This section presents the general idea of this study. It begins with the background, the statement of the problem, the research objectives and research questions. The significance, scope and limitation of study are also highlighted followed by the operational definitions of terms.
1.1 Background of the Study
There are various definitions of thinking skills proposed by scholars such as Mayer (1977), Edward de Bono (1978), Chaffee (1988) and John Barell (1991) who relate thinking skills to the process of using the mind to make decisions and to solve problems. Thinking is a mental process or mental activity meant to find an answer or meaning for an inquiry. The teaching and learning activity which emphasizes thinking skills is the core of effective learning (Zamri Mahamod, Nasyimah Ismail & Wan Muna Ruzanna, 2015). In the Malaysian education system, the application of thinking skills is associated with a process of using the mind whether to seek meaning and understanding of things, to make judgments and decisions, or to solve problems (Yee Mei Heong, Jailani, Razali et al., 2011).
The importance of thinking skills among students has prompted the Ministry of Education (MOE) to further strengthen its efforts towards generating creative and innovative human capital. This is to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century which require students to be able to think at a higher level. The Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) is defined as the ability to practice knowledge, skills and values in reasoning and reflection to solve problems, make decisions and to innovate (Maria Salih, 2010). This means that HOTS requires an intellectual thinking process with the aim to seek the meaning and the understanding of a phenomenon, to make judgments and decisions or to solve problems. There is a need to teach students to think and educators need to implement strategies that can develop the higher order thinking skills.
The teaching and learning processes based on thinking skills and strategies require strategic approaches and methods of teaching and learning in order to develop a comprehensive student mindset (Shukla & Dungsungnoen, 2016). Among the suitable approaches that should be taken by the teachers are by creating a participative environment in which students could freely express their ideas, analyse the problems given and produce wise judgements to solve it (Constitinou & Kuys, 2013). The Ministry of Education has introduced the Thinking Skills Teaching Program in schools and colleges which began in 1992 (Rajendran, 1998) and the objective of the updated education system from time to time is to enhance the teaching and learning of analytical and rational thinking (Indramalar, 1997b). Hence, in the national education transformation, in order to develop a comprehensive student mindset, critical thinking, creative thinking and innovative thinking have been made the primary focus through the implementation of the Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR) starting in 2011 and the Secondary Standard Curriculum (KSSM) in 2017, (Ganapathy & Kaur, 2014). Malaysian students are also required to be able to manipulate ideas (Tajularipin, Vickneswary, Diwiyah et al., 2017) to achieve the objective of producing students with good thinking skills.
Students should be trained to make sense of new information and not just the acquisition of knowledge in order to achieve creative and critical thinking skills. There is a need to establish connections between what the students have been taught and what they are going to learn to inspire them to create new ideas and to foster the lifelong learning process. Once students can make the connections, they will be able to apply what they have understood previously to the new knowledge that they have just acquired. In this regard, students will be engaged in the process of thinking, evaluating, and reasoning to exercise wise judgement and produce sound conclusions and decisions.
Apart from that, students also need to be asked questions that can provoke them into thinking and using their imagination to produce their own ideas and suggest solutions to problems. McComas and Abraham (2004) suggest the way to promote thinking skills is to teach students to ask questions. Chinedu, Kamin and Olabiyi (2015) suggest educators to implement “Question-Answer relationships” where students are asked questions from the book as well as questions based on their own experiences. This will allow them to identify prior knowledge that they have already acquired and use them to seek answers to the questions.
Another strategy that can be used to promote the development of HOTS among learners is through reflection writing. According to Shaughnessy, Allen and Duggan (2017), reflection is a process of understanding one’s experiences to encourage better learning process through self-evaluation. Boud (2001, p. 2) defines reflection as “a process of turning experience into learning”. Reflection writing allows one to reconnect past experiences with the present matters and eventually generate new solutions and creative insight to be applied for future actions (Plack, Driscoll, Maring & Greenberg, 2007). Mezirow (1990) states that a questioning attitude can also be developed through reflection writing. When students reflect in their writing, they begin to engage themselves in a higher order thinking and will critically analyse the content in an attempt to have a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This process will result in continuous active thinking and eventually students will be able to produce informed decisions and justifiable actions.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The lack of thinking skills among students in Malaysia is depicted in the PISA’s 2012 report where Malaysia ranked 39 out of 44 countries on the assessment on creative problem-solving, while neighbouring country Singapore came out tops with a mean score of 562 (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012). Noor (2008) concurs to the suggestion that our students are lacking in a higher order thinking ability and students need to acquire these skills to be able to perform well in the work force. A study carried out by Yee et al. (2010) shows that students in Malaysia are not exposed to problem-solving tasks that trigger critical thinking.
Thus, they are not able to think beyond the information given to them and they also lack the capability to analyze data critically (Jaganathan & Subramaniam, 2016). The lack of thinking skills among our students can also be associated with Malaysia’s classroom culture. Malaysian students are known to be passive in their classroom as they are not prone to ask questions to seek further knowledge or engage in class discussion (Ramasamy, 2011). This passivity may be due to the lack of exposure in an active learning environment. The classroom culture in Malaysia itself plays a big role where students are used to the traditional methods of teacher-centered teaching practices since they were young. According to Noraishah (2004), the teaching method used is also unsystematic and there is no connection with the previous learned lessons which caused the students to not be able to use high-level thinking skills such as to analyze, synthesize and assess.
