What is Bloom's Taxonomy and how can it promote critical and creative thinking?
What is Blooms Taxonomy?
In this article we consider probably the best known framework for learning, Bloom's Taxonomy. Many classrooms will have some reference to his work and the infamous triangle has helped teachers consider how to promote higher-order thinking skills in the classroom. In recent years, it has received criticism as our conceptual understanding of how knowledge is formed has evolved. We consider the implications of these educational taxonomies and present you with a new alternative that has begun to be embraced by schools around the world. We have seen a big push for increasing the level of knowledge in students. Schools are increasingly wanting to move away from just factual knowledge that helps the individual student in exams alone. Many summative assessments now require students to demonstrate a deep understanding of concepts. We will examine how alternative frameworks can help educators build relevant knowledge and address the all-important skills gap.
Bloom's Taxonomy is a hierarchical theory used for defining and distinguishing mental actions in the cognitive domain. It is one of the most acknowledged theories in the field of education. Bloom's Taxonomy is mainly used for assessment of learning at certain cognitive levels; however, it is also used to derive specific learning outcomes and to build a common language for the instructors to discuss and share methods of teaching and assessments (Armstrong, 2016). If you are exploring learning taxonomies for your classroom you might also be interested in this article about the SOLO taxonomy.
A brief History of Blooms Taxonomy
Bloom’s Taxonomy was proposed by an educational psychologist 'Benjamin Bloom' in the 1950s. His main purpose was to create a common vocabulary for cognition about learning objectives. During the 20th century, education reformers frequently used the word 'objective' for explicitly describing what teachers should teach and what kind of student learning outcomes must be achieved in the classrooms. Bloom’s taxonomy proved itself to be one of the most useful ways to achieve those learning outcomes. Bloom and some experts of assessment began to assemble their efforts in 1949 and completed their work in 1956 with the publishing of 'Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain'. Alongside the cognitive behaviour, Bloom and his team intended to categorise levels of physical and emotional skills that affect learning. But, today Bloom's Taxonomy is mainly used for explaining the following six levels of cognitive performance:
How Useful is Blooms Taxonomy For Teachers?
Bloom's Taxonomy is useful for teachers because it helps them identify the intellectual level at which their students are able to perform. It also helps teachers in asking questions and creating instruction to encourage critical thinking by putting an effort to reach the highest levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation alongside learners ready to achieve the highest levels. Educational activities can be shaped using the framework and the questions can be used for formative assessment. When utilised effectively, the conceptual framework allows educators to systematically move through the cognitive domain of learning. Lesson level objectives can be created using the learning verbs which helps teachers think about the complexity of the material they are delivering.
Why Use Blooms Taxonomy?
Many schools that have embraced Bloom's Taxonomy see it as a vehicle for cognitive growth. The word 'Taxonomy' implies different levels of thinking which might provide a useful roadmap for teachers. Bloom's Taxonomy allows categorisation of thinking skills and cognitive processes, starting from the most basic skill of recalling information to evaluation, which involves stating an opinion and judging about the information. Bloom's taxonomy also provides a common language to the teachers and enables them to discuss and share learning and assessment strategies (Adams, 2015).
- The first level of Bloom's Taxonomy is 'Knowledge'.
The first level involves the recall of universals and specifics, the recall of processes and methods and the recall of a setting, structure and pattern from long-term memory (e.g., remembering the components of a plant's lifecycle and recalling dates of different events in the history) (Crompton, Burke & Lin, 2019). Appropriate learning outcome verbs for the first level of Bloom's Taxonomy include: define, cite, identify, describe, list, label, name and state.
- The second level of Bloom's Taxonomy is 'Comprehension'.
The second level indicates a type of comprehension or apprehension to show that the individual has knowledge about what is being said and he is able to use the material or concept being communicated without essentially seeing its fullest implications or without relating it to other material (e.g., compare cultural practices in two different regions or classify a triangle by its angles). Appropriate learning outcome verbs for the second level of Bloom's Taxonomy include: arrange, abstract, associate, articulate, clarify, categorize, compare, classify, compute and contrast.
- The third level of Bloom's Taxonomy is 'Application'.
This level of Bloom's Taxonomy involves the specific use of abstractions in concrete situations. It shows an individual's ability to use a skill or information in a new situation (e.g., Illustrate with examples what could be changed to improve everyday increasing global warming?). Application questions encourage learners to transfer or apply learning to their individual life or to a context different from the one in which it was taught. Appropriate learning outcome verbs for the third level of Bloom's Taxonomy include: use, translate, transfer, predict, solve, outline, apply, calculate, carry out and infer.
