Cultural monism in social sciences often manifests as the tendency for some social scientists to assume the generic universalism and cultural neutrality of science (1991). When this culturally neutral approach is taken, little if any attention is given to variation in human thought and behavior across race and ethnicity. African American people share not only common racial classification, but also cultural characteristics that are a part of their ethnic identity. Comparison of students’ learning styles across race has revealed rewarding and actionable empirical differences in the learning modalities of African American youth in comparison to their diverse counterparts in American schools. However, a review of the existing literature on the learning styles of African American students provides the foundation for the present study. The existing literature reveals the multitude of variables that impact African American student learning styles and achievement levels, including: racial identity, culture, lack of resources, lack of qualified teachers, home environment, level of social support, culture, cognition, class size, and others (Eggen & Kauchak, 2003; Williams, 2003). Many scholars have examined the extent to which culture, cultural centeredness and socialization influence learning and thus levels of achievement (Boykin and Cunningham, 2002; Durodoye and Hildreth, 1995). Others have explored the effects of age, sex and gender on achievement levels and learning styles (Dunn and Honigsfield, 2003). Scholars have also looked into the effects of achievement levels (high and low) on learning styles (Peeke, Steward & Ruddock, 1998). Existing research also indicates the need for current scientific research to fill the void left by the lack of investigation into critical concerns regarding culture, learning styles, sex and achievement levels of African American youth (Impara, Plake, and Murphy 1998). There have been several investigations into the impact of culture and cognition on gender and learning. Current literature suggests that learning preferences differ based on several variables affected by sex and gender such as personality attributes, aspects of physical appearance, interests, abilities and social roles (Severeins and ten Dam, 1997).
At the middle school and high school grade level, studies have indicated that boys’ self-esteem levels are a little more fragile than those of girls. Boys are also more likely and girls are less likely to experience disciplinary problems, be suspended from class, or even drop out from school (Gurian and Stevens, 2005, p.22). Boys are more likely to be socialized to be physical and aggressive. A previous study by Sommers (2000) explains a study of the educational expectations of eighth and twelfth grade students. The investigation concluded that girls in both grades had higher expectations than boys, and girls more than boys envisioned themselves completing high school, college, then graduate or professional training (Sommers 2000). In addition to sociological differences between boys and girls there are clear physiological differences. Around middle school and high school, boys experience significant increases in their testosterone levels. Testosterone increases spatial-mechanical development in both boys and girls. However, boys have 20 times more testosterone than girls, making boys more apt to spatial mechanical, kinesthetic physical life experiences (Gurian and Stevens, 2005).
Neurological research on young males indicates that boys have more dopamine in their blood, which can increase impulsive behavior. Boys also tend to process more blood flow to the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls physical activity. Some scholars believe the aforementioned factors contribute to explanations of why boys are less likely to learn as well as girls while sitting still or being sedentary (Gurian and Stevens, 2005). This blood flow also contributes to boys’ preference for physical movement during the learning process. Brain research also shows that boys rely more heavily than girls on spatial mechanical stimulation and are more stimulated by diagrams, pictures, and moving objects. Thus, they are more likely to get bored and fidget when a teacher uses too many words. Research also shows that the female corpus callosum allows for more cross talk between brain hemispheres than does the male, which allows for greater ability to multitask (Gurian and Stevens, 2005). According to Gurian and Stevens (2005) “Girls have, in general, stronger neural connectors in their temporal lobes than boys do; these stronger connectors appear to facilitate more sensorially detailed memory for storage and better listening, especially for tones of voice. Boys in general pick up less of what is aurally going on around them, especially when it is said in words, and need more sensory – tactile experience than girls in order for their brains to light up with learning” (p.48). In addition, because boys’ brains generally allow for less cross-talk and have 15% less blood flow between brain hemispheres than girls, on average they do better when focusing on one task for a long period than when they must move from one task to another quickly; they do not transition as quickly as girls (Gurian and Stevens, 2005).
Searson and Dunn (2001) conducted a study of the effects of learning style based teaching approaches versus traditional science methods on science test scores of third grade science students. The participants consisted of 59 third grade suburban students with each student being asked to master three science units. The materials for the study consisted of the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Inventory (LSI) and hands on large body instructional resources. The Dunn model was used to identify students’ learning style preferences. The LSI has a total of 100 questions related to students’ environmental, emotional, sociological, physiological and psychological preferences. In the study, hands on instructional techniques consisted of tactical and kinesthetic learning instruments such as electro-boards, fact fans, learning wheels, and multipart task cards, pulleys, screws, wedges, and wheels to demonstrate gravitational force, energy transfers, and Newton scales. These techniques allowed students to use their hands to identify answers and to learn factual scientific details. The students were divided into three groups. One group consisted of 21 students and the other two consisted of 19 students each. All student groups experienced three two-week science units. Each lesson was 42 minutes long. For each unit, two classes learned the material through a learning style directed teaching method, while the third class was taught through traditional instruction. “Traditional teaching methods consisted of direct instruction in science, including lectures, discussions, text books, and workbook activities” (Searson and Dunn 2001, p. 47). Teachers in the learning style guided teaching units made use of hands on and large body instructional resources. The findings indicated significantly higher science achievement test scores for students when they were taught tactually and kinesthetically than when they were taught with traditional methods (Searson and Dunn 2001). These findings corroborate the premise of the Dunn model that learning styles can be used to guide teaching techniques that will help to capitalize on the student’s strengths.
