EXPANDING INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP:
THE IMPACT OF HIGHER ORDER THINKING TOWARDS
STUDENTS’ PERFORMANCE IN HIGHER EDUCATION
NOR ZAKIAH BT ISMAIL
FACULTY OF EDUCATION
UNIVERSITI TEKNOLOGI MARA
1.0 CHAPTER 1.............................................................................................................................................2
1.2Background of Study...............................................................................................................................3
1.0 CHAPTER 1
Education in Malaysia has been moving towards the transformation phase where
all the institutions are equipped with all the facilities and technology to ease the teaching
and learning sessions. In higher education, lecturers are provided with many sources by
Ministry with the intention they are able to produce students who are among the first
class mentality. This has been stated in the blueprint of National Higher Education Action
Plan 2007- 2010. Malaysia is a developing country and yet to plan to be a developed
country in line with other countries. Education plays a big role in transforming our
country to be one of the developed countries. Through education, Malaysia will produce
future generations with the first class mentality. It is important to ensure that future
generations are all among the first class mentality because these people will lead and
determine the pathway of our country. We need people who know well to use technology
and we also need critical thinkers to develop our country. In Malaysia, we have many
candidates with different specialist and potential and yet education is needed to hone their
skills and knowledge. This is where the educators need to play their role. Over the years,
Ministry of Education has spent millions to come out with the best strategies for
Malaysian education. It is to ensure future generations will not left behind. These future
generations must be very critical in thinking. Educators may lead them but at the end of
the day, they themselves need to take initiatives to improve and be a step ahead than
other candidates in other countries. Everyone must play their role including the Ministry,
educators and students to ensure the vision of 2020 will be achieved.
1.2 Background of Study
Nature of Education
Higher Education system in Malaysia emphasizes on the lifelong education.
Education is a platform to instill knowledge and help students to apply their knowledge in
their life so that students are able to use their knowledge and qualification to get
themselves employed in job market in the future (National Higher Education Action Plan,
2007). It is important for the students to achieve good qualification in academic and
master certain knowledge for their own benefits so that they can be very independent in
their work field in the future. Performance of the school depends on how good the school
is in terms of teaching and learning method applied in the school and the school system
(Day, 2008; Firestone, 1996; Park, 2005). School leaders play an important role in
guiding and motivating teachers to play their role or give fully commitment towards their
teaching. Motivated teachers tend to give more commitment towards school
achievements including co-curriculum and curriculum (Moyday et al., 1979).
Considering the excellent academic performance among students, teachers or lecturers
must know that knowledge is not solely to be memorized but knowledge is about
understanding the concept or meaning and apply it in various contexts.
This is where critical thinking is applied in education. Critical thinking is also
called as higher order thinking (Scriven & Paul, 1987). Students may know the course
they choose to learn and the subjects they are taught in school or college but not all of
them are able to connect logic between knowledge and the importance of that knowledge
in life (Elder & Paul, 2002). Learning by memorizing will prolong to low academic
performance and even their working performance in the future because they have never
trained their brain to think critically. When they deal with problems they will not be able
to think of any alternatives to solve it because most of the time their brain only processes
the lower order thinking; knowledge, comprehend and apply. They do not apply higher
order thinking which include the process of analysis, synthesis, interpretation and
evaluation (Scriven & Paul, 1987). We are aware that not all the students have the ability
to apply the intellectual skills (Elder & Paul, 2002). Regardless the level of IQ and
socioeconomic status; students have an equal opportunity in education. Critical thinking
can be applied to all the students including slow learners, intermediate learners and fast
learners. According to Elder & Paul (2002), all the best students are not actually
categorized as critical thinkers. It means critical thinking can be nurtured regardless
which cognitive level of learners they belong to.
In the tertiary education, students are not grouped according to their cognitive
level and academic achievement level. Lecturers are expected to teach students with
different cognitive level of learners in a class. That is the challenge that lecturers need to
deal with because at the end of each lesson, lecturers must ensure they achieve the
learning outcomes. (M. Sadiq Sohail et al., 2003). In light of these, students are assessed
through exams and presentation to evaluate their understanding on the subjects they
learn. Scoring rubrics are used to evaluate students’ performance in exams and
presentation. The purpose of applying higher order thinking towards the students is to
hone their thinking so that they will be able to deal with the situations where problem
solving is needed. This study is conducted to see the exact result of students’
performance through the application of higher order thinking in their learning as well as
the learning and teaching styles practiced in tertiary education.
