Examining the Use of Higher – Order Thinking Questions on Prose Lesson Evaluation

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Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: June 26, 2019

Thembekile N. Msibi & O. I. Oloyede
Department of Curriculum and Teaching University of ESwatini
Kwaluseni, ESwatini

Journal Full Text PDF: Examining the Use of Higher – Order Thinking Questions on Prose Lesson Evaluation (Studied in Siswati, Eswatini).

Abstract
Teachers are challenged in integrating higher-order thinking (HOT) tasks and items in the classroom. This article examines the use of higher-order thinking (HOT) questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation at the senior secondary school level in Swaziland using three research questions. Stratified random sampling was used to sample 16 siSwati prose teachers from eight high schools in the Hhohho region. This study employed a qualitative approach in which classroom observation, document analysis and semi-structured individual interviews were used for data collection. Data were analyzed using themes, frequencies and percentages. The findings show that most teachers evaluate siSwati prose lessons orally; the use of essay questions was low. HOT items were rarely used and lesson plans had no lesson evaluation section. Synthesis was the most used HOT level followed by evaluation. Workload, time factor and large numbers of students in classes make marking to be a challenge to teachers. The study concluded that the use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation was low. The type of items and wrong mode of assessment, large class sizes, inadequate time for lessons and too much time for marking were the challenges in using HOT questions. The study recommended that siSwati prose teachers should evaluate using written work and essay items. In-service workshops for teachers on assessment and in the understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy should be organized and enough teaching periods should be allocated for siSwati lessons.

Keyword: Higher-order thinking (HOT), Bloom’s Taxonomy, siSwati prose, formative assessment, assessment for learning and instruction.

1. Introduction
The goals for education in contemporary society is to produce young men and women who will be able to think critically, solve problems, make well informed choices and sound decisions (Cotton, 1995; Harlen, 2007; Mamba, 2012). When formulating instructional objectives, evaluation tasks and questions, educators and curriculum specialists recommend that all domains of learning namely: the cognitive, affective and the psychomotor should be catered for. The Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) cognitive domain was found to be the best model to be used when formulating lesson objectives and evaluation tasks and items. The cognitive domain categorizes learning, abilities and skills into six major levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These six levels are further grouped into two categories, namely: the lower–order thinking and higher-order thinking levels. Analysis, synthesis and evaluation are the higher-cognition categories while the remaining levels are lower order of thinking (Loji, 2012).
It was observed that, there is overwhelming emphasis on lower-order knowledge and skills in the classrooms and higher-order thinking skills are neglected (Wile, 1991; Black and William, 1998 & King et al. (2009). Moodley (2013) noted that, a majority of teachers in schools did not fully understand, the Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy and teachers are not able to translate it and successfully put it into practice in the classroom, more especially with regards to asking higher-order thinking questions. Green (1975); Good and Brophy (1991) and King et al. (2009) noted that exercises and assignments for enhancing HOT skills during instruction should feature tasks that call for problem-solving, critical thinking, not just memory or reproduction. Essay items are highly recommended in evaluating learning in the upper levels of the cognitive domain. Essays place their emphasis on freedom of expression and creativity, depth and scope of knowledge that is on the learners’ grasp of a total situation (Green, 1975).
Teachers in schools have challenges in integrating higher-order thinking tasks and items in their teaching. They spend most of their time asking lower-level cognitive questions that concentrate on retrieval of factual information. The World Bank report (2010) noted that school inspectors’ reports from the years (2004-2008) in Swaziland, pointed to weak teacher skills and competencies with respect to the facilitation of higher- order thinking skills and close monitoring of student homework.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the use of higher-order thinking questions in siSwati prose instructional (lesson) evaluation at the senior secondary level in Swaziland.
This study purports to respond to the following research questions:
a. To what extent do teachers evaluate siSwati prose lessons?
b. To what extent do teachers use higher-order thinking questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation?
c. What are the teachers’ challenges in integrating higher-order thinking questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation?