Dunn and Honigsfeld (2003) investigated the gender differences amongst the learning styles of adolescents in Bermuda, Brunei, Hungary, Sweden and New Zealand. The authors administered the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Inventory (LSI) to 1,637 adolescents ages 7 – 12 years old. Besides gender, other variables the authors analyzed were academic achievement, age, global versus analytic processing styles, creativity domains and culture. The purpose of the investigation was to identify variation in the learning styles of boys and girls. Male students tended to be more peer oriented, kinesthetic, tactual, and they found it more difficult to sit for long periods of time and concentrate on one subject for long periods of time than girls. Girls needed higher temperatures, on average, preferred more social variety in learning, were more self-motivated, parent motivated, teacher motivated, conforming, and more persistent than males.
Severeins and ten Dam (1997) conducted a study on “Gender and Gender Identity Differences in Learning Styles” mainly focusing on two variables of influence, gender identity and educational context. The authors sampled 432 students from six secondary adult education schools. Students learning styles were assessed using the inventory of learning styles. The inventory produces four different learning styles: the reproduction – directed learning style, the meaning directed learning style, the application directed learning style, and the undirected learning style. A sex role inventory was used to determine whether respondents’ attitudes about gender were typically feminine or typically masculine. The results indicated that women used memorizing and rehearsing strategies more often than men, they relied on the teacher and\or the school to organize their learning and define learning as taking in knowledge more often than men. Androgynous students (or those whose sex role scores indicated that they perceive themselves as having both feminine and masculine behavior and attributes) scored higher on the meaning directed learning style. This means that they were interested in particular subject-matter for the purpose of constructing knowledge. Both the androgynous students and feminine students were more interested in learning the knowledge they got from school for the purpose of putting it into practice by applying the knowledge to a practical vocation. This study successfully examined what it set out to, however, the fact that it did not examine cultural difference in conjunction may mean the study has questionable external validity because gender roles are culturally informed.
The present study looks not only at learning style differences with regard to race, this study also looks at gender as an independent variable. There is a wealth of studies that explore the learning style differences between males and females. Dunn and Honigsfeld (2003) analyzed the learning similarities and differences between high school males and females. The authors aimed to identify general tendencies of learning style differences as well as unique variations that might have existed between boys and girls in various nations. This study used the following independent variables, age, academic achievement level, sex and country. The results indicated that when compared with female students, male students tended to prefer more peer interaction rather than learning alone and more kinesthetic activities (Dunn and Honigsfeld, 2003). The findings corroborated previous findings by Jenkins (1991) and Lam-Phoon (1986). These studies’ findings and others suggest that boys are more kinesthetic and thus learn better by doing rather than being passive. However, the fact that gender is culturally constructed may complicate these findings if the model were applied to a more ethnically diverse population. Moreover, the teacher also brings his\her culture to the academic setting and his\her teaching style preferences should also be taken into consideration.
The research question of the present study is: What is the relationship between the sex, gender, achievement levels and learning style preferences of high school age African Americans based on a learning style questionnaire? The present study looks at identifying the learning styles of African American students, but explores exactly what instructional styles and elements of the learning environment they respond positively to, as well as those they respond negatively to, while simultaneously controlling for possible environmental intervening and moderating variables. The present study examines how consistent or inconsistent students’ preferences are to cultural elements that the literature indicates are particular to the culture of people of African descent. In this study, achievement levels were measured by a student’s GPA as reported in their school records. The present study sought to answer the following key questions to provide data that could effectively enhance African American high school students’ academic achievement by recognizing their gender differences and social-cultural assets. Data collected from this research could provide critical information that could be used in staff development sessions to make school personnel such as teachers, administrators and counselors more strategic service providers for African American male and female students’ academic needs.
To honor the confidentiality of the summer program this study was conducted at, the pseudonym African American Youth Summer Institute was used. The present study sampled youth from a summer program that typically serves underprivileged youth in a major southern city. This study involved 78 African American students, consisting of 46 African American males and 32 African American females. All of the participating students were between the ages of 14 and 19 years old. All students who returned the signed consent form were eligible to participate.
