The Relationship between Culture, Learning Styles, and Academic Achievement: A Case Study of Young Black Men
Because it is far from an encapsulated phenomenon, the condition of young Black males in America is of critical significance because of its manifold consequences on the developmental trajectory of the entire community of people of African descent in America. There are a constellation of social intuitions whose policies have a variety of interacting effects on the life experiences of Black males, including law, politics, economics, health care etc. Among their consequences are Black males’ disproportionately low rates of graduation, employment and marriage, in addition to their disproportionately high rates of dropping out of school and imprisonment (Littles, Bowers and Gilmer, 2008). However, this investigation will focus on the learning experiences of Black males. Black males’ educational experiences contribute to an interactive and multi-institutional effect that has resulted in their present social condition. And although education as a social institution is not isolated in its impact on Black males, its role and function is unique. Eighty percent (80%) of the Black children in special education classes are African American males (Kunjufu, 2001). Black males are more likely than other males to be identified as learning disabled and be placed in special education classes; not to participate in advanced placement courses; not to perform as well as other boys in math and science; and to perform below grade level on standardized tests (Gurian and Stevens, 2005, p. 21). Forty-two percent (42%) of African American males have failed an entire grade at least once and only 18% of Black men ages 20-21 are enrolled in college (Littles, Bowers and Gilmer, 2008, p.12).
In light of the distressing social indicators, this study is an Afrocentric investigation into how the learning environment can be optimally structured to maximize the full potential social and educational achievement of African American males so that they may increase their capacity to be of service to their own communities. The primary objective of Afrocentricity is African development on African terms. This research is concerned with how to realign and relocate the educational experiences of Black males onto their own cultural developmental terms. Special care will be taken to highlight the unmitigated voices of Black males, and to identify concrete means for institutionalizing solutions.
The paradigm for education in America as we know it is a Eurocentric cultural product that is an extension of the values, ideology, and ethos of Western civilization. In many cases, students’ individual cultural differences go unrecognized in the traditional American classroom setting. Too often educational institutions in America have taken one size fits all approach to the teaching of students in America, including African American students, with little regard for cultural or stylistic differences. Such an approach ignores the complexities of how individuals of different backgrounds (racial, cultural etc.) learn. Research in the area of learning styles has demonstrated that there is much cross cultural commonality among diverse student populations, however, too often, unique patterns of unique stylistic differences are ignored. In the context of globalization countries are encouraged to meet the demands of modernization by thinking globally and acting locally. This article is focused on how the teachers of Black males may frame their instruction within the local social cultural experience of the Black community while imparting critical skills and knowledge necessary to shape their own destiny in larger society. This issue not only affects the educational experiences of Black Males but also their engagement in society at large. The existing literature reveals the multitude of variables that impact upon African American students’ learning styles, achievement levels, and their teachers’ teaching styles. The literature includes numerous studies analyzing how the education of Black males is impacted by culture, learning styles, and teaching styles.
Durodoye and Hildreth (1997) assert that because teachers’ perceptions, approaches and expectations of students are shaped by teachers’ cultural backgrounds, if they do not enter the classroom culturally prepared (with adequate knowledge of the history and culture of African Americans) they risk misinterpreting students’ culture as deviance or disability. Durodoye and Hildreth (1995) recommend that teachers be educated about the cultural styles of their students, and engage in culturally mediated instruction that recognizes the unique cultural base that each student brings to the table. Madhere (1999) asserts that when the culture of the learner is rejected they cannot find a place in the school, and may suffer from damaged self esteem, self rejection and loss of a sense of self efficacy. Madhere’s (1999) assertion is essential to the view of learning referred to as constructivism, “a view of learning in which learners use their own experiences to create understanding that makes sense to them rather than having understanding delivered to them in already organized forms” (Eggen and Kauchak, 2003, p. 230). Allen and Boykin (1992) argue that teachers should respect the cultural integrity of their students by creating culturally derived educational settings that are consistent with the cultural contexts with which the students are familiar with. Serge Madhere asserts that “the school environment is enriched when it cross references the home learning environment and the cultural factors in the background of the learners” (Madhere, 1999). According to Eggen and Kauchak (2003), this is culturally responsive teaching, which occurs when teachers “understand the cultures of the students they teach, communicate positive attitudes about cultural diversity, and employ a variety of instructional approaches that build upon students’ cultural diversity” (p. 37).
