Culturally Engaged Instruction (CEI):
Putting theory into practice

Broad Street High School Shelby, MS
with Ruba Ahmed, Desiree Pointer, and the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation

Theory & Context

Culturally Engaged Instruction: A Definition

7 Components that inform CEI:

  • dynamic practice
  • informed analysis
  • cultural experiences
  • student strengths
  • learning goals
  • specific group of students
  • community

Circles of Influence: A full length article on the history of my classroom research process and how I applied it to my classroom. (pdf)

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Teaching Standard English to African American Students

My Teaching Context

References: The 70+ works included in the review of literature. (pdf)









My teacher research experience began with a frustrated outburst in my teaching journal during my second year in the classroom:

The first semester is over and it is time for serious reflection and preparation. We [the English Department] have decided to launch the new grading scale. We will use it to penalize students uniformly for the most common grammatical errors after we distribute the departmental grammar handbook. I approach this with a good deal of anxiety. Will it achieve the desired results, or will we simply frustrate the students and make life miserable for everyone? One grim omen has been the grammar diagnostic that I used at the start of the school year. This past week, I had my accelerated 9th grade class take the same test again as a post-test. I've only made it about halfway through the scoring, but the results so far are depressing; most of the students' scores improved only slightly, several stayed the same, and some dropped! This is after a solid semester (two grading periods) of intense grammar instruction!! So what now? (12/23/91)

As an English teacher at a rural all-Black high school in the Mississippi Delta. I enjoyed a genuine fellowship with my students, many of whom I worked with outside of school in church and community activities. Lessons in literature and writing went reasonably well (for a beginner), but then, I started to teach grammar. Pardon the cliche, but it was like hitting a brick wall.

Whenever I tried to teach grammar or usage, my students put up a fearful, sometimes hostile, resistance.

Yet, in my class surveys and course evaluations, the students and their parents have consistently asked that I teach more grammar. At first, I tried to account for these contradictions with various excuses ("Grammar is just boring to them; I need to make it more interesting!"). Still, the tension and the fear were real. Looking back, I realize I shared their uneasiness with the topics; however, I felt it was my duty to help them become proficient in "standard" usage.

I had two simultaneous responses to the wall. On the one hand, I immediately started searching for and experimenting with methodologies. How could I teach them grammar more effectively? On the other hand, I had begun what would become a career long action-research study on the issues surrounding the teaching of standard American English to African American students.

Read the complete article on my research process and findings. (pdf)


Key Findings

-Language arts instruction and learning occur within a very dynamic, specific, and complicated context. The context of language arts instruction is also part of the instruction. (requires Flash player)

-Particular strategies and methods do not seem to be the key to the success of African American students in academic literacy. Context, however, seems to matter greatly.

Tools to develop
CEI in the classroom

Culturally engaged instruction is a highly interactive, ever-changing exchange between teacher and student that takes into account the many features brought to the classroom by both sides as well as those forces that influence teaching and learning from outside. To become culturally engaged, a teacher has to begin to take these features into account as s/he teaches and while evaluating learning. This is obviously a process (one which I have not yet mastered). I have begun developing some classroom tools that help us develop this type of instruction, especially in the teaching of grammar.

Constructing a CEI Classroom

My Classroom Organization: An Overview

Classroom Standards

Classroom Discipline Form (pdf)

Pre-Assessments (pdf)

Personal English Plan (pdf)

Classroom Discussion Guidelines (pdf)

Community Service Project (pdf)

Grammar Instruction Model (pdf)


3 Steps to Effective Teaching of Grammar with African American Students:

Be honest about why standard English is necessary and why it is the "standard." (audio file; requires QuickTime Player)

Take the time to know your students; respect them and their culture.

Grammar instruction should be focused; don't try to "cover" or "fix" everything at once.










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Created: 11/24/03.
Last updated: 11/24/03.