1.3 Statement of the Research Problem
Preus (2012) has stated that critical thinking is about higher order thinking which
implies the process of thinking like synthesizing, generalizing, explaining and
hypothesizing. However, not all the students are able to apply higher order thinking. The
end result, they turn to be poor listeners, writers and readers and that will give them
problems in understanding the purpose of studying the subjects and the use of the
knowledge in their life (Elder et al,. 2014). The reason why the students must be able to
apply the higher order thinking is to ensure they applied a lifelong learning and able to
have the ideal of a liberally educated mind (Elder et al,. 2014). Knowledge that they
gained or learnt must remain longer in their memory and that will give them sometimes
to process the knowledge into application. That is why; students are encouraged to
understand rather than memorizing.
Critical thinking is also related to the students’ performance. In Higher Education
Institutions (HEIs), we have two different groups of students; students with disabilities
and students without disabilities. It is necessary for the students to perform well in their
academic to ensure better employment regardless of which group they belong to.
According to the Labour Force Survey, Office for National Statistics (2005), there was
over one-third of individuals with disabilities and without formal qualification was
categorized as disabled. A better or appropriate approach of teaching must be applied
among the educators or HEIs provider in order to help this group (student with
disabilities) to study in HEIs. It is important to ensure that everyone have equal
opportunity in education (Pumfrey, 2010). The group of students with disabilities must
not be discriminated from having the normal education (Disability Discrimination Act
(DDA), 1995). Since many results shows the impact of higher order thinking towards
students’ performance another study will be conducted to find the accurate result on the
role of higher order thinking towards students’ performance.
1.4 Research Objectives
The objectives of this study are:
i. To identify the cognitive level of learners.
ii. To investigate the limitation of student thinking level.
iii. To determine the learning preferences exist among the students.
iv. To determine the preferred method of teaching to teach students to think
v. To understand the impact of teaching and learning preferences towards students’
1.5 Research Questions
i. What is cognitive level of learners?
ii. What is the limitation of student thinking level?
iii. What are the learning preferences exist among the students?
iv. What is the preferred method of teaching that allows students to think critically?
v. What is the impact of teaching and learning preferences towards students’
1.6 Significance of the Study
This study is conducted to identify on the various aspects or factors that can contribute to
good students’ academic performance in the tertiary education and the impact of those
aspects towards their working performance in the future especially when the students
involve in the situation which requires them to solve the problem. There are four aspects
involved; types of learners’ cognitive level, limitations of thinking level, learning
preferences and teaching methods. The academic performance is determined by their
grade score in each subject they take. Students who score an excellent grade in exams and
presentations are the students who are able to give accurate and relevant explanations and
examples on the topic issued in the exam questions and topic asked by the lecturers.
Students in tertiary education must have a mind that can probe and question and free
from bias. They must have the integrity in thinking and independent thinking. They do
not simply regurgitate the statements or information they heard. In order to create that
environment, higher order thinking is nurtured or applied among the students during
learning session using several teaching methods and engage with learning preferences
among students. Different level of IQ or cognitive level will determine the preferred
teaching method used by lecturers during lecturing session. Lecturers must ensure they
use the appropriate teaching method approach which can be applied to all different
cognitive level of learners so that all the students will have the opportunity to perform
well in academic.
1.7 Limitation of the Study
Target population is only limited to 30 students due to limited time to analyze the data.
In order to conduct this study, the subject chosen is only one subject which is the
Effective Speaking subject. The research questions for this study are focusing only on the
effective speaking because the data must be collected and analyzed within the duration
given. Researcher will not have enough time to complete the research if more subjects are
involved. All the five research questions are only focusing on this subject so that the
result collected are much more accurate since any changes affected the dependent
variables are caused by the independent variables in a similar context.
