The Culture of Power and Explict Instruction

***The opinions and ideas expressed in this project are the sole opinion of Warren Wilson student, Fox Trowbridge, and do not represent the official opinions or ideas of the Education department at Warren Wilson College***


                Lisa Delpit’s book Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom has become a staple read in teacher education. Delpit discusses her experiences as a progressive black educator and the implications and challenges faced. One of her most important points is derived from the personal strife caused by her African American students not gaining the skills necessary for success through her methods and the silenced voices from educators of color. She looks to explore why these issues arose and how to eradicate them.

 For many students, there is a divide between the culture of their homes and communities and that of school, which generally reflects the white middle-class. This class makes up the Culture of Power with implied rules and codes that are often unconsciously assimilated from birth. The techniques that educators use are frequently unsuited for minority or impoverished students and do not adequately prepare these individuals for accomplishment in mainstream society.

It is important to realize that material can only be absorbed through culturally appropriate presentation. For students of color this often comes in the form of explicit, directive teaching techniques and skills based lessons.


Aspects of the  Culture of Power:

·  "Issues of power are enacted in classrooms.

·  There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a 'culture of power.'

·  The rules of the culture power are a reflection of the culture of those who have power.

·  If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.

·  Those with power are frequently least aware of--or least willing to acknowledge--its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence." (Delpit, p. 24)


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Summary of Ideas:

      * Explicit communication is required for success

            -  directive and explicit instruction is beneficial

- teachers must display personal power to gain respect

      * If the rules of power are alien to you, you will benefit from having them spelled out

            - open dialogue must be fostered

            - skills based instruction has merit


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Explicit Instruction:

            Many teacher education programs are faulted for not providing future educators with skill and strategy based instruction. The internalized comprehension strategies that educators utilize themselves must be reflected upon and translated for students (Kamil, 2008).


“"Research tells us that the more explicit we are about procedures, the more likely children will use the strategy on their own and acquire and use it successfully (Paratore,2003).

1.)    Demonstration

2.)    Guided Practice

3.)    Independent Practice

Includes Strategic Instruction:

1.)    Explain what to do

2.)    Show how to do it

3.)    Discuss when and why the strategy is useful


Paratore’s Comprehension and Response Video:


Explicit and Strategic Instruction Lecture

 “Find this segment approximately 10 minutes and 2 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for about 5 minutes.”


Word Study Classroom Excerpts:

            “Find this segment approximately 15 minutes and 10 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for about 11 minutes.” (15:40).


Adolescent Explicit Vocabulary Instruction:


Adolescent Direct, Explicit Comprehension Strategy Instruction


Explicit Instruction Videos:


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Multiple Englishes: analyzing language use


"Literacy, how it is defined, who gets to employ it, and for what ends, is always culturally contextual” (Williams, 2008). 


Linguists have found fascination in the “multiple englishes” being developed throughout the world as the U.S. expands globalization. These variations of language are due not simply to lack of proper education, but the inherent morphing to needs, uses, and cultures employing it. On top of this is an intentional resistance to the oppressor that has historically been noted in Native Indian and African American societies (Williams, 2008).  The notion of a uniform language and culture, as promoted by schools and the larger government, has long been used as a means of suppression for many populations. A South African educator notes that it continues “to be a struggle to get students

whose cultures had been discounted and marginalized to value their own experiences and trust

schools as places where they could learn without forfeiting their identities" (Williams, 2008). 


Practical Application and Lesson Plan Ideas:


(Williams, 2008)  discourse on cross-cultural communication:

History of foreign literacy: Beyond Pen Pal’s

-          When Reading and writing first emerged

-          Historical access to literacy and education

-          Structure of schooling

-          What forms of writing have developed

These practices are effective when students are given a chance to reflect after intercultural communications.

Possible questions: “Who has power? Who decides

what is correct, what is acceptable, and what is

persuasive? How did they think about the identities

they wanted to present in their writing?”



Critical Literacy

            “As a theory, critical literacy espouses that education can foster social justice by allowing students to recognize how language is affected by and affects social relations” (Behrman, 2006).

Students are taught to recognize the charged nature of language, how language articulates power dynamics, and are forced to examine their own production and reception of language.

            While advocates agree that Critical Literacy expands both theory and practice, most are resistant to prescribe any set curricula for what it should look like (Behrman, 2006). After all, Critical Literacy is meant to be highly adaptive and fluctuate with need, locality, and intent.

Elementary teachers utilizing Critical Literacy often find that supplementary reading such as fiction, nonfiction, journals, newspapers, and popular culture articles must round out basal readers. Juvenile fiction and young adult novels allow for discussion of societal problems and personal issues relevant to the age group.

