Written by Serie McDougal
African American students’ levels of preference for learning activities that involve hands on activity and physical involvement in the learning environment are well documented (Dunn and Honigsfeld, 2003). Concepts such as tactile learning and kinesthetic learning are often used to explain these learning preferences. However, for African American boys, this preference is rarely contextualized within an African historical and cultural context. Wade Boykin is one of the few scholars who have conceptualized a far reaching contextualization of African American youth, their culture, and learning styles. He has also helped to develop a model of culturally relevant education for youth in general (the Talent Quest Model). However, this article particularly focuses on one feature of Boykin’s research, Movement Expressiveness and its current relevance to teaching and learning particularly in the education of African American youth.
African American Cultural Theory
According to Allen and Boykin (1992), there are nine interrelated dimensions of African American culture: (a) spirituality, a vitalistic rather than mechanistic approach to life, (b) harmony, the belief that humans and nature are harmoniously conjoined, (c) movement expressiveness, an emphasis on the interweaving of movement, rythm, percusiveness, music, and dance, (d) verve, the special receptiveness to relatively high levels of sensate stimulation, (e) affect, an emphasis on emotion and feelings, (f) communalism, a commitment to social connectedness where social bonds transcend individual privileges, (g) expressive individualism, the cultivation of a distinctive personality and proclivity or spontaneity in behavior, (h) orality, a preference for oral/aural modalities of communication, and (i) social time perspective, an orientation in which time is treated as passing through a social space rather than a material one (Allen et al, 1992). According to Boykin, when these cultural dimensions and African American experiences with mainstream institutions are at odds, cultural discontinuity occurs.
These different cultural dimensions play themselves out in all different areas of life. One of the dimensions of African American culture that Allen and Boykin (1992) identify is Movement expressiveness. Movement expressiveness takes on new meaning in the educational settings. In school, movement expressiveness refers to an emphasis on the interweaving of movement, rhythm, percussiveness, music and dance with the learning process. Students and teachers who have high preference for tactile (hands on) learning or teaching are compatible with this dimension of African American culture. Students with high preference for tactile learning learn better when they can move, manipulate and physically touch the material that they are learning, and have a need for hands on activity. Teachers with a preference for this area make use of teaching techniques that allow students to move, manipulate, and physically touch the material that they are learning. A student or teacher with low preference in this area is considered incompatible with this African American cultural dimension. Students and teachers with high preference for mobility, considered congruent with this dimension of African American culture (Jackson-Allen & Christenberry, 1994). Students with a high preference for mobility learn better by moving around after studying for more than 15 minutes and tend to find it difficult to sit in one place for long periods of time. Teachers with preference in the area of mobility make use of teaching techniques that allow students to move around while learning. A student or teacher with low preference in this area is considered dissimilar with this Afro-cultural dimension. Students and teachers with high preference forkinesthetic learning and teaching are consistent with this dimension of Afro-culture. Kinesthetic learners are action oriented learners and they learn and remember better when they can physically act things out and move around while learning. Teachers with preference in the area of kinesthetics make use of teaching methods and techniques that allow students to be physically involved with what they are learning. A student or teacher with low preference in this area is considered incongruent with this Afro-cultural dimension.
Empirical Research on Movement Expressiveness
One study testing the effects of movement expressiveness on learning among Black youth was conducted by Boykin and Cunningham (2002). The researchers selected a group of 64 African American children, between the ages of 7 and 8, from a large mid – Atlantic urban elementary school (Allen & Boykin, 2002). The sample consisted of 32 males and 32 females. Participants were given the Child Activity Questionnaire (CAQ) and the Home Stimulation Affordance Questionnaire (HSA). The CAQ measures the child’s perceived motoric activity level. The teachers’ perception of the children’s classroom behavior was measured using the Teacher Rating of Classroom Motivation (TCM), which measures a teachers’ perception of the child’s level of motivation in traditional classroom activities such as completing and engaging in tasks.
