. Their enthusiasm for reform of teaching methods and standards in France should serve to motivate all of us and remind us of our core mission. Françoise and Bernard will attend the 2007 National Conference in Washington, D.C.

Primary education in France is influenced by two movements defined by very different conceptions of instruction — the traditional approach and the constructivist or progressive approach. Because of the ideological connotations, movements, and politics behind each method, various controversies between them lead to endless and often abstract debate. As a result of these quarrels, the future and wellbeing of French children becomes secondary.

Our Route

While considering the reform of education in France, our first question was, “do we want to formally teach children or do we want them to build naturally on their knowledge?” Because educational progressivism has been deemed inefficient and unsuccessful since the 1970s, the first option seems more logical. However, in the traditional Ecoles Normales1, soon-to-be teachers are only taught one model for teaching: the well-known and officially recognized Progressivism. Today, despite poor classroom results, “hands-on” constructionist methods are still defended by many, resulting in noisy, exhausted classes that learn little in the way of knowledge or skill. Discovery learning, which is more or less imposed by the teachers, is responsible for much of this educational chaos. Also to blame are the absence of redoubling, cycles,2 misdirected input from parents, and, at times, teachers’ decision-making powers.

Simply put, primary school no longer prepares children for further education. Aside from the intellectual damage it causes, a lack of education keeps entire social groups from advancement, the tools of power, and the intellectual capital necessary to become productive “éclaire” citizens. What are we to think of a society that abandons some of its members?

Why a third way?

In our daily practice as educators, we continually improve our teaching and make changes according to real results. Desiring to teach in the more successful, traditional manner, one is stuck between effective teaching and reverting back to schools as they were in the 1950s. French traditional teaching has always been strong, but reproducing this older style would be an anachronism. Certainly it would mean “yesterday teaching about tomorrow,” but another aphorism should be added here: “tomorrow can’t be the mirror of yesterday.” In order for teachers to effectively deliver knowledge to their students in a way that reflects a new style and a new culture, teachers need modern abilities and methods. Formerly, traditional teaching focused on the teacher and long, magisterial lessons, placing students in a secondary, passive role in which their understanding was neglected. Responsive exercises were few and feedback on progress was scarce. As most current teachers were themselves taught using this method, they know firsthand that this cannot be recreated in today’s schools.

A few years after we started our reflection on problems in education, we discovered Direct Instruction, which embraced goals, methods, and philosophies similar to our own. We contacted proponents of Direct Instruction in the United States and Canada and read as much as we could on the subject. When I read The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them (1996), I was sure that it revealed education’s new path. Thanks to this book and the work of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., we were introduced to Core Knowledge. We also read the works of Clermont Gautier and worked with educators in Switzerland who are reforming their educational system in a similar manner. (See also TASIS article.)

Our Third Way is a route to the future that doesn’t refuse new technologies or sciences and allows young French people to begin their secondary studies in the best conditions. Our approach focuses on efficiency and pragmatism — words long forgotten in our educational system.

Our ambitions

We began our website [] in December of 2002 and were introduced to Core Knowledge and Direct Instruction in Spring 2006. In the summer of 2006, we started a Yahoo user group to build a community of interested individuals. Our contacts at Core Knowledge helped us publish a newsletter, and, since then, we’ve been communicating with teachers in the United States.

Our next steps include

  • studying research and applying our findings in class
  • defining a specific curriculum for each grade
  • organizing visits with Core Knowledge schools and teachers
  • attending a Core Knowledge Conference
  • translating and adapting textbooks
  • creating a new website Troisième voie
  • writing a book about our method
  • creating an official network, establishing legal existence

We would like to see a real “liberté pédagogique.”3 You are free only when you can choose. Proposing Direct Instruction in teacher’s training colleges would be a major step toward that kind of freedom. Far from imposing our will, we desire to spread knowledge of our methods and make them available to all.



1. Normal schools where, as in the U.S., students learned the “norms” of teaching. Now, in France, they are called IUFM—Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maîtres.
2. Since 1989, classes in France have been grouped into “cycles.” One cycle is composed of three grades.
3. Freedom to choose any method with which to teach.

Une réalisation LSG Conseil.