College Students with Learning Disabilities (SWLD) and Their Responses to Teacher Power

By Worley, David W.; Cornett-DeVito, Myrna M. | Communication Studies, March 2007 | Go to article overview
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College Students with Learning Disabilities (SWLD) and Their Responses to Teacher Power

Worley, David W., Cornett-DeVito, Myrna M., Communication Studies


Researchers have given considerable attention to the role of power in the classroom. Specifically, since power is the potential or ability to influence the behavior of others (Barraclough & Stewart 1992), researchers have considered both teachers and students use of influence in the classroom. Our literature review centers, then, on these two foci. First, we consider the seven germinal studies of power in the classroom. Thereafter, we review studies related to this series and finally review the literature regarding student power.

Teacher Power

Power in the Classroom Studies

McCroskey, Richmond, and colleagues (1983) began a series of studies focused on teacher and student perceptions of power and how these perceptions impact learning. These studies (McCroskey & Richmond, 1983; Richmond & McCroskey, 1984) employed the work of French and Raven's (1968) typology of power and linked power with cognitive and affective learning. Other studies (Kearney, Plax, Richmond & McCroskey, 1984; McCroskey, Richmond, Plax & Kearney, 1985; Plax, Kearney, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1986; Richmond, McCroskey, Kearney, & Plax, 1987) focused on the development and use of behavior alteration techniques (BATs) and behavior alternation messages (BAMs).

Other Related Studies: Critique and Extension


This series of studies spawned other studies, including Sprague's (1990, 1992a, 1992b, 1993) critical critique of the epistemology and methodology represented in instructional communication literature, in general, and the "power studies", in particular, along with Rodriquez and Cai's (1994) subsequent response to Sprague. A series of other authors also engaged this debate (see Burleson, Wilson, Waltman, Goering, Ely, & Whaley, 1988; Kearney & Plax, 1997; Plax, Kearney, & Sorensen, 1990; Sorensen, Plax, & Kearney, 1989; Waltman & Burleson, 1997a, 1997b).

Additionally, Simonds (1995, 1997) suggested a transactional, negotiated model of classroom power. She argued that any challenge behavior served as an opportunity to communicate expectations more clearly, rather than engage in conflict.


These seven studies then generated additional research focused on a variety of issues related to power in the classroom, which cluster around two different themes. First, Plax, Kearney, and Tucker (1986) and Roach (1991) focused on the level of teacher experience and power. Second, a series of studies looked at other variables and teacher power including teacher satisfaction (Plax, Kearney, & Downs, 1986), evaluators' perceptions of the teachers' use of power (Allen & Edwards, 1988), the use of power at given points in a semester (Roach, 1994), and culture and power (Lu, 1997).

Student Power

To this point, we have reviewed literature that focuses on the teacher's use of power. However, students also possess and employ power, often thought of as student resistance, which Burroughs, Kearney, and Plax (1989) note can be either constructive or destructive.

Kearney and Plax (1992) summarize the student power literature very well by noting "three major propositions" (p. 87):

   (1) College students do resist. (2) Students rely on a diversity of
   techniques to resist teacher influence attempts. (3) Both the
   decision to resist and the strategies students select depend on
   the attributions they make. (p. 87)

However, additional studies have added insight related to these three propositions, which focus on students as active agents of persuasion who seek compliance, as well as resist compliance.

Student Compliance-Resistance

First, students do, indeed, resist. This resistance results in different types of messages (Burroughs et a1., 1989) and is related to teacher immediacy (Kearney, Plax, Smith, & Sorensen, 1988; Kearney, Plax, & Burroughs, 1991; Kearney, Plax, Hays, & Ivey, 1991).

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College Students with Learning Disabilities (SWLD) and Their Responses to Teacher Power


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