Thursday, January 22, 2015

Scoring Points and Culturally Responsive Instruction: A Metaphor for Understanding

Imagine you are standing on a basketball court and a physically fit young man comes dribbling up to you. He stands in front of you, a few feet away. His arms are slender yet well defined, his height is suitable to play multiple positions; he’s not too tall - neither too short. Later, when you watch him play against opponents within his level of competition, he fares reasonably well. Although he can score, he is limited in the way he scores the basketball. He tends to dribble to the right and stop right at the edge of the free throw line, rising over a typically smaller defender to sink the jump shot. Wherever he is on the court, this is the move he will perform – a hard couple of dribbles to the right followed by a quick pull-up. This method has worked for him for years. 

From the baseline: look left, hard two dribbles to the right and pull-up. From the top of the three-point line: look left, hard two dribbles to the right and pull-up. From inside the paint, just under the basket: look left, hard two dribbles to the right and pull-up. Every time and from every place on the court: look left, hard two dribbles to the right and pull-up. This method has a problem, however. 

If the defender can account for his move and stand ready to block him from going to his right; if the defender is taller and can jump higher than the young man, then he will be continually frustrated when trying to score. This is the same issue that crops up into a classroom as it relates to literacy instruction or any other kind of instruction.


The young basketball player is your average traditionally under-served or marginalized student. He has developed one ‘go-to’ skill for navigating school and classroom life. This limited skill set only allows him to access texts, ideas and themes in a narrow context. He does know, however, in depth the rules of basketball, but has not developed a skill-set for scoring the ball around defenders who are taller and more athletic. The defenders represent more difficult texts, increased writing demands, the school system and the larger power structure of society. 

Culturally responsive instruction is what provides him that missing skill-set. Culturally responsive instruction takes his in depth knowledge of the rules of basketball and asks him to apply that conceptual understanding to developing ways around and over the obstacle of a taller and more athletic defender. 

Culturally responsive instruction gives him a left-hand dribble. A cross-over and step-back move. A low-post game. An off-the dribble three-point shot. A floater. A leaner. A hard-drive and pull-up. A high-post, reverse-inside pivot face-up, pump fake and drive. It gives him multiple moves around the taller, more athletic defenders in his life. It invites him to see that his critical mind in his out of school life can also be applied to his life inside school, giving him the power to control the sport that he plays instead of being a one-move ‘spectator.’ A one-trick pony.

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