Language Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning Difficulties of Students in the four year BSc-Course at NWU
Seheri, Naledi Harriet
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Students who are learning science need to use specialized conceptual language in reading, reasoning and problem solving. This study explored the language used in chemistry including non-technical words (i.e., understanding of their meanings in both scientific and everyday contexts), and verbal reasoning skills (i.e., ability to draw conclusions from verbal statements/phrases). These words and skills seemed to pose a problem to some students studying chemistry as part of a BSc-Extended programme in the years 2013-2015. The tool used was a quasi-experimental design, which was divided into three parts; pre-test, remedial instruction and post-test. The results were analysed by the SPSS method. The pre-test had 24 questions and the post-test had 7 questions testing the same skills. These questions were used to test aspects of language and verbal reasoning difficulties in learning chemistry and they include understanding of words such as qualitative and quantitative, description and explanation; ability to classify statements (as facts, principles, laws, theories etc.); ability to convert statements into equations; ability to represent information in diagrams; direct and inverse proportion reasoning skills; understanding of relationships between words; and applications of laws. The pre-test results (2013 and 2014 random samples) indicated 45% failed the language skills and 65% failed the verbal reasoning skills tested. The effect of the remedial instruction was confirmed by the post-test results, which were compared with the pre-test results for the experimental and control groups of students. The remedial instruction indicates that during student ‒ student interactions, the students confused the meta-representational words (i.e., words like describe, explain) with logical connectives (i.e., because) in questions that required them to give reasons. This suggests that students struggle with language and reasoning abilities. Many of their difficulties were due to their misunderstanding of the words used in the phrases or sentences given. The post-test results indicated that the performance of the experimental group increased by 35% while the control increased by 13%. Thus there was a significant statistical difference between the groups tested, in the language and verbal reasoning skills. The study suggests that instructors may not sufficiently be addressing students‘ language difficulties, which affects students‘ ability in information processing and application skills. Thus they perform poorly in chemistry, not only due to lack of cognitive ability, but also due to inability to understand words and lack of verbal reasoning skills. Students thus need training in verbal reasoning skills, technical and non-technical vocabulary. All students are capable of thinking, but most of them need to be encouraged and assisted with the instructors playing a vital role. Students‘ exposure to chemical language should also be intensified, thus leading to better performance in chemistry.