UCR research investigates educational differences in children’s storybooks internationally

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A UCR cross-cultural psychology article titled “Learning-Related Values in Young Children’s Storybooks: An Investigation in the United States,” published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, examines the learning values in Chinese storybooks compared to American and Mexican storybooks.

The year-and-a-half long research project, funded by a grant from the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS), was conducted by UCR Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Cecilia Cheung with the assistance of two graduate students, Jorge A. Monroy and Danielle E. Delany. The storybooks were analyzed through 12 criteria, ranging from intelligence to effort, that fit in three core categories: Beliefs, motivated cognitions and behaviors. 380 storybooks, recommended by the ministries of education from each of the countries for children between the ages of 3 and 11, were translated and then analyzed by trained coders, marking any phrases or parts in the storybooks that fit any of the criteria.

“It’s hard to say how long it took to code one single book, but the whole coding process took about 6 months,“ stated Delany in an interview with the Highlander.

Overall, the results of the study showed how Chinese storybooks displayed beliefs and behaviors that emphasized learning far more than those from the U.S. and Mexico, which were overall the same in results.

Variables that may have affected the results were avoided by examining books that contain text and not just pictures. However, the books analyzed were only the ones recommended by the countries’ ministries of education, which were books that were likely to be used in classroom settings, instead of analyzing random samples of books popular in the respective countries.

Cheung found about 60 percent overlap “when we compared our lists to the lists of most popular books published by various book stores … Hence, the titles from the government-recommended lists are at least somewhat representative of what children in each country read.

Regarding the future of the project, Cheung believes that “In the future, it would be fruitful to include of a broader range of book genres and media products (e.g., magazines, comic books, cartoons) to further our understanding of the role of cultural artifacts in children’s learning.”

Future research would try to understand how other influences can predict a child’s motivation and performance in school, according to Cheung.

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