Learning Style Inventory (LSI) questionnaires were given to all 78 students. Students’ learning styles were assessed using the Dunn and Dunn LSI. The purpose of the Dunn and Dunn model is to identify “the conditions under which an individual is most likely to learn, remember and achieve” (Impara, Plake, & Murphy, 1998, p.608). Burke and Dunn (2002) describe the Dunn and Dunn Learning style inventory, a 104 item learning style inventory that measures 22 elements of learning preference. The dimensions under which the elements are classified are: Environmental Stimuli (sound, light, temperature, design); Emotional stimuli (motivation, persistence, responsibility, structure); Sociological stimuli (peers, self, pairs, team, adult, varied); Physical stimuli (perception, intake, time, and mobility); Psychological Stimuli (global, analytic, right or left brain hemespericity, and reflective versus impulsive). The Dunn model is designed for 3rd – 12th grade students making it appropriate for the high school level students that were analyzed in this study. In addition, students were asked how many hours per day they spent reading.
1. Does an independent samples t-test reveal a significant difference between the learning style preference scores (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104) of students’ based on their sex (male or female)?
2. Does a Pearson correlation indicate a statistically significant correlation between students’ achievement levels (school records GPA) and their learning style preferences (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104)?
i. A Pearson correlation was used to determine the most common learning styles of: high achieving students,
moderate and low achieving students and their relationship with their learning style preferences.
3. Does a Pearson correlation indicate a statistically significant correlation between students’ achievement level (school records GPA) and their learning style preferences (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104) ?
i. A Pearson correlation was used to determine the most common learning styles of: high achieving students,
moderate and low achievement and their relationship with their learning style preferences students based on
FRAMEWORK OF ANALYSIS
According to the Triple Quandary Theory, low income African Americans must negotiate three realms of psycho-social experience: the mainstream realm which represents the European ethos of individualism and competition, the “minority” realm which represents the experience of the political and social injustices associated with being a member of a racially underrepresented group, and the Afro-cultural realm which is strongly represented by the cultural themes of communalism and verve (Boykin & Cunningham, 2002). The Triple Quandary Theory is used in the present study to explain the relationship between the sex, achievement and learning style data collected from the participating African American youth. This analysis is well suited to contextualize their thought because it takes into consideration their heritage as well as their social and cultural experiences as opposed to looking at them in a less holistic and fragmented way.
A t-test was conducted to calculate the difference between the learning style preference scores (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104) of students based on their sex (male or female). The t-test indicated a significant difference between the peer learning preference scores of male and female students (t (76) = -2.2, p<.05). The mean peer learning preference scores of male students (m=53) was significantly higher than the peer learning preference scores of female students (m=47.4), thus male students were significantly more likely to prefer working with partners or in groups than their female peers. The t-test revealed no additional significant differences. Additionally, a t-test was conducted to calculate the difference between the number of hours students read per day based on their sex (male or female). There was a significant difference between the number of hours per day male and female students spent reading (t(76) = 2.19, p<.05). The number of hours female students spent reading per day (m=1.78 hours) was significantly higher than the number of hours male students spent reading per day (m=1.13 hours), meaning female students spent more time reading than their male peers.
A Pearson correlation was conducted to analyze the relationship between students’ number of hours spent reading and their learning style preference scores (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104). There was a significant (p<.05) negative correlation between students’ numbers of hours spent reading and their peer learning preference scores (-.314), meaning, the more hours students spent reading per day, the less likely they were to prefer learning with peers and\or in groups. There was a significant (p<.05) negative correlation between students’ numbers of hours spent reading and their learning in several ways scores (-.260). Therefore, the more hours students spent reading per day, the less likely they were to prefer variation in their learning tasks or assignments. No additional significant correlations were found between students’ hours spent reading and their learning style preferences.
A Pearson correlation was conducted to analyze the relationship between students’ achievement levels (GPA ranging from 0 to 4.0) and their learning style preferences (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104). There was a significant (p<.05) negative correlation between students’ temperature preference scores and the GPAs (-.24) such that as their GPAs increased their preference for warm classroom temperatures decreased and their preference for a cooler classroom temperature increased. There was a significant (p<.05) negative correlation between students’ GPAs and their intake preference scores (-.23). Therefore, as students’ GPA’s increased the less likely they were to prefer food, drinks and\or snacks in the classroom as they learn. No additional significant correlations were found between students’ GPAs and their learning style preferences.
A one way ANOVA was conducted to determine whether or not there was a significant difference between students’ learning style preferences (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104) based on their academic achievement levels (high, medium and low). There was a significant difference between students’ temperature preference scores based on their GPAs (F(2,75)=4.78, p<.05). Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the differences between the mean temperature preference scores of students at different achievement levels. The analysis revealed that the mean temperature preference scores of low GPA students (m=59) was significantly higher than the mean temperature preference scores of high GPA students (m=46.9). Therefore, students with high GPA’s prefer a cooler classroom than students with lower GPAs. No other significant differences were found.
