Inductive and Deductive Instruction

Two very distinct and opposing instructional approaches are inductive and deductive. Both approaches can offer certain advantages, but the biggest difference is the role of the teacher. In a deductive classroom, the teacher conducts lessons by introducing and explaining concepts to students, and then expecting students to complete tasks to practice the concepts; this approach is very teacher-centred. Conversely, inductive instruction is a much more student-centred approach and makes use of a strategy known as ‘noticing’. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between inductive and deductive instruction, and find out how noticing can be used in the language classroom to better facilitate student learning.



What is deductive instruction?

A deductive approach to instruction is a more teacher-centered approach. This means that the teacher gives the students a new concept, explains it, and then has the students practice using the concept. For example, when teaching a new grammar concept, the teacher will introduce the concept, explain the rules related to its use, and finally the students will practice using the concept in a variety of different ways.

According to Bob Adamson, “The deductive method is often criticized because: a) it teaches grammar in an isolated way; b ) little attention is paid to meaning; c) practice is often mechanical.” This method can, however, be a viable option in certain situations; for example, when dealing with highly motivated students, teaching a particularly difficult concept, or for preparing students to write exams.

What is inductive instruction?

In contrast with the deductive method, inductive instruction makes use of student “noticing”. Instead of explaining a given concept and following this explanation with examples, the teacher presents students with many examples showing how the concept is used. The intent is for students to “notice”, by way of the examples, how the concept works.

Using the grammar situation from above, the teacher would present the students with a variety of examples for a given concept without giving any preamble about how the concept is used. As students see how the concept is used, it is hoped that they will notice how the concept is to be used and determine the grammar rule. As a conclusion to the activity, the teacher can ask the students to explain the grammar rule as a final check that they understand the concept.

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How can teachers help their students practice ‘noticing’?

In the 1990s researchers explored the role that ‘noticing’ a grammatical construct played in learning that structure. They hypothesized that learners needed to notice a structure in order to hold it in their short- or long-term memory. Although the value of the concept to grammatical acquisition is still under debate (See, the overall value of responding promptly to questions and observations of learners cannot be dismissed nor can the role that awareness and consciousness play in the development of metalinguistic knowledge. 

What is noticing?

Noticing is the process of students becoming aware of something in particular; as mentioned above in the inductive approach, noticing can be used to teach a grammar concept when students are given the examples, and they come to understand the rule by noticing what those examples have in common. In a more general classroom situation, noticing can be used in many ways:

  • When teachers speak at a more advanced level, they are giving the students constant opportunities to notice the differences between the teacher’s speech and theirs. This way each student can become aware of the differences at his own pace.
  • Teachers can provide students with opportunities for noticing simply by putting posters up in the classroom in the target language. As before, when the students are ready to notice the difference, they will.
  • Language ladders (see the Functions of Language page) are also to promote students’ noticing skills. Once they understand what each rung on the ladder means, they can understand how they all fit together and how they differ.
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How can a teacher decide which method is the best choice for a given topic?

Both deductive and inductive sequences are valuable for teaching concepts, generalizations, processes, and skills. The teacher must decide which to select given the learning outcomes desired and the composition of the class. When choosing, the teacher should consider a number of factors:

  • How personalized should the learning be? Students will usually be more involved in the learning experience and tend to participate more actively when an inductive approach is used. If a deductive approach is chosen, it is important to structure the learning experience in order to draw on students' prior experiences and learning, and to provide for their active involvement.
  • Should learning experiences be predictable? The deductive approach is more predictable because the teacher selects the information and the sequence of presentation.
  • What depth of understanding and rate of retention is desired? Students tend to understand and remember more when learning occurs inductively.
  • How much time is available to teach the material? The deductive approach is faster and can be an efficient way to teach large numbers of facts and concrete concepts.

Instructional methods tend to be either deductive or inductive, although some methods use both. Many lessons can include both approaches.

Information taken from Saskatchewan Education: Making Instructional Choices.
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Copyright © Olenka Bilash May 2009 ~ Last Modified June 2009