1.8 Scope of the Study
This study is focusing on one cognitive level of learners which is slow learner. The
theory used to determine the level of thinking is Bloom’s Taxonomy which consists only
two level of thinking which are lower order thinking (LOT) level and higher order
thinking (HOT) level. However, in this study, the higher order thinking is the main focus
which the researcher used as an indicator for the test questions. There are only four
learning styles preferences investigated in this study which are theorist, pragmatic,
reflector and activist so that the accurate result for the learning style preferred by students
can be analyzed completely within the duration given for the research. The preferred
teaching method also limited to only four types which are facilitator, demonstrator,
delegator and expert teaching style because it is easier to correlate with the four preferred
learning styles and the data can be analyzed faster since both teaching methods and
learning styles chosen are applied in similar context.
1.9 Operational Definition
1.9.1 Higher order thinking
The term higher order thinking brings the meaning of critical thinking which
involves few processes of thinking like synthesizing, generalizing, hypothesizing
or the two phases of thinking which the second phase of thinking produces further
understanding and meaning based on the first phase of thinking (Preus, 2012).
According to Paul & Elder (2014), higher order thinking has the similarity to the
critical thinking because it involves the process of analysing, synthesizing and
evaluating the different situations in learning. Higher order thinking is also used
as a benchmark in creating the questions. As stated by Cullinane (2010), higher
order thinking is the second phase of Bloom’s Taxonomy which includes the three
ascending processes started with analyzing, synthesizing and evaluation. For the
purpose of this study higher order thinking refers to the process of analyzing,
synthesizing and evaluating the information into the new meaning or
understanding which help the person to correlate with problem solving.
This chapter discusses on the different angle of concepts and understanding of the
present study. It covers the perspectives on critical thinking and higher order thinking
which correlate with the Bloom’s Taxonomy. To make the present study clearer, the
further information on the impact of learners’ cognitive level towards degree of critical
thinking is explained further. Since the teaching and learning are also related to the
present study, few theories are discussed in this chapter; learning theories and teaching
theories. The last part is the conceptual framework of the whole study which includes
both of the dependent and independent variables of the present study.
2.2 Perspectives on Critical Thinking and Higher Order Thinking
Student performance in academic is important for the future employment
especially students in the tertiary level; critical thinking turns to be the domain part
that determines most of the excellent performance among the students. It is important
to know the different cognitive level of learners among the students; slow learner,
intermediate learner and fast learner as it will contribute to the supremacy of critical
thinker among the students. Critical thinking has been practiced by many
academicians in the subjects learning to teach students to think critically. A subject of
critical thinking has been taught in higher education with the purpose to enhance
students’ credibility. As stated in the National Higher Education Action Plan (2007),
producing human capital with the first class mentality has become the main goal for
the future education. It explains everything of the importance of critical thinking
among the students. In Malaysia education, we are still looking into the strategic plan
to produce all the students with first class mentality and critical thinking will be one
of the importance things that the educators must address in Higher Education
Institutions (HEIs) to help achieving that goal. There are many methods of teaching
and guidelines to teach students how to think critically like Miniature Guide for
Students on How to Study and Learn (Elder & Paul, 2014). However, it is not easy to
apply it to all the students whose intelligence levels are different.
Touching on the aspect of critical thinking, Bloom’s Taxonomy plays an
important role in measuring the limit of students’ thinking process. As stated by
Cullinane (2010), Bloom’s Taxonomy consists of two levels which are categorized as
lower order thinking and higher order thinking. She stated that, lower order thinking
reflects to three processes of thinking which are knowledge, comprehension and
application where as higher order thinking reflects to another three processes of
thinking which are analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating. Present study is focusing
on the higher order thinking. According to Paul & Elder (2014), higher order thinking
is referring to the critical thinking. It means the three processes of thinking;
analyzing, synthesizing and evaluation are actually fall under the critical thinking.
According to Baven (2009), said that critical thinking is the phase where individuals’
mindset is set to create the new meaning of what they understand on the first thought.
Applying it towards the students, critical thinking tends to help students with problem
solving situations which students will think of the alternatives and ideas to solve the
problem. Throughout different perspectives of the critical thinking and higher order
thinking will make the current study clearer in gaining the end finding result.
