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Study Links Active Reasoning About TV with Academic Achievement in African-American Children

Study Links Active Reasoning About TV with Academic Achievement in African-American Children

High achieving African American children are better at active reasoning when it comes to their television use than regular students, according to the findings of a recent study conducted by the Media Education Lab at Temple University, which will be presented at the Broadcast Education Association national conference in Las Vegas this week. 

Active reasoning refers to the ability to justify one's media preferences by using specific information and evidence. The study examined the media use habits, media environment, active reasoning and parental involvement in two groups of African American students - one high achieving and the other regular.  Children ages 9, 10 and 11 were asked why they liked favorite TV shows, videogames and popular music. Examples of children's active reasoning responses included:

  • "I like it because it is about a boy who will follow his dreams no matter what."
  • "It is about a teenager who is a rock star and it shows me that even a kid can be famous and a star."
  • "The cartoons can sometimes be so clueless and at other times can be so evil."

Children who did not demonstrate active reasoning often gave simple emotional reactions such as "it's funny," "it's cool," "it's my favorite," or "it's the best" - all vague or redundant descriptors.

"When students actively offer reasons for the pleasures they find in media, they move beyond just passively reacting to television programs, videogames and popular music," says Michael RobbGrieco, a researcher at the Media Education Lab at Temple University's School of Communications and Theater.

He said, "Children who use active reasoning may or may not be critical viewers, but they are able to articulate ideas about why they like media messages and what they find valuable in them. Using reasoning processes in everyday life builds important skills that support children's academic success."

Temple professor Renee Hobbs, who co-authored the study, notes that active reasoning is especially important given the significant amount of time African-American children spend with electronic and digital media, something that is unlikely to change in the future. She and other researchers believe that if media consumption can become a more cognitively demanding activity, students' language, literacy and critical thinking skills can be increased.

"To help build active reasoning skills in everyday activities like watching TV, using the Internet, listening to music and playing videogames, parents can engage children by asking descriptive questions, predictive questions, evaluative questions, and critical-thinking questions about media messages and technology tools," says Hobbs. "Questions could include:  ‘What just happened?' ‘What will that character do next?' ‘Why do you like this?' and ‘Is that an actor or a real person? How do you know?'

Laurada Byers, Founder of the Russell Byers Charter School, believes that both academically gifted and regular education students may benefit from efforts to help them improve their active reasoning about media and technology use.  "Children who use active reasoning to express their ideas are on their way to becoming powerful communicators," she said.

Additional findings of the study include:

  • Regular students report more digital media use (TV, videogames, Internet, music, and cell phones) than high achieving students. However, most children in both groups report heavy use of digital media on a typical school day (4+ hours), and on a typical Saturday or Sunday (6+ hours). Few students in either group report use of print media in the home.
  • Most students report little to no parental involvement in their media use, with no significant differences found between high achievers and regular students.
  • Students like when parents talk to them about their media and technology use.
  • Regular students have more computer, television, music, cell phone, and videogame media devices in their bedrooms than high achieving, gifted students. But both high achievers and regular students report similar, highly saturated media environments in their homes, including TVs, stereos, videogames, computers, and cell phones in their bedrooms.