Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Children's Thinking Styles, Play, and Academic Performance

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Children's Thinking Styles, Play, and Academic Performance

Article excerpt

Based on the study of seventy-four middle school children of mostly Filipino and part Hawaiian heritages, this article explores the relationships of children's think- ing styles, play preferences, and school performance. Using the Group Embedded Figures Test, the Articulation of the Body Scale, and written responses to three questions, the authors found significant relationships between children's field- independent or field-dependent thinking styles and play preferences; play prefer- ences and academic performance; thinking styles and academic performance; and thinking styles and cultural setting. They also discovered that children's preferences for sports related, both positively and negatively, to their scores on state-mandated tests for language and math; that children who preferred unstructured play activi- ties tended to achieve academic success; and that cultural values were correlated to thinking style. The authors argue that their study has applied value for educators because it relates children's play preferences to other aspects of their life experi- ences, which can help school policy makers decide the extracurricular activities and the types of play they should encourage. Key words: academic performance; field dependent; field independent; middle-school children; play; thinking styles

CURRENT LITERATURE CONNECTING children's thinking styles to play and academic performance seems sparse compared to the literature about other top- ics in play research. (Saracho 1989a, 1989b, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998). The most recent studies appeared at the end of the twentieth century despite a renewed interest in and some more current research on thinking styles (Zhang and Stern- berg 2006, 2009; Zhang, Sternberg, and Rayner 2012). Previous studies about the relationship of children's thinking styles to play and academic performance often relied heavily on European and American samples. These studies also focused on younger children and gave little attention to later formative periods. In this article, we explore these relationships in a non-Western cultural setting and with middle-school children.

What Are Thinking Styles?

Researchers define thinking styles as the mental frameworks that enable indi- viduals to process information and solve problems in specific contexts (Saracho 1998; Zhang and Sternberg 2006, 2009). These styles operate much as culture does in guiding individuals' thoughts and perceptions. Researchers have identi- fied field-dependence-independence (FDI) as a measurable component of think- ing style, which consists of an antithetical pair of constructs-field dependence (FD) and field independence (FI) (Witkin 1949; Witkin et al. 1962). Individuals inclined to FD or FI process information differently, solve problems differently, and, in general, simply behave differently, even in similar situations.

Several researchers (Liu and Chepyator-Thomson 2008; Saracho and Spodek 1981; Zhang and Sternberg 2009) provide a thorough comparison of how FD and FI individuals typically process situational information differ- ently (see figure 1). As a group, field-dependent individuals gravitate towards social situations and enjoy interacting with others. They use facial cues when processing a situation. They are sensitive to others. They prefer to stand close to others when interacting with them. They rely on authority to make deci- sions, and they make use of the surrounding perceptual field when processing a situation.

In contrast, as a group, field-independent individuals do not prefer social contact, and other people consider them socially distant. Field-independent individuals tend to divide a visual field into separate elements rather than per- ceive it as a whole. They also set their own standards for thinking and behaving. They are active and goal oriented. They possess excellent logical and analytical reasoning skills. And they also include more anatomical and cosmetic details when they draw the human the body than do FD individuals. …

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