A one way ANOVA was conducted to determine whether or not there was a significant difference between students’ learning style preferences (LSI variables 1-21, items 1-104) based on their sex and achievement level grouping. Students were divided into six sex\achievement level groups: low achieving females (GPA of 2.49 and below), low achieving males (GPA of 2.49 and below), moderate achieving females (GPA between 2.5 and 3.19), moderate achieving males (GPA between 2.5 and 3.19), high achieving females (GPA of 3.2 and higher) and high achieving males (GPA and higher). There was a significant difference between students’ peer learning preference scores based on their sex and achievement level grouping (F(5,72) = 2.56, p<.05). Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the differences between the students’ preferences for peer learning. The analysis revealed that the mean peer learning scores of high GPA males (58.7) was significantly higher than the mean peer learning scores of high GPA females (m=42.8). High achieving males have a significantly greater preference for learning with peers and\or in groups than high achieving female students.
Analysis of data collected in this study found that males had a significantly greater preference for cooperative learning than females. Females across race and geography tend to favor more collectivist values in general. At the surface level, this finding appears to be quite the opposite of conventional wisdom. However, females typically exhibit a different kind of collectivism that is less based on ‘groupiness’ or in-group particularity and more based on empathy for others, regardless of their group, while males are more likely to exhibit a kind of collectivism that is based on placing the needs of their in-group over that of the individual or another group (Hofstede and Hofstede, 2002). The notion of cooperative learning is an extension of the African deep cultural worldview aspect of communalism, and making use of it in the classroom would be culturally responsive for many African students (Kambon, 1999; Obasi, Flores & James-Myers, 2009). Collectivism is also a key feature of African American culture which is an extension of African experience in the American context (Boykin and Cunningham, 2002). One of the key features of some research on African American friendship and peer group behaviors suggest that African American male friendships tend to be more intimate and more intense than white male friendships, which may contribute to the Black males’ greater preference for cooperative learning than Black females (Franklin, 2002). These patterns of friend relationships between Black males may add contextualization to their greater preference for cooperative learning. What this finding points out is the need to do more research on African American populations. Because while race comparative research highlights differences across race and ethnicity, it does not allow researchers to recognize within race differences such as African American sex differences in learning styles. The present study’s analysis also found that high achieving African American males had significantly greater preferences for cooperative learning than high achieving African American females. This interaction between achievement level and sex suggests that this study’s African American males’ desire to engage in cooperative learning is less effected by a desire to offset low achievement by relying on peers, because it is the high achieving Black males who have the greatest desire to engage in cooperative learning. This study is worth replicating to see if the same results emerge. It is plausible that this desire for cooperative learning might also help explain why some Black students do not take advantage of AP courses when they have the opportunity but may reject different teaching styles in AP classes or the risk of being separated from a peer group. The results of the present study also suggest the students participating in the present study might benefit from peer tutoring in which students help other students. Peer tutoring can reward high achieving students and also expose other students to different styles of teaching, different personalities and different comfort levels. Assigning peer tutors can be a way of dealing with students at different knowledge levels in the same class without alienating them.
Analysis also found that female students engaged in more reading per day than males. Females typically do more reading than males (Gurian and Stevens, 2005). However, boys and girls tend to have difference preferences for what they read. Boys are more likely to prefer to read texts that are action based, nonfiction, video games, humor, and texts that feature positive leading male characters (Husband, 2012). Girls are less selective of reading material than males are and read a greater variety of books than males. Girls are more likely to prefer the kinds of reading that encourage them to explain the literary qualities of a text. There are also differences in why boys and girls read. Boys are more likely to prefer to read for analysis, information and direction. Boys prefer reading texts that have a practical purpose, such as getting information, making things and direction (Merisuo-Storm, 2006). Girls are more likely to read fiction than males. However, most elementary school based reading incorporates a narrative structure that does not include the qualities that males are more likely to be attracted to. One must also consider race and culture. Black males have exceptionally low achievement levels in the American context according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) data (Husband, 2012). Black males are more likely to be at a disadvantage because they are exposed to standardized readings that are socially and culturally irrelevant to them. The present study’s analysis also found that with the participating students, the longer they read per day, the less likely they were to prefer cooperative learning. Reading itself is often an individual act that requires sitting for long periods of time. Because males are more impulsive and physically active, they may be at a disadvantage when they are required to engage in activities that require sitting for long periods of time. It is important for teachers of African American students to be careful to consider purposive reading material for African American males and culturally relevant reading material for African Americans male.
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