Relationships between Cognitive Styles and Reading Comprehension of Expository Text of African American Male Students

Article excerpt


The present study was designed to generate information about the individual differences in cognitive styles of African American male students at the elementary school level and to explore the implications of these differences for reading comprehension processes, especially as they relate to comprehension of expository text. These differences were analyzed utilizing the cognitive style dimension framework, which maintains that broad dimensions of perceptual functioning may be reflected in an individual's cognitive activities. Additional direction was gleaned from the extensive research of Witkin and colleagues on the field-dependence-independence dimension of cognitive style (Witkin, Dyk, Faterson, Goodenough, & Karp, 1962; Witkin, Goodenough, & Oltman, 1979).

This study addresses the following research questions: What is the relationship between low field-independent and high field-independent cognitive styles and reading comprehension of expository text? More specifically, how does this relationship affect the reading achievement of a sample group of fourth-grade African American male students from three elementary schools in a medium-sized urban public school district in southeast Michigan? The research hypothesis is that high field-independent African American males will demonstrate higher raw scores on a test of comprehension of expository prose than will their low field-independent counterparts. The corresponding null hypothesis is that high and low field-independent African American males will demonstrate no statistically significant differences in their raw scores.


Upon contrasting aspects of African and African American culture with European and European culture, Milliard (1976, 1992) contends that unique cognitive and behavioral style factors can be identified among African American populations. He further asserts the existence of a unique African American core culture that is shared by most African Americans to a greater or lesser degree and that can be empirically described. Concurrence with this view can be drawn from the work of Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, and Tipton (1985), Cohen (1969), Cole and Scribner (1974), Erny (1968), Kochman (1981), Ramirez and Price-Williams (1974), Shade (1981, 1982), Smitherman (1977), and Vass (1979). More specifically, Hale-Benson (1982) suggests that African Americans possess a particular cognitive style that influences the way they learn and perform in school. She notes that a "new direction of investigation suggests that cognition is social as well as biological. . .[and] looks at the relationship between one's culture and the kinds of skills one develops" (p. 23).

According to Banks (1988), the works of Hale-Benson and Milliard have been heavily influenced by Witkin's (1950, 1962) cognitive style theory as well as by Cohen's (1969) learning styles conceptualization. In 1950, Witkin hypothesized the existence of two cognitive styles: field-independent and field-dependent. Field-independent students, he claimed, are able to structure and make sense out of various tasks, do not have to be directed, are interested in and able to handle abstract and theoretical concepts, and take a hypothesis-testing approach to learning. By contrast, field-dependent students seem to need cues from the environment in order to solve problems; they have trouble providing their own structure and function best in people-oriented settings (Witkin et al., 1977). Cohen identified two conceptual styles, analytic and relational, the former of which is related to Witkin's field-independent concept while the latter is similar to the fielddependent concept.

Shade's (1983,1986) investigations focus on whether or not differences in achievement for students with different cognitive styles can be determined and measured. She concludes that high achievers are more field-independent, object-oriented, analytical, and linear thinkers. …


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