FLASHBACKS/INSIGHTS

Integrating disciplines and question frames

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TERESITATANHUECO-TUMAPONWITH the outcome-based syllabus prominent in today’s academe, Bloom’s taxonomy has renewed popularity.

The many dutiful among us faithfully adopt the behavioral verbs to distinguish from one another the six levels of knowing, understanding, applying, analyzing, organizing and evaluating. There’s the quick switch to Krathwohl’s revision of Bloom’s when the sixth level underwent transformation as “creating.” Education upperclassmen conscientiously research on the taxonomy of cognition in their professional education courses.

During a weekend test, my class in British literature of education students major in English had an essay-type question. It did not begin with explain, discuss, compare or illustrate. The question was, “Prove or disprove that Elizabeth Barret Browning’s How Do I Love Thee is a sonnet and is Petrarchan.” “Wow,” remarked a student. She felt she was a lawyer to present in court what she said were “evidences.” That remark made the taxonomy of cognition rule over that Friday quiz. It made me switch to having the class answer the question in groups of five rather than individually. Very soon, they were the wiser. Out came their notes on cognitive levels, most on their mobiles.

Applying learning in their Methods class, the groups assigned their respective members to work on a cognitive level. The knowing/remembering member defined what a sonnet was, then listed down the Petrarchan sonnet’s characteristics. The understanding member described the said characteristics. A third member, applying, drew examples of the Petrarchan characteristics from Browning’s sonnet. A fourth, analyzing, dissected Browning’s sonnet – tearing it, as it were, to pieces, counting its metrics and listing all features that jibed with the characteristics. A fifth, evaluating, synthesized how the features of the sonnet as listed by member One and as described and explained by members Two, Three and Four, made up the whole poem. The last member, creating, acting as a juror, asked the rest of the group to comment on the whole poem as a love sonnet and why it was Petrarchan, not Spenserian and not Shakespearean. It was reasonable noise for half an hour, interspersed with banter. To reinforce their learning using cognitive levels, they had an assignment similar to the activity they had in class but on a literary piece and genre of their choice.

Years later, I met several matrons during an Alumni Day to which I was invited. Sonia, one of the girls in that class of a decade ago, remembered the “prove or disprove” question, which she, word for word, repeated. She said, the group work on analyzing and evaluating disciplined her mind to draw out decisions from somewhat difficult circumstances. How she applies those levels, I guess, is with a large dose of creativity.


Memorizing or understanding? Our academic superiors would, of course, opt that we give essay assignments. But we may not discern that our students can outsmart us. An essay type question, “Describe a balanced aquarium,” certainly requires referring to the cognition taxonomy. However, the response can be lifted from a biology textbook. Thus, being able to render a paragraph on a balanced aquarium may not necessarily mean the student learned what “balanced” really means. Perhaps the question can be rephrased, such as, “Describe what factors make up a balanced aquarium.” (Maybe add, “how?” given a specific context.)

In higher education, most question frames to students would be to “discuss, explain, compare, illustrate.” Students remark that there is hardly any difference in how they answer questions of “discuss” and “explain.” So, I tried surfing the web and indicated herein the sources. Titled “Academic writing: Understanding the question,” this one introduces the list of question frames by noting that, “Students often do worse than they should in examinations or when writing assignments in English in the UK, not because their writing skills are weak or that their knowledge of the subject matter is insufficient, but because they have not fully understood what they have been asked to do.” <www.uefap.com/writing/question/ quesfram.htm>

Here are pointers for several of the most common question frames used. “Discuss – requires an answer that explains an item or concept, and then gives details about it with supportive information, examples, points for and against, and explanations for the facts put forward. It is important to give both sides of an argument and come to a conclusion.” “Explain – requires an answer that offers a rather detailed and exact explanation of an idea or principle, or a set of reasons for a situation or attitude.” “Evaluate/Assess – requires an answer that decides and explains how great, valuable, or important something is. The judgement should be backed by a discussion of the evidence or reasoning involved.” “State – requires an answer that expresses the relevant points briefly and clearly without lengthy discussion or minor details.” For other question frames, please refer to <http://www.uefap.com/writing/ question/quesfram.htm>

From the Centre for Academic Success of Birmingham University, we have a list of question frames, which include: “Discuss – Debate advantages and disadvantages. List pros and cons. Argue the merits of different points of view about something. Don’t just explain or describe. Explain – Answer the question ‘how?’ What is the principle? You may also need to answer the question ‘why?’ and/or ‘where?’ and ‘when?’ as part of your description of ‘how?’”<http://library.bcu.ac.uk/learner/writingguides/1.11.htm>

Web sources also give students advice on how to answer questions, such as examining the components of a question before one begins writing the response. In our universities, making available similar guides written by the academics would greatly help learners. Together with rubrics, such guides help standardize expectations.

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, PhD, one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and institutional management experts, held top academic positions at Xavier University (the Ateneo de Cagayan) before heading chartered institutions. She studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Great Britain and Japan. An internationalization consultant on call, she is copy editor of the Liceo journals, and professorial lecturer at the Graduate Studies of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro City). Awards include a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education. (Email: ttumapon@liceo.edu.ph)

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