Whatever Happened to Madeline Hunter?

I used to think teachers were born, not made … but I know better now. I’ve seen bumblers turned into geniuses, while charismatic characters turned out happy illiterates.” Madeline Hunter, 1991

A former teacher and elementary school principal, and professor of educational administration and teacher education at University of California, Los Angeles, Madeline Hunter developed a model of teaching that combined instructional techniques applied to all academic subjects across elementary and secondary school classrooms. Called Instructional Theory into Practice (ITIP), the teacher-centered, direct instructional model was anchored in, according to Hunter, psychological learning theory and educational research. Academic content was important as were specific student objectives on what they were to learn and the sequence of techniques teachers were to use to reach those content and skill objectives (see here and here).

Hunter’s gift was to convert this model of “mastery teaching” into seven key features that every teacher had to cover within a lesson.  A common template for a “Hunter Lesson” looked like this:


Administrators and teachers adopted this design for lessons across the country at a time when pressure for students to learn more, faster, and better in reading, math, and academic subjects had increased. Higher curriculum standards and more standardized tests raised the stakes for both teachers and students. So Hunter lesson plans spread.



In the late-1970s and 1980s, professors taught this research-based model of “effective teaching” to their students; some school superintendents and principals mandated teachers to use the lesson template even including it in annual evaluations, and districts mounted extensive professional development programs.

In Pittsburgh (PA), for example, between 1983-1989, staff development center at Schlenley High School brought nearly one thousand teachers in 11 other district high schools to spend eight weeks learning the Madeline Hunter approach to lessons, content knowledge in their discipline, and ways to improve their teaching through seminars, observations of master teachers, and conferences. After eight weeks, teachers returned to their high school assignments. District evaluations posted high teacher satisfaction with the experience, evidence of many difficulties after they returned to their classrooms in implementing the approach, and teacher reports of gains in student test scores.

Checklists of lesson features appeared and were applied in tens of thousands of classrooms. Schools and classrooms became “Hunterized” (see here and here).

What Problems Did the Hunter Lesson Plan Intend To Solve?

The perceived lack of rigor in teaching content and skills became identified as a problem just before and after A Nation at Risk was published in 1983. To get students to learn more, teachers had to increase their skills of implementing lessons that demanded more of their students and doing it in ways that engaged even the most reluctant of them. The problem of students not learning enough–as international tests had displayed–encouraged the adoption of ways to get teachers to achieve “mastery”and  be more “effective” in their instruction.

What Did Hunter Lesson Plans Look Like in Practice?

David Kirp observed a lesson using the Hunter template in Los Angeles elementary school enrolling mostly poor and minority students in 1990.

In Karen Dawson’s class of second- and third-graders, 20 children are sitting on the carpeted floor. Each has a small wooden board, piled high with loose beans and tubes of 10 beans called bean sticks. “Boys and girls,” Dawson announces, sounding like Mister Rogers, “we’re going to practice putting beans together. When you’re ready to go, put your hands on top of your head.” Forty hands shoot skyward.

The lesson is about adding tens, made concrete with the bean sticks, and ones, represented by the individual beans. Dawson proceeds according to pure Hunter technique, using the seven-step lesson plan with positive reinforcement for right answers and attentive behavior. Step one is a quick review; then comes step two, an account of what’s to come.

“Yesterday, we practiced trading beans for bean sticks,” Dawson says, “and today I’m going to trick you sometimes. Sometimes you’ll trade, sometimes not.”

Dawson calls out problems–“Build this number: 16,” then “Build nine”–and translates them into beans and bean sticks herself. These are the third and fourth steps, what Hunter calls explanation and “modeling,” with the teacher identifying the main concepts and demonstrating them.

After solving a few problems herself, Dawson asks the questions, then calls on students to check for their understanding. This is step five. Doing things this way rather than singling out a child before posing the question, Hunter says, means all the minds are in gear. If problems surface at this point, the lesson can be retaught.

Dawson walks among the youngsters, reviewing each student’s work individually. Most have it down pat, and the teacher says “great job” to Beatriz, Kimiko and Diana, naming them for praise as Hunter urges.

“How do we add three plus four?” she asks Josh, a shy boy who puts his hands together prayerfully. “Can you tell me the answer? Right, that is the answer. Now build six.”

