Reading Between the Lines

Ladson-Billings, G. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching. Theory Into Practice. doi:10.1080/00405849209543558

The journal article, Reading Between the Lines and Beyond the Pages: A Culturally Relevant Approach to Literacy teaching by Ladson-Billings (1992) highlights the importance of how teachers frame culturally relevant approaches to literacy teaching. The author effectively describes the need for this study by sharing that the previous research focused primarily on African American teachers servicing African American students. Ladson-Billings (1992) couples this with explaining that there has not been much research on cultural relevance in education with African American students. (p. 313) I was surprised to learn there had not been much research on this topic with African American students and even more surprised to read one of the possible hypotheses. “One hypothesis for this lack of application is the persistent denial of the existence of a distinct African American culture, one that is not merely linked to poverty and the legacy of slavery” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 313).

There were eight teachers involved in the study that took place in North Carolina. The majority of the teachers were of African American descent. The study focused on pedagogical excellence with African American students. The eight teachers were selected because they were deemed exemplary teachers by administrators and parents and because they were especially successful with African American students. Data collection was not a strength of this article. The author collected data through ethnographic interviews, observation and videotaped classroom instruction. The data collection and analysis was rich but it was not detailed enough in the article to duplicate. One of the ways in which data was analyzed was collectively with the teacher participants. Ladson-Billings (1992) described how all of the participants were involved in watching the videotaped lesson segments, discussed their practice and defined dimensions of culturally relevant teaching. As I read this, I was intrigued by the process of having participants reflect, discuss their practice and come to consensus on culturally relevant teaching elements. However, I would have benefited from the author explaining this data collection in more detail. It left me wondering what questions were asked during this collective discussion? What processes and procedures did the author put in place for the participants to respectfully discuss one another’s practice? Finally, what was their collective knowledge level on culturally relevant practice?

Ladson-Billings (1992) is gifted storyteller. In this article, the author delves into two of the eight teachers’ practice. She gives a brief overview of their experience and background and then masterfully describes their teaching practice. A strength of this article is the findings. Ladson-Billings (1992) provides appropriate convincing evidence of elements of culturally relevant teaching practices. She describes one of the findings as teachers’ not “shying” away from issues of race and culture (p. 316) Another finding was that “students are appreciated and celebrated as individuals and as members of a specific culture” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). I believe that this is an important element that defines culturally relevant teaching practices. One finding I found interesting was, “although teachers speak and instruct in Standard English, students home language is incorporated into the conversations of the classroom without reprimand and correction”(Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). I believe this would empower students, knowing their teacher accepts and embraces their language. This was illustrated when the researcher provided examples of the teachers using “Black English.”

Collectively the teachers defined three culturally conscious categories that all teachers in the study showed through the interview process or through their videotaped instruction. The three categories Ladson-Billings defines in the article  are culturally relevant conceptions of self and others, culturally relevant conceptions of classroom social relations and culturally relevant conceptions of knowledge.

Ladson-Billings defines culturally relevant conception of self and others as being proud of you you are and what you do.  I connected this concept of self with having high self-efficacy and the belief of knowing what you are doing is making a difference.  The author describes conception of others as “providing support for students to be themselves” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). The author defines culturally relevant conceptions of classroom social relations as there is mutual respect between the teacher and student.  She further defines this concept as “the classroom relations are humanely equitable, fostering positive student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions” (p. 318).  I also noted that she described there is not a power struggle between teachers and students because there is a shared power. The final conception the researcher describes is culturally relevant conceptions of knowledge. Ladson-Billings (1992) defines this concept as being “aware that state and local curriculum mandates may fail to include the experiences of African-American students and, consequently fail to engage the students in meaningful learning, they purposely design curriculum that makes their students (and their heritage) the focus of curriculum inquiry” (p. 318)

As I read the three culturally conscious categories along with the elements that define culturally relevant teaching practices outlined in the article, my initial thought was these are best practices that all teachers should be incorporating in their practice.  I am looking forward to reading more work by Ladson-Billings especially her article entitled, But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.


Ladson-billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching: The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Dare to Inspire

As an undergraduate, in an education program, there is one question that is presented over and over again. “Why do you want to be a teacher?” In general, there are two answers to this question:  one, the person answering had a wonderful educational experience and wants to reproduce the same experience for others or, two, the person answering had a horrible educational experience and wants to create a better experience for future students. Details in the answers change, but the underlying idea stays the same. People become teachers because they want to do right by children. My answer is no different. I had some amazing teachers and I saw the impact they had on students’ lives. I wanted to affect that kind of change.

As I was sitting in a planning meeting for next school year, we were discussing data and how do we go about impacting our student achievement; in particular, our low and at risk students. The terms that came up over and over again were “making connections,” “real life problems” and “making learning meaningful.”

Essentially, we were brainstorming about how to inspire our students.  I couldn’t stop thinking of an article I read, Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. The article is actually discussing an approach to research which includes students, teachers, graduate students and professors. This in itself was exciting to think about, but what I kept coming back to is the impact that this experience would have on the students involved in the project.

The students are identifying problems within their community and actively participating in the research, working directly with adults who value their opinion and empower them to not only define the problem and find solutions, but to voice it. (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013) In Medicine Stories, Morales says that healing will start when a community starts to discuss the trauma or injustice that has affected them.  (Morales, 1998) The students involved in the Council of Youth Research have lived inequality in their education, but the students have now started to deal with how this inequality has affected them and they are becoming change makers. They are researching and assisting in the project, but consider the learning that is taking place in the Council.

The problems being discussed and researched are “real life” problems and they are problems that directly impact the students. “Students are expected to learn and use research methods in order to produce knowledge about their educational experience so that they can develop identities as critical agents who work to facilitate change in education.” (Bautista et al., 2013) Setting aside the skills the students are learning in research, writing, presenting, interviewing…etc., imagine the impact on how these students view themselves and what they are able to affect. Picture the kind of learning that would take place on a daily basis if we, as teachers, could make the concepts as personal to our students.

In an excerpt from the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies there is a discussion about the difference between how Western culture and the Native American culture approaches science. The author isn’t arguing that one is better over the other, it simply spells out the differences and he states that, “These two approaches can complement one another.”  He goes on to say that in order for science to have meaning for students, “that meaning must be inherent in both the content and presentation.” In other words, teachers must know their community and culture of students and present the information in a way that is relevant for the student. “The first step in motivating and enhancing learning of any sort is by encouraging involvement in the learning process.” (Denizin, Lincoln, & Tuhiwai Smith, 2008)

It is easy, as a teacher, to become caught up in the overload of responsibilities our position demands and sometimes we forget why we became teachers. We are not in a job where we go home and leave work at work. That is what makes our job amazing because we are directly impacting the life of a child. We get to inspire students to do and be their best, but in order to do so, it is imperative that we approach our students in a fashion that is culturally relevant for them. We have to ask our students what is important to them. We need to allow our students to identify the problems they see around them and to search out solutions. More importantly, what would happen if we empowered our students to speak out against injustices?  How many students would blossom just by the experience of having an adult value their opinion and work? What would our schools look like if we had mini councils of youth research happening in our classrooms? I bet the teachers would end up being just as inspired as the students.



Bautista, M. A., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Techers College Record, 115(October 2013), 1–23.

Denizin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies: Chapter 24. Sage Publications Inc.

Morales, A. L. (1998). Medicine stories: History, culture and the politics of integrity (p. 135). Cambridge: South End Press.