2. Methodology
The study employed qualitative approaches employing phenomenological research design. Stratified random sampling was used to sample 16 siSwati prose teachers in eight senior secondary schools (2 from each school) in the Hhohho region of Swaziland. Data was collected using observations, document analysis and face-to-face, semi-structured interview. Observations were useful to see if teachers integrate HOT questions and items in siSwati prose lesson evaluation. Document analysis was used to check if the lesson plans reflected the use of HOT questions and items. Then, the semi-structured interview solicited information on the use of HOT questions from the siSwati prose teachers. Conventional content analysis was used to analyze data. Data were analyzed in line with the research questions. Each research question formed the theme for categorizing data. Analysis involved reading the data several times and categorizing it. Percentages were used to establish the use of higher-order questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation, and the results are presented in tables.

3. Results and discussion
a) Research Question1: To what extent do teachers evaluate siSwati prose lessons?

Table 1: Type of items and mode of siSwati prose lesson evaluation

Table 1 reveals that 63 % of the teachers interviewed responded that, they evaluate siSwati prose lessons orally. Written class work was rarely given by most teachers after instruction. Essay questions were rarely used (31%). The interviews indicated that short essay questions were the most used items (94%) and were asked orally. The mode of evaluating siSwati prose lessons is dominated by short essays followed by oral questions and long essays were the least used.
Green (1975), Brophy (1991) and King et al (2009) noted that exercises and assignments for enhancing HOT skills during instruction should feature tasks that call for problem-solving, critical thinking, not just memory or reproduction. Essay items are highly recommended in evaluating learning in the upper levels of the cognitive domain. Essay questions place their emphasis on freedom of expression and creativity, depth and scope of knowledge; that is on the learners’ grasp of a total situation.
Table 2 reveals that, only 0.6 % of the interviewed teachers responded that they always evaluate siSwati prose lessons and 50% of the interviewed teachers were in the frequently category . Most of the teachers in the always and frequently category responded that they were forced to evaluate their lessons by the ‘written class work policies’ which are in place in their schools.

Table 2: Frequency in evaluating siSwati prose lessons

This practice is contrary to Green (1975) and Potgieter (2012) who noted that, if instructional evaluation is to provide useful guidance to the teacher and the learner, it should relate specifically to instructional objectives for the lesson; should include frequent and immediate systematic feedback on progress and also provide specific diagnoses of pupil strengths and weaknesses.

b) Research Question2: To what extent do teachers use higher-order thinking questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation?

Table 3 below shows that 62% of the observed teachers used short essays and only 4% used long essays when evaluating siSwati prose lessons. The average number of items at the HOT taxonomy level was 21% with synthesis level having most questions (27%). This implies that the Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy might not be fully understood by the teachers this may be responsible for their inability to successfully put it into practice in siSwati prose lesson evaluation. (Moodley, 2013 &Black &William, 1998).

Table 3: The use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation – Observations

Key: OW = one word answer item S = Sentence answer item SE = short essay LE = Long essay
LOT = Lower-order thinking items AN = analysis SY = synthesis EV = evaluation
Av. HOT = Average higher-order thinking items

Table 4 reveals that 70% of the teachers used short essays and the remaining 30% used one word or sentence answer items when preparing lesson plans. There were no long essay questions in the lesson plan documents. The average number of items at the HOT levels was 22% with synthesis having the most (30%). These findings are in contrary to Green (1975) who noted that, long essay items are useful in evaluating learning in the upper levels of the cognitive domain, notably: application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These items should be used to measure attitudes, interests, creativity and verbal expression.

Table 4 The use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation – Lesson plan documents

Table 5 further reveals that on average in the interviews, HOT questions that were used were 26%. The highest HOT level used was analysis (29%) and followed by evaluation (28%). These figures shows that teachers rarely use HOT questions in evaluating siSwati prose . Such findings also confirm the World Bank report (2010) which noted that that school inspectors’ reports from the years (2004-2008) in Swaziland, pointed to weak teacher skills and competencies with respect to the facilitation of higher- order thinking skills and close monitoring of student homework.