Willis’ (1989) analysis of the literature on learning styles of African American youth revealed the following four stylistic characteristics and preferences:
1) Social\Affective: people oriented emphasis on affective domain, social interaction is crucial, social learning is common.
2) Harmonious: interdependence and harmonic / communal aspects of people and environment are respected and encouraged; knowledge is sought for practical, utilitarian and relevant purposes; holistic approaches to experiences; synthesis is sought.
3) Expressive creativity: creative, adaptive, variable, novel, stylistic, intuitive, simultaneous stimulation is preferred; verve; oral expression.
4) Nonverbal: nonverbal communication is important (intonation, body language, etc.), movement and rhythm components are vital.
Tyler, Boykin and Dillihunt (2005) conducted a study on the Mainstream and Afro – Cultural Value Socialization in African American Households. The authors investigated whether or not cultural themes that were consistent with the African culture would be present in the socialization practices in the households of the 71 African American parents or guardians of elementary level students from two public schools in Northeastern region of the United States. The authors used cultural socialization scales to assess parents’ reports of culturally based socialization practices in their own and their eldest child’s home activities and encounters. The four cultural themes measured were communalism, verve, individualism, and competition. The authors created several scenarios of two parents doing household things and interacting in ways that represented communalism, verve, individualism, or competition. After being presented with the scenario, parents indicated whether their behaviors and their child’s behaviors and interactions were consistent with those presented in the scenarios. The results revealed that parents reported communal socialization practices significantly more than any of the other cultural themes. The African Cultural theme of communalism was reported significantly more than those of individualism, competition and verve.
Peeke, Stewart, and Ruddock, (1998) conducted a study on urban adolescents’ personality and learning styles. The authors used the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a 94 item self report inventory that measured personality variables based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychology type. They administered the instrument to a 97 percent Black high school population. The personality types were Introversion or Extroversion, Thinking or Feeling, Organized Judging or Perceiving, Sensing or Intuition (Peeke, Stewart, and Ruddock, 1998). And instead of the extroverted personality type or the feeling personality type, it was the sensing-thinking personality type that was most represented among the Black students. Fifty-six percent (56%) of the population indicated that their personality type and learning preference included both sensing and thinking components. The sensing and thinking personality type represents the individual who relies on logic and ration to make decisions and is concerned more about logical sequences than personal feelings. This person is described as serious, disciplined, reserved, and thorough with a capacity for facts and details. This study challenges teachers not to make a one-dimensional shift to relational field sensitive teaching styles because not all African American students are field sensitive.
Hofstede and Hofstede (2005) define Long Term Orientation (LTO) as “the fostering of virtues oriented toward future rewards- in particular, perseverance and thrift” and Short Term Orientation (STO) as “the fostering of virtues related to the past and the present- in particular, respect for tradition, preservation of “face,” and fulfilling social obligations. Country level data on time orientation attitudes reflect that people in East Asian countries tend to have long term oriented attitudes while countries. There are key differences between the attitudes of short-term oriented individuals and long term oriented individuals. One of those differences is that short -term oriented individuals are more likely to feel that their efforts should produce quick results, while long term oriented individuals are more likely to favor sustained, persistent efforts and slow results. Another difference is, short-term oriented individuals place more value on tradition and stability while long term oriented individuals place more value on adapting to circumstances.
Ewing and Yong (1992) examined the differences in learning style preferences among Gifted African-American, Mexican-American, and American-Born Chinese Middle Grade Students. The population sample consisted of 54 African-Americans (20 males, 34 females), 61 third-generation Mexican-Americans (26 males, 35 females), and 40 third-generation American-born Chinese (25 males, 15 females). Using the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Inventory, Ewing and Yong found that the students differed in their learning styles based on their preferences for noise, light, visual modality, studying in the afternoon, and persistence. Among the findings, the learning style characteristics most common among gifted African American students were responsibility, motivation and preference for studying in the afternoon, while Chinese students’ most common stylistic preferences were persistence, responsibility, studying in the afternoon, and bright light and Mexican-American students were most characterized by responsibility, motivation, and preference for kinesthetic learning (Ewing and Yong, 1992).