2.3 Impact of Cognitive Level of Learners towards Degree of Critical Thinking.
Types of cognitive level of learners that exist among the students represent the level
of intelligence or IQ the students belong to. When comes to a critical thinking, the
group of students who may be affected most is the slow learner. Slow learner is not
categorized under mentally retarded or learning disability. Slow learners are the
students with IQ of average 100. Most of the time, these students have difficulty to
catch up in class. The frequency of processing the information is slower compared to
the normal students with IQ more than 100 (Sagar Batchu,2011). As stated by
Eastmead (2014), slow learners end up in skilled and semi-skilled field in the future.
They tend to work in construction field or office work. It means slow learners find
that critical field is not suitable for them to work on because it may require them to
think critically which they cannot afford to deal with.
2.4 Learning Theory and Teaching Style Related to students’ performance.
The Learning theories that is used in this study is the Kolb’s four phases learning
cycle which consists of reflective observation which refers to reflector, abstract
conceptualization which refers to theorist, active experimentation which refers to
activist and concrete experience which refers to pragmatics (Shashank, 2013). This
theory is related to the learning preferences among the students. According Mumford
& Honey (2006), they stated that the process of learning style consist of four
important elements which are reflector, theorist, activist and pragmatics (Coffield et
al., 2010). Putting in the context of students learning in the class reflector is the action
of watching, theorist is the action of thinking, activist is the action of doing and
pragmatics is the action of feeling. Figure 1.0 shows the Kolb’s four phases learning
The teaching style used in this study is based on the Grasha-Riechmann
Teaching Styles Inventory. It consists of four different styles which are facilitator,
demonstrator, delegator and expert. Facilitator and delegator are more towards the
student-centered whereas demonstrator and expert are more towards the teacher-
centered (Filonova, 2008). Facilitator is the teaching style where a lecturer asks the
students to apply the knowledge into practical so that students are able to know their
learning strengths. Demonstrator is the teaching style where demonstrating is given a
lot reflect to the students’ knowledge. Delegator is the teaching style where a lecturer
received more feedback from the students. Expert otherwise is a teaching style where
a lecturer make use of his or her expertise to transmit knowledge towards the students
and ensure that students are equipped with enough knowledge.
Figure 1.0: Four phases of Kolb’s learning cycle
2.5 Conceptual frameworks.
This study consists of several variables. There are four independent variables used in this
study which are types of students’ cognitive level, limitation of students’ thinking level,
learning preferences and teaching methods. Figure 1.0 shows the conceptual framework
Independent variables Dependent variable
Limitation of thinking level
Figure 1.1: Conceptual framework for variables
This chapter explains on the research methodology as a whole. Research design,
population and sampling are stated in details in this section. There are certain
instrumentations applied in this present study. The conceptual framework is shown to see
the variables of independent and dependent for the present study. Data collection and data
analysis are shown to make the present study in order.
3.2 Research Design
The present study is carried out using mixed method which both of quantitative
and qualitative approach are used. In the present study, qualitative technique is used like
the content analysis on the grade of exam answer sheets. Quantitative techniques are also
used in this present study including rating scale and questionnaires
3.3 Population and Sampling
The major target population for the present study is the Diploma students in University of
Selangor (UNISEL). The accessible population is the third semester diploma students in
the Faculty of Mass Communication. The sample is selected using the purposive
sampling. Purposive sampling is based on the prior information that the samples have
which is needed to conduct the research. 30 of third semester diploma students in Faculty
of Mass Communication are selected with the first ten students score A grade, the
following ten students score B grade and the last ten students score the C grade in the
exam of one particular subject which is Effective Speaking. From each 10 students of
three different grades, only students who have fulfill the criteria needed for the research
are assigned to the control conditions. The 30 of third semester diploma students in
Faculty of education are selected based on the score grade in the achievement report of
the Effective Speaking subject. The Effective Speaking subject is selected through non-
random sampling which is purposive sampling. The report achievement of Effective
Speaking subject is considered as a purposive sampling because the result of grades
stated in the achievement report is based on the exam questions and the assignments
questions which apply both lower order thinking and higher order thinking level
questions. This is relevant to the present study because it correlates with the critical
3.4.1 Document analysis
The achievement report of Effective Speaking subjects is analyzed to
determine the accessible target population for the present study. Only 30
numbers of students are selected from the list in the achievement report and
they are grouped according to grade A, B and C with 10 students for each
grade. It is conducted by analyzing grades scored by 30 diploma students in
fourth semester in Faculty of Mass Communication listed in the
achievement report of Effective Speaking subject. The Effective Speaking
exam and assignments questions are based on the Bloom’s Taxonomy which
involved two levels of questions; lower order thinking and higher order
thinking questions. From the 30 students selected, 10 each is grouped based
on grade A, B and C. The grades limited until the C grade because C is the
passing grade for that subject. Table 1.0 shows the group A, B and C.