A second measure called the Achievement Rating Scale (ACH) allowed teachers to rate a child’s overall level of academic performance. Two audio recorded stories served as stimuli. One story reflected Low Movement Theme (LMT) behaviors and activities, in which the content of the story did not involve a high degree of movement and active behavior. The second story reflected a High Movement Content Theme (HMT) involving movement expressive themes such as running, dancing, and jumping. Each student participated in two different learning contexts differing in movement opportunity and music. In the Low Movement Expressiveness (LME) context the investigator read aloud the story in front of participants. The second learning context was the High Movement Expressiveness (HME) context in which an investigator read aloud the story to children with the accompaniment of music and students were allowed to clap their hands, move, jump and dance. The dependent variable of this study was the students’ level of cognitive processing. The memory and understanding of the content of the stories was measured by asking the students a series of questions regarding names, events, actions and relationships in the story.
The results show that African American children exposed to HMT stories performed significantly better (achieved higher scores) than those exposed to the LMT stories (Allen & Boykin, 2002). Those exposed to the HME context performed significantly better than students under the LME context (had greater knowledge of the content). Results also revealed that the more active children are, the greater the amount of stimulation in their home. The higher a child was rated by the teacher in motivation for traditional classroom activities, the higher that student was rated in overall achievement. The learning context effect demonstrated that African American children’s overall performance was significantly higher under the HME context than under the LME learning context. The authors of this study infer, “given that child and home activity levels are positively correlated with performance under the HME context, one could infer that high movement expressiveness could be used as an asset to be capitalized upon in the appropriate learning contexts” (Allen & Boykin, 2002, p. 81).
This study confirmed the literature which suggests that African American children’s intellectual tasks should include information consistent with their life experiences, and culturally salient themes prevalent in their home environment and everyday routines outside of school. The findings also support the literature that suggests that incorporating polyrhythmic, syncopated music and opportunities for movement expression into learning contexts facilitates low income African American children’s performance on tasks (Hagans, 2005). However, the study was done on 7 and 8 year old children. The replication of this study in African American high school age populations might reveal different results. Moreover, gender differences were not examined to a significant extent. There is also a need for more current research on the phenomena given the promising results of studies conducted between 2000 and 2010.
Current Application to Educational Development
Findings, like these may present opportunities for teachers of students who respond positively to movement expressiveness. In this case, learning activities that allow students to use their hands, and their bodies to understand and express their understanding of information should be increased. This can often be the difference between asking students to complete a mathematics word problem versus asking students to engage in a task such as measuring the square footage of the classroom and estimating how much carpet would be necessary to cover the classroom floor. They both require math skills, but the latter allows students to be physically and tactically involved in the learning process.
Boykin is currently the director of the Capstone Institute at Howard University, which presently provides multidimensional services including: curriculum development, faculty development, leadership training, k-12 support and other services. Boykin’s research informs the Talent Quest Model which is the philosophical foundation of the Capstone Institute. The Talent Development Model has four major pillars: four major pillars: overdetermined success, integrity-based ethos, multiple expected outcomes, and co-construction.
Allen, B. A. & Boykin, A. W. (1992). African American children and the educational process: Alleviating cultural discontinuity through prescriptive pedagogy. School of Psychology Review. 02796015, 21(4).
Boykin, A. W. (2000). The talent development model of schooling: Placing students at promise for academic success.Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 5 (1 & 2), pp. 3-25.
Boykin, A. W., Cunningham, R. T. (2002). The effects of movement expressiveness in story content and learning context on the analogical reasoning performance of African American children. The Journal of Negro Education. 70( ½), Winter/ Spring.
Dunn, R., & Honigsfeld, A. (2003). High school male and female learning style similarities and differences in diverse nations. Journal of Educational Research. Mar\Apr, 96, Issue 4, pp. 195 -207.
Hagans, W. W. (2005). Musicians' learning styles, learning strategies, and perceptions of creativity. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A, 66, 55.
Jackson-Allen, J., & Christenberry, N. J. (1994). Learning Style Preferences of Low- and High- Achieving Young African-American Males. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association (Nashville, TN, November 9-11).