- The fourth level of Bloom's Taxonomy is 'Analysis'.
At this level of the Bloom's Taxonomy, the student starts to use higher order critical thinking skills in his learning. For the analysis, the student assesses the relationship between different objects, uses knowledge to build relationships between cause and effect, and is encouraged to ask why certain characters behave in a particular way. For example, “Why did the step sisters hate Cinderella?" Appropriate learning outcome verbs for the fourth level of Bloom's Taxonomy include: structure, analyze, separate, break down, inventory categorise, integrate, differentiate, diagram, detect, deconstruct and contrast.
- The fifth level of Bloom's Taxonomy is 'Synthesis'.
In Bloom's Taxonomy, the fifth level involves joining parts and elements in order to create a whole. Synthesis takes place when students use their learning, understanding, application, and analysis to develop a product or create a new method. Appropriate learning outcome verbs for the fifth level of Bloom's Taxonomy include: manage, compose, plan, revise, collect, formulate, prepare, establish, construct, design, integrate, organise, propose, create and build.
- The sixth level of Bloom's Taxonomy is 'Evaluation'.
In Bloom’s Taxonomy, the sixth level is where learners use their individual judgment to analyse what they have learned and go a step further to explain why they think something is true. For example, if a student is asked “Which food is the healthiest?” he would make a decision after evaluating different facts about foods and offer support for the assessment. Appropriate learning outcome verbs for the sixth level of Bloom's Taxonomy include: validate, test, support, appraise, standardize, select, review, critique, decide, recommend, rank, justify, determine, measure, judge, rate, grade, evaluate and discriminate.
Advancing the Building of Skills using Blooms Taxonomy
The skills of students often comes second to the development of subject knowledge. We see the two running in tandem, they are both dependent on one another. Learning is a complex skill and requires a good understanding of the language of learning for example lesson level verbs. Students need to understand how to advance their knowledge using deeper learning methods. This involves generating meaning which is the basis of learning. Having a basic knowledge of a taxonomy of learning is beneficial for any classroom. Bloom’s taxonomy is an effective tool to help create learning objectives because it describes the learning process. Bloom's Taxonomy helps to understand that:
- Prior to trying to understand a concept, one must remember it.
- For applying a concept, one needs to understand it first.
- For evaluating a process, one should have analyzed it.
- For coming to an accurate conclusion, one should have performed a detailed evaluation (Ramirez, 2017).
But, it is not always needed to begin from the lower order skills and pass through the whole taxonomy for each concept presented in the course. That method would be tedious–for both teacher and their students. Hence, the best way is to start by considering the learners' individual level in the course.
The Revised Blooms Taxonomy
In 2001, Lorin Anderson and a group of instructional researchers, curriculum theorists and cognitive psychologists published a revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy titled 'A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment' (Anderson & Bloom, 2001). The revised version highlights the dynamic conception of classification and draws attention away from the somewhat retrograde “lesson level objectives” presented in the original Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Instead of using the nouns, the writers of the revised version used gerunds and action words to name their groups and subgroups. These “verbs” provide explanation for the intellectual processes, which students encounter and use their knowledge. The changes in the new Taxonomy can be divided into three categories:
1. Changes in Terminologies
The first difference most people identify is the difference in terminology. The revised version has a different name for each level in Bloom's Taxonomy. For instance, the knowledge (at the lowest level of the original) was classified and renamed as “remembering.”.
2. Changes in Structure
A major difference is, the two levels at the top of original have been swapped in the new version. In the revised version 'Evaluation' level comes before the level of 'Creation'. It is because the taxonomy is seen as a hierarchy showing increasing complexity; and creative thinking or creation (creating level) is viewed as a more complex category of thinking as compared to the critical thinking (evaluating level).
3. Changes in Emphasis
The revised Taxonomy highlights the use of taxonomy as a way to align instructional delivery, curriculum planning and assessments. Also, the new Taxonomy is created for a broader audience. The original taxonomy is seen as more suitable to be applied in the primary classes. The revised Taxonomy is considered as more universal and easily applicable for elementary and secondary classes as well as for adult training.