Table 1.0: Group A, B and C
There is another document analysis conducted in this study which is
analyzing the students’ answer sheets of the Effective Speaking exam. The
researcher only chooses the higher order thinking questions to measure the
limitations of students’ thinking level whether or not all the three types of
students’ cognitive level able to answer the higher order thinking questions.
Higher order thinking questions consist of three levels; analysis, synthesis
and evaluation. Guidelines are used to determine the type of higher order
thinking questions in the Effective Speaking exam paper. 10 questions are
Group Number of students Grade
A 10 A
B 10 B
C 10 C
chosen from the Effective Speaking exam paper. Questions 1 to 3 are based
on analysis level. Questions 4 to 6 are based on the synthesis level and
Questions 7 to 10 are based on the evaluation level. After analyzing the
result from the students’ answer sheets, researcher matches the students’
cognitive level with the level of higher order thinking questions answered by
the students. Figure 1.1 shows the framework of Bloom’s taxonomy and
table 1.1 shows the guidelines for the levels of higher order thinking
questions. Table 1.2 shows the 10 questions from the Effective Speaking
Higher order thinking
Figure 1.2: Bloom’s taxonomy
Table 1.1: Guidelines for higher order thinking questions
Cognitive Definition Verbs used in the questions stem
Analysis Break down
into parts and show
among the parts.
analyze diagram question
calculate discriminate test
categorize distinguish differentiate
experiment compare contrast
criticize examine inventory
Synthesis Bring together
knowledge to form
a whole and
arrange design prepare
assemble formulate propose
collect manage set up
synthesize organize compose
create plan write
construct modify conduct
Evaluation Judgments about
the value of
for given purposes.
appraise estimate select
argue evaluate support
assess judge value
attack predict score
compare rate defend
Table 1.2: Higher order thinking questions
Category No. Questions from the Effective Speaking exam paper
1. Compare and contrast between hearing and listening?
2. Draw the public speaking effectiveness process model and
distinguish the element of process involved in the model.
3. Categorize the three phases of public speaking apprehension and
differentiate the three phases.
4. How would you plan a speech outline for the formal ceremony?
5. How many ways you can apply to overcome public speaking
6. How would you deal with the situation where you have to give a
speech on the usage of gadget in daily life towards different
generations of age?
7. Why do you think audience centered helps the speaker to be an
8 How would you handle if your language is the biggest barrier
for you to give a speech to people?
9. How effective the use of persuasive speech towards the effective
10. Why the informative speaking is important to a speaker?
This study has two different questionnaires. The first questionnaire
based on two different aspects; students' cognitive level based on Effective
Speaking exam questions and the students’ learning preferences. The second
questionnaire based on lecturers’ teaching preferences.
The first questionnaire consists of four sections; section A refers to
demographic, section B refers to academic status, section C refers to
students’ cognitive level and section D refers to students’ learning
preferences. The questions for section C are created based on the students’
exam and presentation of the Effective Speaking subject. The questions for
section D is focusing on the learning preferences. The theory used to create
the question is the Kolb’s four stage learning cycle which consists of
reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation
and concrete experience. Based on that theory, researcher has come out with
the four elements of learning styles in the questionnaire which are reflector,
theorist, activist and pragmatics. The result from the questionnaire analysis
determines the learning styles preferred by all the three groups of different
The second questionnaire consists of three sections; demographic,
academic status and teaching preferences. The related theory referred by the
researcher is the social cognitive theory. There are four types of teaching
styles involved in the questionnaire which are facilitator, demonstrator,
delegator and expert. The result from the questionnaire analysis determines
the teaching style preferred by lecturers to teach all the different level of
The descriptions of questionnaires are shown in table 1.3 and tables 1.4 are
i) Questionnaire for the students
Table 1.3: Questionnaire 1
Sections Descriptions Number of
Section A :
To gather the basic
information about the samples.