Nussbaum and Steele (2007) examined the effects of disidentification on persistence in ability diagnostic tasks. According to research on stereotype threat, when members of a particular population are negatively stereotyped as academic underachievers may disidentify from academic evaluations to protect themselves from the anxiety of negative evaluations (Crocker, Major and Steele, 1998). To test their hypothesis that the process of disidentification can ironically improve motivation when mobilized in response to specific situations, Nussbaum and Steele (2007) measured the task persistence of 80 college students (40 European American and 40 African American) on ability diagnostic and non ability diagnostic tasks after they received negative feedback, in addition to their levels of disengagement. The findings indicated that African American participants in the diagnostic ability tasks displayed the most persistence despite the fact that they also displayed the most disengagement. In this case the fact that many of African American participants sistuatonally disengaged from the value of academic assessment insulated them from the desire to give up on the task and also increased their likely hood of persisting despite negative assessment.
Framework of Analysis
This investigation is guided by the Afrocentric Paradigm. The aim of this investigation is to give voice to social, cognitive, and cultural learning preferences of African American male high school students. Prioritizing the cultural and stylistic learning preferences of Black males, places Black males at the center of the development of a culture specific, student centered educational approach. This study is intended to assist the educators of Black males to design instructional techniques that recognize the cultural capital of Black males so that they may have the skills and knowledge necessary to make their communities more self determining. By examining how African American students choose to learn new and difficult information this study intends to provide the educators of African American male high school students with a research based foundation from which to engage in instructional planning and curriculum design.
To honor the confidentiality of the school this study was conducted at, the pseudonym Young Men’s High School will be used. This study involved 81African American male students. The sample for respondents is 7th – 12th grade African American male high school students who are registered at an all Black all male high school that will be referred to as Young Men’s High School. The students' ages ranged from 14 – 18 years. Participating students were enrolled in math, science, social studies, and English courses at Young Men’s High School. Participating students were high school level students, grades 7-12. All students who returned the signed consent form were eligible to participate.
I administered Learning style questionnaires to all 81 students. Students learning styles were assessed using the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Inventory (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).
Dunn and Dunn (2002) constructed 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 to the Learning Style Questionnaire, students were asked several questions including: 1.) Do you have a space at home dedicated to study \ homework?, 2.) Do you have access to a computer at home?, 3.) Do you have access to the internet at home?, 4.)How many hours per day do you spend on the computer?, 5.) How many hours per day do you spend watching television? And 6.) How many hours per day do you spend reading?.
The non LSI variables consisted of: hours per day students spent reading (HrsReading); hours per day spent watching television (HrsWtv); hours per day spent on a computer (HSOC); and whether or not they have a space in the home dedicated to study\homework (SDTS). SDTS and HrsReading were found to be significantly related to LSI variables.
Space in the Home Dedicated to Study (SDTS) Scores
The LSI persistence score measures how likely a student is to finish one task before they start another, or how willing they are to focus on one task for an extended amount of time. An independent samples t-test was conducted to determine if there was a significant difference between the persistence scores of students who have a space in their home dedicated to study and those who do not. The analysis revealed that there is a significant difference between students’ persistence scores based on SDTS (t(78) = -2.18, p<.05) such that students who have a SDTS have significantly higher persistence scores (53.62) than students who do not (45.7). Students who have a space in their home dedicated to study tend to be more persistent in the learning activities they engage in than students who do not.
The LSI variable self motivation measures how internally motivated students were toward academic achievement. An independent Samples t-test was conducted to determine if there was a significant difference between the self motivation scores of students who have a space in their home dedicated to study and those who do not. The analysis revealed that there is a significant difference between students self motivation scores based on SDTS (t(78) = -2.21, p<.05) such that students who have a space in their home that is dedicated to study have significantly higher self motivation scores (55) than students who do not (49.66). Students who have a space in their home dedicated to study tend to be more self motivated than students who do not.