            After choosing stimulating texts, teachers encourage students to peel apart layers on meaning and scrutinize how their perceptions might differ from those of another identity. Factors influencing this identity include race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, language, customs, and geographic location.

Students may be given free range to choose a topic of study on which to perform extensive research. The only requirement is that it be a problem or topic of study with social and cultural influences behind it. Doing this allows for students to become connected to and gain control of their own education. This teaches pupils that all topics are legitimate areas of study, while the focus on social action forces pupils to recognize themselves as part of a larger community (Behrman, 2006).

Behrman notes that the majority of Critical Literacy is taught from an authoritative rather than negotiated style and questions the motivation and effectiveness. He argues that it is ironic to and even hypocritical to present content emphasizing equity in this manner. However, I believe that being an adult leader need not be seen as a negative or oppressive position and is most often what students need for optimum learning, particularly in the context of African American pupils.


The following questions are suggested by Berhman as applicable to Critical Literacy across all areas of curriculum and age:

• How does specific text content gain acceptance

and prominence?

• What counts as “true” within the discipline,

and who makes that determination? Why?

• How do particular text genres gain acceptance

and prominence?

• What are considered “legitimate” modes of

inquiry within the discipline?

• How do the content, genres, and modes of

inquiry within a discipline affect the social

relations of participants in the disciplinary



L. Henry has outlined an extensive lesson plan outlined on in which students read two versions of various fairy tales. The students then complete compare and contrast diagrams followed by retelling the stories from the perspective of an alternative character or inanimate object, referred to as counter texts (Henry, 2002).



Practical Application and Lesson Plans:


This document from ERIC gives lesson plan ideas, charts, and lists books promoting minority ethnicity’s experiences in intermediate and middle grades.


Lesson Plans for Critical Literacy from


Lesson plan article for grades 3-5: Critical Perspectives: Reading and Writing About Slavery

.Updated: 8/9/2007. ReadWriteThink .


Lesson plans on using explicit instruction to focus on nature with English Language Learners grades 3-5.

Nature Reflections: Interactive Language Practice for English-Language Learners

(Drucker, 2003).


Lesson plan focusing on word choice with procedural writing to help move students towards clear articulation in writing. Provides good scaffolding and skills for students grades 3-5.

Let's Get Cooking With Words! Creating a Recipe Using Procedural Writing

(Read, 2005).


This lesson plan presents whole-to-part phonics instruction that utilizes cultural context and understanding to teach language in kindergarten to second grade.

Whole-to-Parts Phonics Instruction: Teaching Letter-Sound Correspondences

(Moustafa, 1999).


Literacy Resources including pedagogy, research, and lesson ideas for grades four through twelve.


This article

Unsworth, Len. Developing Critical Understanding of the Specialised Language of School Science and History Texts: A Functional Grammatical Perspective. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, v42 n7 p508-21 Apr 1999. (EJ583390)


The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

            It may seem irrelevant to elementary teachers, but this journal consistently has a wealth of useful, pertinent information.


This lesson plan for third to fifth graders offers a more literal take on analyzing communication and relating it to scientific principles.



If on the Warren Wilson College server, the highlighted links may be accessed for further information.



Bailey, F, & Pransky, K (2005). Are "Other People's Children" Constructivist Learners

Too?. Theory Into Practice, 44, Retrieved April 23, 2009, from


Baker, K., Gormley, K., Lawler, M., & McDermott, P. (2001,November). Discovering

the voices of multiethnic literature through critical reading and discussion. Paper presented at the New York State Reading Conference, Syracuse.


Behrman, E (2006).Teaching about language, power, and text: A review of classroom

practices that support critical literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 49, p490-498.


Drucker, M.J. (2003). What reading teachers should know about ESL learners. The Reading Teacher, 57(1), 22–29.


Henry, L (2002). Critical literacy: Point of view. Retrieved June 4, 2004, from (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 477998).


Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., and Torgesen, J. (2008).

Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A Practice Guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from


Moustafa, M., & Maldonado-Colon, E. (1999). Whole-to-parts phonics instruction:   ilding on  hat children know to help them know more. The Reading Teacher, 52, 448–458.


Paratore, J. 2003. Comprehension and Response. Teaching Reading K-2




Read, S. (2005). First and second graders writing informational text. The Reading

 Teacher, 59(1), 36–44.


Williams, Bronwyn (2008, 03 ). Around the Block and around the World: Teaching

Literacy across Cultures. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51, Retrieved 04, 24, 2009,from



Zipin, L, & Brennan, M (2006). Meeting Literacy Needs of Pre-Service Cohorts: Ethical

Dilemmas for Socially Just Teacher Educators. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 34, Retrieved April 23, 2009, from