Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Styles of Thinking, Abilities, and Academic Performance

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Styles of Thinking, Abilities, and Academic Performance

Article excerpt

A cornerstone of modern educational psychology is that a student's level of abilities is one of the major predictors of school success. Though psychologists or educators may differ significantly on the details and on theory, there is established evidence that abilities matter (e.g., Carroll, 1993; Gardner, H., 1983; Guilford, 1967; Horn, 1994; Spearman, 1927; Sternberg, 1985, 1986, 1988b; Thurstone, 1938).

Yet abilities do not predict school performance completely. In the search for other variables that contribute to school achievement, researchers have devoted considerable attention to the so-called stylistic aspects of cognition. The idea of a style reflecting a person's typical or habitual mode of problem-solving, thinking, perceiving, and remembering was initially introduced by Allport (1937). Since then, researchers have developed various theories in attempts to understand the reality of styles (see Curry, 1983; Grigorenko & Sternberg, 1995; Kagan & Kogan, 1970s; Kogan, 1983; Riding & Cheema, 1991; Sternberg, 1988a; Vernon, 1973). In an examination of the literature on styles, Grigorenko and Sternberg (1995) found three general approaches to stylistic aspects of learning.

The first approach is cognition-centered, dealing with cognitive styles. Theorists and researchers in this area have sought to investigate "the characteristic, self-consistent modes of functioning which Individuals show in their perceptual and intellectual activities" (Witkin, Oltman, Raskin, & Karp, 1971, p. 3). Some of the main styles studied in this literature have been leveling-sharpening (i.e., a tendency to be hypersensitive to small differences versus a tendency to maximize assimilation; Klein, 1954), equivalence range (i.e., a spontaneous differentiation of heterogeneous items Into a complex of related groups; Gardner, R., 1953), field dependence-independence (i.e., an ability to differentiate an object from the context; Witkin, 1973), and impulsivity-reflectivity (i.e., a tendency to reflect/disregard alternative solutions; Kagan, 1958). There also have been attempts to integrate specific cognitive styles into a larger framework of cognitive functioning. Kagan and Kogan (1970) have matched particular cognitive styles with stages of problem-solving. Fowler (1977, 1980) and Santostefano (1986) have incorporated the notion of styles into a develop mental framework, and Royce and Powell (1983) have conceptualized styles as higher-order strategies that control the deployment of lower-order abilities.

A second approach to studying styles is personality-centered. The theory of Myers and Myers (1980), based on the work of Jung (1923), follows this approach. Myers and Myers have distinguished among two attitudes, extroversion and introversion; two perceptual functions, intuition and sensing; two judgmental functions, thinking and feeling; and two ways of dealing with the outer world, judgment and perception. Gregorc (1984) has distinguished between two ways of handling each of space and time. Thus, people can be classified as abstract or concrete with respect to space, and as sequential or random with respect to time. Miller (1987, 1991) has proposed a somewhat different taxonomy, distinguishing among analytic versus holistic, objective versus subjective, and emotionally stable versus emotionally unstable individuals.

The third approach is activity-centered and tends to focus on styles of learning and teaching. These theories have probably had the most direct application in the classroom. For example, Kolb (1974) has identified four styles of learning: convergent versus divergent and assimilational versus accommodational. Dunn and Dunn (1978) have categorized styles in terms of preferred elements in a learning situation, such as various aspects of the environment (e.g., sound and light) and various aspects of Interaction with the self and others (e.g., peers and adults). Renzulli and Smith (1978) have distinguished preferred styles of work in the classroom, such as projects, drill and recitation, and peer teaching. …

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