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Research from last decades have shown that school plays a critical role in the achievement of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds and that the teacher’s pedagogical choices can be decisive for students’ academic achievement. Among the existing pedagogical orientations, two methods stand out and are frequently contrasted.

According to the latest results of PISA, France is the country within the OECD which is creating the highest level of educational inequality. Low-performing students systematically come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and this is a predictor of academic performance.[1]

Research from last decades have shown that school plays a critical role in the achievement of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds and that the teacher’s pedagogical choices can be decisive for students’academic achievement. Among the existing pedagogical orientations, two methods stand out and are frequently contrasted.

The aim of this research[2] was to assess the effectiveness of explicit teaching compared to the socioconstructivist instruction in teaching subtraction in schools with a high concentration of students from a disadvantaged social background.

Socioconstructivism versus explicit teaching

According to the socioconstructivist method, the teacher’s role consists in providing conditions conducive to the students’ knowledge building. A socioconstructivist lesson involves several steps in order to allow students to discover a new competence. First, the students have to engage (generally in groups) in a phase of research around a problem or a situation. During this phase of research, the teacher regulate the exchanges between students. Then, the teacher and the students compare the different proposals and the teacher « institutionalizes » the most accurate solutions. Finally, a training phase is organised.

According to explicit teaching, learning new knowledge is based on the teacher’s guidance. The learning content should be dealt with in a systematic and planned way, following a gradation from simple to complex and the use of particular strategies applied through the main phases of the teaching process. During the preparatory phase, clarifying the learning objectives and intended outcomes, identifying key ideas and determining prior knowledge are crucial. Conducting the lesson involves three steps: modeling, guided practice, and independent practice.

What is the most effective method?

In this study, the effectiveness of explicit and socioconstructivist teaching methods has been compared in the learning of subtraction using the partitioning method with second-grade students (7 years old). The hypothesis in this study was that students who receive explicit teaching in this method of subtraction progress more than students who receive socioconstructivist teaching.

Eighty-seven second graders (mean age in months = 90.95, SD = 5.30) were recruited from six public primary schools located in low socioeconomic areas in Martinique. One class per school was selected.  Classes were randomly assigned to one of the two teaching method conditions, namely, 45 students in the explicit teaching condition (experimental group) and 42 students in the socioconstructivist teaching condition (control group). The two groups were well matched in terms of age and gender distribution. All the participants completed the pretest and posttest. The experiment had a pretest-intervention-posttest design. A 2×2 mixed experimental design (type of teaching method: explicit, socioconstructivist) with pretest and posttest measures evaluation was employed. Both the control group and experimental group were taught the subtraction technique during 5 weeks.

The hypothesis tested was that when priority education students learn subtraction through explicit teaching, they obtain better performance than when they learn it using a socioconstructivist method. The hypothesis was upheld. The study showed that students made progress with both methods; however, the benefit was greater for those who received explicit instruction.

The advantages of explicit teaching

More precisely, the analysis shows that, for subtraction with partitioning exercises and for ordinality subtraction problems, explicit teaching leads to greater progress. The subtraction through the partitioning principle is a source of learning difficulties in low-achieving students. The study suggests that explicit teaching is more effective in handling it.

Explicit teaching multiplies the learning and training opportunities during modeling and guided practice. Indeed, the teacher verbalizes the procedures during the former and students verbalize and explain their reasoning during the latter.

Additionally, errors are handled differently in the two types of teaching. Socioconstructivist teaching exposes students to both the right and wrong solutions to the exercises. This can be a source of confusion and insufficient, incomplete learning, as the wrong solution might be encoded in each student’s memory. Explicit instruction gives a crucial role to feedback, in that every error must be corrected immediately before continuing the learning process. This explains the relevance of this type of teaching for complex and new tasks with regard to students with learning difficulties.

In sum

This research suggests that explicit instruction is a promising approach in supporting the learning of mathematical knowledge for low-achieving students from disadvantaged social background. It is a very good example of a well done research in the field of education and also a validation of the Planning-Interaction-Consolidation (PIC) model of explicit teaching as elaborated by Gauthier, Bissonnette and Richard.[3]


[1] Schleicher, A. (2019). PISA 2018: Insights and interpretations. OECD.

[2] Guilmois, C., Popa-Roch, M., Clément, C., Bissonnette, S. e Troadec, B. (2020): Effective numeracy educational interventions for students from disadvantaged social background: a comparison of two teaching methods, Educational Research and Evaluation.

[3] Gauthier, C., Bissonnette, S., & Richard, M. (2013). Enseignement explicite et réussite des élèves. La gestion des apprentissages. Bruxelles : De Boeck.


Clermont Gauthier

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Marie Bocquillon

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