Section B :
To know the level of students’
achievement in academic
Section C :
To identify the level of
cognitive among the students
To identify the preferred
learning styles among the
ii) Questionnaires for the lecturers
Table 1.4: Questionnaire 2
Sections Descriptions Number of
Section A :
To gather the basic information
about the samples.
Section B :
To know the status of academic
among the leturers.
Section C :
To identify the preferred
teaching style by the lecturers.
3.5 Data collection
The achievement report of Effective Speaking subjects for the third semester
diploma students in Faculty of Mass Communication is examined to determine the
accessible target population for the present study. Only 30 numbers of students are
selected from the list in the achievement report and they are grouped according to
grade A, B and C with 10 students for each grade. The grades limited until the C
grade because C is the passing grade for that subject.
The three groups of grade are coded as group A, group B and group C. Grroup A
is the students who score A grade. Group B is the students who score B grade and
Group C is the students who score C grade. Questionnaires are assigned to all the
three groups to determine the cognitive levels exist among the students. The
questionnaires are based on the factors that contribute to the grade they score for the
Effective Speaking subject. The type of cognitive level is limited to only one type
which is slow learner. From the questionnaire analysis, the researcher able to
determine the types of cognitive levels that belong to each group. The result will
answer the first research question; i) What are types of cognitive levels of learners
exist among the students?
From the population of 30 students 15 samples are assigned for the random
assignment. It means only 15 samples of answer script with five each from the group
A, B and C are analyzed to measure the limitations of thinking among the 15 samples
of different grades. The questions of the exam are designed based on the lower order
thinking and higher order thinking questions. For this study, the higher order thinking
questions are chosen to see the limitation of student thinking level. The result gained
from the exam questions analysis will answer the second research question; ii) What
is the limitation of student thinking level?
The next step, the questionnaire which consists of the questions related to the four
types of learning styles; theorist, pragmatic, reflector and activist are conducted and
assigned to the 15 samples to identify the learning styles preferred by the students to
help them to think critically in the Effective Speaking subject. The result from the
questionnaire analysis will answer the third research question; iii) What are the
learning preferences exist among the students?
After that, questionnaire consists of the questions related to the four types
teaching styles; facilitator, demonstrator, delegator and expert are assigned to three
lecturers who have experience in teaching the Effective Speaking subjects. The result
from the interview analysis will answer the fourth research questions; iv) What is the
preferred method of teaching that allows students to think critically?
The last step is to conduct a content analysis between the questionnaire on the
learning preferences and the questionnaire on the teaching preferences to see the
relationship between preferred learning and preferred teaching methods on students’
performance in the Effective Speaking subject. The result from the analysis between
questionnaire on learning preferences and questionnaire on teaching preferences
method will answer the fifth research questions; v) What is the impact of teaching and
learning preferences towards students’ academic performance? Figure 1.1 shows the
data collection flowchart.
Figure 1.1 Data Collection Flowchart
Analyze the score grades of A, B and C achieved by 30 students in the achievement
report of the Effective Speaking subject.
Make the amendments to the questionnaire based on the results from the document
Distribute the questionnaire to the targeted populations; 30 students
Analyze data from the questionnaire.
Analyze 15 answer scripts of Effective Speaking subject with five each from the group
A, B and C.
Amend the questionnaire on the learning preferences and distribute the questionnaire to
Amend the questionnaire on the teaching preferences and distribute the questionnaire to
three lecturers from the institution
Analyze learning preferences questionnaire and teaching preferences questionnaire to
see the relationship between teaching and learning preferences and the impact towards
the students’ performance in academic.
3.6 Data Analysis
Research Questions Instrument Method of analysis
i. What are cognitive
levels of learners
exist among the
-Measures of central tendency
(mean, median, mode)
-Measures of variability
(range, quartile deviation,
variance and standard
ii. What is the
limitation of student
Document analysis -Ordinal scale
iii. What are the
exist among the
-Measures of central tendency
(mean, median, mode)
-Measures of variability
(range, quartile deviation,
variance and standard
iv. What is the preferred
method of teaching
that allows students
to think critically?
- Identifying themes
v. What is the impact
of teaching and
Content analysis - Inferential statistics
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