Hours Spent Reading Per Day (HrsReading)
There is a significant (p<.05) positive correlation between students’ persistence scores and their HrsReading scores (.257), such that as their persistence scores increase, their HrsReading scores increase. The more hours per day students read the more persistent they are. There were no further significant correlations with this variable.
LSI Correlations with GPA
A Pearson correlation was calculated for the relationship between GPA and students’ Learning Style preference areas (1-22) and demographics measures (Grade level, Age, Space Dedicated to Study, Hours on a Computer per Day, Hours Spent Reading). A positive correlation was found (r(79) = .282, p<.05), indicating a statistically significant positive linear relationship between students’ self motivation scores and their GPAs. As students self motivation scores increase their GPA’s increase indicating that students with high self motivation scores tend to have higher GPA’s. A positive correlation was found (r(79) = .356, p<.01), indicating a statistically significant positive linear relationship between students’ persistence scores and their GPAs. As students persistence scores increase their GPAs increase indicating that students with high persistence scores tend to have higher GPAs. The LSI variable responsibility measures the level of obligation students felt to do their work, or follow teachers’ instructions. A positive correlation was found (r(79) = .323, p<.01), indicating a statistically significant positive correlation between students’ responsibility scores and their GPAs. As students’ responsibility scores increase, their GPAs increase indicating that students with high responsibility scores tend to have high GPA’s. A significant regression equation was found (F(2,75) = 11.071, p<.01), with an R² of .127. Twelve point seven (12.7) percent of the variation in students’ GPAs can be accounted for by their persistence scores. The students’ predicted GPA is equal to .813+.21(persistence score). Students’ GPAs increase by .021 with every increase in their persistence score.
An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine whether there was a significant difference between the GPA’s of student based on their levels of preference for LSI variables (1-22). An ANOVA was conducted to calculate the difference between students’ GPAs and their level of persistence. A significant difference was found (F(2,78)=5.37, p<.05) amongst the GPAs of students based on their persistence scores. Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the differences between students’ GPA’s based on their level of persistence. This analysis revealed that students with strong persistence scores had significantly higher (m=2.25) GPAs than students who have a low persistence scores (m=1.49), or students who have either a strong persistence or a low persistence (See Figure 5.20). Moreover, the analysis computed an effect size of .121 such that 12% of the variance in students GPAs can be accounted for by their level of persistence.
An ANOVA was conducted to calculate the difference between students’ GPAs and their level of responsibility. A significant difference was found amongst the GPAs of students based on their level of responsibility. Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the differences between students’ GPA’s based on their responsibility scores. This analysis revealed that students with strong scores in responsibility earned significantly higher (m=2.16) GPAs than students who have neither a strong score or a low score in responsibility (See Figure 5.21). Moreover, the analysis computed an effect size of .087 such that 8% of the variance in students GPAs can be accounted for by their level of responsibility.
The variables most strongly associated with academic achievement were; persistence, how likely a student is to finish one task before they start another, or how willing they are to focus on one task for an extended amount of time; responsibility, the level of obligation students felt to do their work, or follow teachers instructions; and self motivation, how internally motivated students were toward academic achievement. Students who reported high levels of self motivation toward academic achievement had better grades than students who reported low self motivation toward academic achievement. Students who reported feeling higher levels of responsibility toward academic achievement and following directions got higher grades than students who reported feeling lower levels of responsibility toward academic achievement. But the strongest predictor of academic achievement was persistence. Students who have a strong persistence scores are students who prefer to finish one task before they start another, are less likely to get bored or distracted as they work on an assignment for an extended period of time. The more persistent students were, the higher their grades were.
There should be a targeted effort to increase persistence levels of Young Men’s High School \ students in the long run. Care should be taken to avoid making a one dimensional shift by designing a learning environment that caters to shorter attention spans, and lower persistence levels. Students could be exposed to a mixture of tasks and assignments that are both short and lengthy. Teachers could consider initially shortening students’ assignments to increase their levels of home work \assignment and overall task completion and gradually increasing the length of their assignments. Effort should also be taken to increase students reading due to the relationship between hours spent reading and persistence. It is important for schools with Black students to choose literature that is culturally congruent and relevant to their students to increase their persistence levels. The high school may increase its students’ responsibility levels by strengthening the interpersonal relationships between students and teachers. Both persistence and responsibility levels may plausibly be addressed in the Rites of Passage Program that will be discussed below.