Besides, asking questions while the teacher is teaching can be regarded as being disrespectful in our Malaysian culture. This cultural value can also be one of the underlying causes for this passive learning attitude. This needs to be changed for them to be more participative and hence to be engaged in active thinking which will only benefit them once they graduate and get into the job market. According to Yahya and Rashid (2006), the components of HOTS is an important aspect in the labor market in which students need to excel in critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills in order to increase their chance of being hired. Lack of these skills will cause students to have difficulty to enter the job world after completing their studies (Hasliza, 2002).
Selcher (2005) believes undergraduates need to comprehend what critical thinking is all about in order to connect to the real world. This can be promoted through reflection writing which has been found to stimulate critical thinking (Schon, 1987). Ong (2004) argues that reflection writing seeks to play a role as the evidence that allows the student to translate his or her thoughts in an explicit manner and that one of the most effective tools for applying reflection thinking skills is through a reflection journal.
It allows learners to self-reflect, enable them to recognize the limits of their own knowledge (Plack & Greenberg, 2006) and engage in lifelong learning to improve their skills and capabilities. Reflection writing has been widely used in the field of medicine (Boenink, Oderwald, De Jonge, Van Tilburg, and Smal, 2004; Cuppernull, Marquez, Confessore, Greenburg, 2004; Plack et al, 2007). However, there is a dearth of research on reflection writing in promoting HOTS in the context of language learning (Porto, 2007). It is the objective of this study to investigate whether there is evidence of HOTS in BENL students’ reflection writing assignments.
1.3 Research Objectives
The objectives of this research are:
to investigate evidence of HOTS in BENL graduating students’ groups’ reflection writing assignments.
to examine the frequency of each level of HOTS used in the groups’ reflection writing assignments.
to identify the questions of reflection writing assignment that generate the highest application of the third level of HOTS.
1.4 Research Questions
The research questions in this study are formulated based on the problem statement explained in subtopic 1.2. Therefore, this study seeks to answer the following questions:
To what extent does students’ reflection writings show evidence of HOTS?
What is the frequency of each level of HOTS in the students’ reflection writing?
Which questions of the reflection writing assignments have the highest application of the third level of HOTS?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The study is conducted to identify the extent of the higher order thinking skills in reflection writing among graduating BENL students. The researcher hopes that the results of this study will benefit the parties concerned as follows:
The findings of this study are expected to provide feedback to educators especially in the English Language Department in order to re-assess the current application of higher order thinking skills among students. The outcomes will add to the pool of literature in language learning where reflection writing can be used as an approach to generate a creative and critical learning process. The findings will also provide insight to educators on suitable strategies that can enhance students’ capability to think critically and creatively. Hence, the students will be able to respond to the real-world demands and acquire techniques that can enhance their higher order thinking ability. This study can also pave the way for the introduction of a thinking skill subject at the onset of students’ schooling.
The results of this study can be used as a guideline on how to evaluate students’ performance in Higher Order Thinking Skills specifically through reflection writing. It also adds empirical evidence in reflection writing from the context of language learning.
This research supports the agenda written in the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Ministry of Education, 2014) in implementing the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) or Kemahiran Berfikir Aras Tinggi (KBAT) in schools to encourage Malaysian students to become more creative, critical and logical. Through this policy, necessary steps are taken to improve students’ skills and competencies to enhance their future marketability.
1.7 Definition of Terms
Definition of terms helps the researcher to identify and explain the concepts used in this study as follows:
1.7.1 Thinking Skills
According to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2000), thinking skills revolve around several aspects of learning skills namely information-processing skills, reasoning skills, enquiry skills, creative thinking skills and evaluation skills. Information-processing skills enable students to locate and collect relevant information, to sort, classify, sequence, compare and contrast, and to analyse part or whole relationships. Reasoning skills enable students to give reasons for opinions and actions, to draw inferences and make deductions, to use precise language to explain what they think, and to make judgements and decisions informed by reasons or evidence.
Enquiry skills enable students to ask relevant questions, to pose and define problems, to plan what to do and how to research, to predict outcomes and anticipate consequences, and to test conclusions and improve ideas. Creative thinking skills enable students to generate and extend ideas, to suggest hypotheses, to apply imagination, and to look for alternative innovative outcomes and finally evaluation skills enable students to evaluate information, to judge the value of what they read, hear and do, to develop criteria for judging the value of their own and others’ work or ideas, and to have confidence in their judgements.
1.7.2 Higher Order Thinking Skills
Rajendran and Idris (2008) define HOTS as the expanded use of the mind to meet new challenges; some of the skills include analysing information to determine the problem, evaluating the problem and creating new workable solutions. Lewis and Smith (1993) describe higher order thinking as a process where one correlates past and new knowledge to obtain solutions in complex situations. (Kruger, 2013, as cited by Goethals, 2013) propose that the higher order thinking skills involve “concept formation, critical thinking, creativity/brainstorming, problem-solving, mental representation, rule of use, reasoning, and logical thinking”.
1.7.3 Reflection Writing
Boud et al., (1985) define reflection as the process of neutralizing all the negative feelings surrounding the current experience so that a new perspective can be derived from that experience thus transforming one’s behaviour and actions. While reflecting, students start to remember things and make sense of what had happened. Reflection has also been described as ‘those intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to new understandings and appreciations.’ (Boud, Keog & Walker, 1985, p.19). Boyd and Fales (1983) describe reflection as the process of examining an experience that raises an issue of concern. They explain it as a process where an individual refines his or her understanding of an experience, which may lead to changes in the individual’s perspective.
This chapter explains the background of the study, problem statement, objectives and questions, limitations, operational definition as well as the conceptual framework. The following chapter discusses the previous research on the topic under study.