Table 5 The use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation- Interviews

Table 6 reveals that the overall extent to which HOT questions were used from the three data collection method in siSwati prose lesson evaluation was 23%. Generally there are no major variations in the use of the three HOT skills. Questions in the synthesis level (26%) were the most used followed by evaluation (23%).

Table 6 Comparing the extent to which HOT questions were used in siSwati prose lesson evaluation

Analysis was the least used in lesson evaluation (20%). However, it is noted that in the interviews analysis questions (27%) were the highest and synthesis questions (22%) were the lowest and yet in actual practice , during observations and in the lesson plan documents synthesis questions were the most used followed by evaluation questions (21%).
These findings echo Wile, 1991; Byrnes, 2001 and King, Goodson & Rohan, 2009; who observed that, schools are faced with the challenge of poor questioning practice. There is overwhelming emphasis on lower-order knowledge and skills in the classrooms. Teachers spend most of their time asking lower-level cognitive questions and HOT skills are neglected.
Moodley(2013) also noted that failure to extend learners’ thinking beyond lower-order levels is a subtractive mode of teaching and learning. This is because lower-order questions promote low expectations in learners and in the broader sense produce high school graduates who are lacking in thinking skills. A high percentage of the items written by teachers were recall items which means that formative assessment in the classrooms encourages rote and superficial learning. Asking carefully scaffolded questions in everyday classroom practice would break the challenge of poor questioning practice.

c) Challenges in the use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation
Table 7 reveals that challenges in the use of HOT questions is not evaluating frequently, ineffective mode of assessment, that is not using essay items and evaluating orally. Workload and big numbers of students in classes makes marking to be a challenge to teachers. Time factor is a limitation in lesson evaluation because teachers are always rushing to finish the syllabus. Limited vocabulary in constructing clearly stated HOT questions is also another challenge. This is contrary to what Green (1975) and Potgieter (2012) observed that, if instructional evaluation is to provide useful guidance to the teacher and the learner, it should relate specifically to instructional objectives for the lesson; include frequent and immediate systematic feedback on progress and also provide specific diagnoses of pupil strengths and weaknesses.

Table 7 Challenges in the use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation

4. Conclusions
The conclusions drawn from the findings were that, lesson evaluation in siSwati prose instruction at the senior secondary level is rare. The majority of the siSwati prose teachers do not have evaluation questions in their lesson plans. Most of the siSwati prose lessons are evaluated orally and essay questions are rarely used. The absence of lesson evaluation items, the minimal use of essay questions and evaluating orally point to weak teacher skills on assessment practices..The use of higher- order thinking question in siSwati prose lesson evaluation is low. Questions in the synthesis level were the most used followed by questions in the evaluation level. Among the HOT skills, analysis is the least used in siSwati prose lesson evaluation. The minimal use of HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation stifle the learners’ intellectual development The impediments to integrating HOT skills in siSwati prose lesson evaluation were: large class sizes which leads to too much marking load, inadequate time allocated for siSwati prose lessons, and in-effective mode and type of assessment. The weaknesses in integrating HOT questions in siSwati prose lesson evaluation is one of the factors behind the poor performance of most candidates in HOT questions in the SGCSE siSwati prose external examinations (ECOS reports 2009-2013).

5. Recommendations
The recommendations from this study are that:
a. SiSwati prose lessons should be evaluated through written work. Long essays items and oral presentations should be the most used.
b. Teachers should formulate questions in all the three HOT levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy when assessing siSwati prose lessons.
c. School administrators should ensure that they observe the teacher-pupil ratio to keep the numbers in class manageable.
d. There is a need for the Ministry of Education and Training to organizes in-service workshops for teachers, on assessment and in the understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy and applying it in evaluating siSwati prose instruction.
e. Policy makers should allocate more periods for siSwati prose or give enough periods for siSwati so that the teachers can integrate HOT questions.
f. The study also recommends that Standards for Formative evaluation at the classroom level need to be put in place, to guide teachers when evaluating their lessons. The guidelines should stipulate the percentage for lower-order and higher-order thinking questions for all the levels, from the junior to senior secondary levels.
g. Lastly, new trends in assessment as a practice also highly recommend the involvement of the learners in the process of assessment.