It is also recommended that Young Men’s High School initiate an Afrocentric Literary course. The purpose this course should be three-fold. Firstly, it is to address the diminished literacy rates of Black males. And due to the historic and contemporary exclusion of African culture and contributions in many academic areas, a reconstruction of cultural memory and appreciation is essential (Hord, 1991). For this reason, the second purpose of the Afrocentric literary course is to reconstruct the cultural memory, and historical knowledge of the students through carefully selected readings from African authors such as Frederick Douglass, Chinweizu, Chinua Achebe, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright and others. The third purpose is to increase students’ level of persistence which is positively correlated with the amount of reading they do. It is important that this course be initiated in addition to and not in replacement of the literature courses already in the school’s curriculum.
Commenting on the nature of the education received by many Black students in American, Akbar (1985) asserts, “We have assumed educational freedom to be the opportunity to imitate someone else’s educational experience.” In light of these recommendations put forth by this research investigation, to continue to use the traditional western educational paradigm which is a product of the European experiential conceptual framework would be endorsing the universality of European culture, and the subordination of African culture. Consequently, that would be imitating someone else’s educational experience (Akbar, 1985). And the most serious cost would be the resulting suffocation of the social, cultural and intellectual capability of youth of African descent. No one with the best interests of Black youth would want to stifle African creativity and ingenuity due to an unreasonable allegiance to a traditionally western educational paradigm, because to do so knowingly would be acquiescing with White supremacy.
Akbar, N. (1975, October). Address before the Black Child Development Institute Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.
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.
Dixon, V. J. (1976). World views and research methodology. In L.M. King et al. (Eds.), African philosophy: Assumptions and paradigms for research on Black persons (pp. 51-77). Los Angeles, CA: Fanon Center.
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 (4), pp. 195 -207.
Durodoye, B. & Hildreth, B. (1995). Learning styles and the African American student. Education. 116(2).
Eggen, P. D. & Kauchak, D. P. (2003). Learning and teaching: Research based methods. Boston, MA: The Pearson Education Inc.
Gurian, M. & Stevens, K. (2005). The minds of boys: Saving our sons from falling behind in school and life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Impara, J. C., Plake, B. S. & Murphy, L. L. (1998). The thirteenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln, NE: The Buros Institute of Mental Measurement.
Kambon, K. K. (1999). The worldviews paradigm; Foundation for African Black psychology. Tallahassee, FL: Nubian Nation Publications.
Kunjufu, J. (2001). State of emergency; We must save African American males. Chicago, IL: African American Images.
Lee, C. D., Lomotey, K. & Shujaa, M. (1990). How shall we sing our sacred song in a strange land? The dilemma of double consciousness and the complexities of a African centered pedagogy. Journal of Education, 172(2).
Madhere, S. (1999, February). Psychology, pedagogy, and talent cultivation. Presented at the Conference on Psychology and Caribbean Development; University of the West Indies at Mona.
Mazama, A. (Ed.) 2003. The Afrocentric paradigm. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
Moore, T. O. (1996). Revisited affect symbolic imagery. Journal of Black Psychology, 22(4), 443-452.
Peeke, P. A., Stewart, R. J., Ruddock, J. A. (1998). Urban adolescents’ personality and learning styles: Required knowledge to develop effective interventions in schools. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development,
Sandhu, D. S. (1994). Cultural diversity in classrooms: What teachers need to know. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 370 911).
Spellings, M. (2005, October). Speech given by the U.S. Secretary of Education at the Inaugural Meeting of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, October, Washington, D.C.
Tyler, K., Boykin, W. A., & Dillihunt, M. L. (2005). Examining mainstream and afro – cultural value socialization in African American households. The Journal of Black Psychology, 31(3), August, pp. 291 – 311.
Willis, M.G. (1989). Learning styles of African American children: A review of the literature and interventions. The Journal of Black Psychology, 16(1), pp. 47 – 65.