This question-and-answer session is what used to be called recitation. Hunter labels it “monitored practice,” step six, with the teacher catechizing students on what they have been taught. The seventh step invites the youngsters to solve problems on their own.

Kirp comments are critical of the lesson revealing his bias on how this teacher should have taught the lesson.

The point of this math lesson is not to encourage creative thinking. Dawson never asks the students how they got from nine plus six to one bean stick and five beans. Nor does she invite students to see that the beans could represent pennies at the store or miles traveled in the family car. Instead, this lesson seems designed only to elicit the right answer.

Did Hunter Lesson Plans Work?

For anyone following this blog, I have written over a dozen posts on “Whatever Happened to….” Those readers know that my answer to this question often is either “it depends” or the findings of research studies are mixed. Implicit in the hype and reality of Madeline Hunter lesson plans, however, is that if they are followed carefully and executed correctly student academic achievement will increase. That is, test scores will rise. On that point, results are, indeed, mixed (see here, here, here, and here)

What Has Happened to Hunter Lesson Plans in Schools?

As one would expect with school innovations, the teaching reforms Hunter favored in planning and executing lessons ran into much criticism over its emphasis on direct instruction, relative neglect of student agency in making choices, and the behaviorist cast to teaching that she advocated (see here, here, and here).

By the mid-1990s a few years after Hunter died, the lesson plan template, professional development workshops, and teacher education professors advocating the approach diminished and by the early 2000s, ITIP and lesson plan templates seemingly fell of the edge of the reform table.

Yet in the past decade, evidence of Hunter’s influence can still be seen in the continuing support for direct instruction and teachers–both new and veteran–using versions of the lesson template that Hunter had created (see here, here, and here,).

While the adjectives (“Madeline Hunter”) are mostly gone, the noun (lesson) continues to be the core of what a teacher plans and does in her classroom. The lesson is the meat-and-potatoes of teaching. And for over a century, teachers used lessons to conduct teacher-directed classroom work (see here, here and here).

A lesson before Madeline Hunter appeared on the educational landscape and after she left still contained goals and objectives for the 50-90 minute lesson, a review of the previous lesson, the key questions that were to be asked, what instructional materials (texts and software) were to be used, activities (whole group, small group, and independent) students engaged in, and assessments to determine how much students understood. The lesson was the map for the teacher-directed class.

And it was Madeline Hunter’s lesson plans and approach in the 1970s and 1980s that enhanced the dominant teacher-centered instruction that characterized U.S. schooling for nearly a century. Sure, the lyrics and melody may have changed here and there, but it was still the same song.

Yet in the past decade, evidence of Hunter’s influence can still be seen in the continuing support for direct instruction and teachers–both new and veteran–using versions of the lesson template that Hunter had created (see here, here, and here).

The Madeline Hunter approach to teaching and her lesson templates added to and strengthened familiar ways that teachers had taught before, during, and after her name-brand disappeared.



Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies

8 responses to “Whatever Happened to Madeline Hunter?

  1. Lynn Burlbaw

    Dr. Cuban,
    I don’t know if this will get to you or not, but, anyway. I was led to this blog by a student who included the Hunter model as one way of evaluating a training program she designed for HyperDocs. I, a former university professor of the history of education, have long, since the 80s, seen value in the Hunter model and directed her to the model as an analytic/planning framework. After 30 years of teaching Ed History, it is my firm belief that what doomed Hunter, as well as many other well designed models, is the American belief in exceptionalism, the exceptionalist mindset of teachers, and the public, that nothing designed by someone else can possibly be applicable/good in “my” situation. This lead to the demise of Montessori in the early 20th century and some others. Fortunately, that same mindset has led to the demise of some very poorly designed reforms as well. Thanks for this blog post – it was informative and useful for my student.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Lynn. The point you make is well taken and well documented in the history of U.S. schooling.

  2. Jacqueline

    As a teacher, supervisor, principal, and assistant superintendent I have witnessed the need to stay true to the Hunter model. Year after year, new teachers begin their tenure with the same “lecture and discussion” we have attempted to squelch for decades. I believe this model fell from grace as a result of it being “too much work” and so, we get the same old same old.

    In the 80’s, I was fortunate to be a part of a very progressive district, having intensely trained in this model. Sorry to see only pieces remain.

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