Posted April 22, 2009

Media and the mind

High-achieving African American students use active reasoning when responding to favorite media

It’s widely believed that consuming too much media can have a detrimental effect on a child’s academic achievement.

However, a study conducted by the Temple University Media Education Lab in collaboration with the Russell Byers Charter School, found that it’s a little more complicated for African American children.

The study will be presented by co-author Michael RobbGrieco, a researcher at the Media Education Lab, this week during the annual meeting of the Broadcast Education Association, held concurrently with the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.

As many previous studies have shown, this study found that African American students watch a lot of movies and television — more than 30 hours weekly. As expected, high-achieving students watch less television than their classmates and are less likely to have a TV in the bedroom.

But, most importantly, compared to other students, high-achievers are better able to interpret, explain and use active reasoning when describing their favorite programs.

“Children who use active reasoning have the ability to use evidence and argument to support their ideas,” said study co-author Renee Hobbs, professor of broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media in the School of Communications and Theater and founder of the Media Education Lab. “The capacity to use reasoning and evidence to support ideas and opinions is a central component of critical thinking.”

The study looked in to the media habits of two groups of African American children enrolled in Philadelphia public schools. One group was composed of average students; the other was made up of students with a history of high achievement.

Both high achievers and regular students reported living in highly saturated media environments in their homes, with multiple TVs, stereos, videogames, computers and cell phones, and spending more than six hours per day on the weekends consuming media images.

The two groups differed most in the ability to demonstrate active reasoning in response to questions about their favorite television programs.

Both high achievers and regular students clearly have knowledge about popular media that can be used to stimulate the sort of active, engaged and analytical thinking that schools would like all of their students to develop.

The study suggests that parents promote children’s active reasoning about media and technology by asking critical thinking questions when interacting with their children. These types of questions can also be productively used in the elementary classroom to promote higher-order thinking skills such as reasoning and argumentation.

“Since the research shows a strong association between more active reasoning and high levels of academic achievement, we believe that both academically-gifted and regular education students may benefit academically from efforts to help children improve their active reasoning and argumentation skills in response to mass media, popular culture and digital media,” said Laurada Byers, founder of the Russell Byers Charter Elementary School, whose students participated in the research.

Children enrolled at the Byers School will have the opportunity to enroll in a free media literacy summer camp during the month of July, said Byers. Hobbs and Byers are also offering a summer institute staff development program, “Powerful Voices for Kids,” to be held July 6-10 at the Byers School, which will help teachers learn to integrate media and technology into the elementary curriculum using media literacy lessons. The program is supported by a grant from the Verizon Foundation.

Hobbs said a combination of research and classroom practice can help determine what sorts of classroom activities and in-home activities may support the development of higher-order active reasoning and academic achievement.

“Given the potential for schools to promote both greater parental involvement with children’s media use and more active reasoning skills among students, future research should also investigate the impact of media literacy education on the relationship between academic achievement, higher-order thinking skills and media use for children from urban, public elementary schools,” Hobbs said.

For more information about the Powerful Voices for Kids Summer Institute, visit the Media Education Lab web site at