Both the original and the revised version of Bloom's Taxonomy offer a valuable framework for the trainers, teachers and curriculum designers. Both these can be used to pay attention to the higher order thinking. By offering a hierarchy of thinking, both the original and revised versions of Bloom's Taxonomy can provide help in constructing problems, questions, and performance tasks.
How useful is Blooms Taxonomy For Teachers?
Historically, Bloom's Taxonomy has been useful for teachers because it helps them identify the intellectual level at which their students are able to perform. It also helps teachers in asking questions and creating instruction to encourage critical thinking by putting an effort to reach the highest levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation alongside learners ready to achieve the highest levels.
Bloom's Taxonomy is a tool that can be used by the teachers and employee trainers to create lesson plans and assessments that lead to critical thinking. Providing an emphasis on cognitive skills is a useful notion for any classroom. Being clear about the learning objective is one thing but having an instructional route to achieve that requires a different thought process. Cognitive skills are essential to any learning activity. Often, we don't have the language to describe our thought processes. As we have covered, Bloom's Taxonomy is a classification of cognitive tasks where each level addresses different areas of how learners think and process information. Each level has its own set of learning objectives which are aligned with the desired outcomes for that particular grade level. You can use Bloom's Taxonomy to design assessments that align with the specific academic standards you're teaching. It will help you assess student understanding at multiple levels and increase student engagement in your lessons.
1) Use knowledge-level tasks to assess what students know about a topic.
2) Use comprehension-level tasks to assess students’ understanding of the key points they were taught in class or an assigned reading passage.
3) Use application-level tasks to get students to demonstrate their understanding by doing something with the information they learned.
4) Use analysis-level tasks to have students ask questions about what they read, determine if it is true or false, etc.
5) Use evaluation-level tasks for higher order thinking skills such as anticipating outcomes, formulating predictions based on evidence, selecting a course of action from among various choices, etc.
Teachers often think of Bloom's Taxonomy as an assessment tool, but it can be a powerful tool in the classroom. With a little creativity, teachers can use the taxonomy for vocabulary development, spelling practice, speech therapy and so much more. Bloom's Taxonomy is a useful organizational structure that breaks learning down into three main categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, and Application. Knowledge is where students are able to recall specific details and facts. Comprehension is where students can take information and make inferences from it. And finally, Application is where students are able to apply what they have learned. Teachers should use Bloom's Taxonomy to help students break down information into manageable chunks before assessing them on their knowledge, comprehension, and application of that information.
The universal thinking framework gives teachers and students knowledge of classifications within the domain of learning. This makes the process of learning visible to everyone in the classroom. Learning is no longer hidden inside one persons head. This approach to mastery learning enables children to move their understanding in different directions. As well as making complex tasks more manageable, embedding the framework enables students to develop critical thinking skills. Just like blooms taxonomy, this framework has a verb list along with question stems. Within a classroom setting, this makes mental processes less abstract and enables children to systematically develop the levels of knowledge. This metacognitive knowledge advances subject comprehension as well as advancing the application of knowledge.
The Universal Thinking Framework: An alternative to Blooms Taxonomy?
Having child-friendly explanations of the various cognitive processes we use in the classroom has clear benefits. The Universal Thinking Framework addresses this by giving children and teachers knowledge of terminology related to learning. This cognitive taxonomy builds on the original idea of having access to strategic knowledge but categorises the intellectual skills without using levels of thinking.
Classroom teachers can use the thinking actions to gradually build the cognitive complexity of daily activities. This process enables children to systematically build subject knowledge and at the same time, develop metacognitive knowledge. The cognitive tasks can be sequenced into easy-to-follow lesson plans that carefully guide student thinking into new directions. Primarily, the cognitive taxonomy helps students deepen conceptual knowledge. This flexible way of combining procedural knowledge with subject-specific skills makes it a very powerful tool for instructional guidance.
We know that having knowledge of subject content is central to critical thinking, you cannot think if you don't know any facts or figures. Overall the Universal Thinking Framework provides schools with knowledge of cognition without dismissing the essential subject matter knowledge central to an education system. We hope the framework can help your class process the abstract knowledge they encounter in the classroom. If you want to download the framework, it's available on this page.
Criticisms of Blooms Taxonomy
1. Assessment specialists will tell you that learning is not sequential – Bloom’s Hierarchy presents the knowledge dimension as a neat triangle. According to constructivist teaching, teachers need to spread higher-order thinking skills throughout a task instead of beginning with knowledge.
2. Learning is messy and different types of knowledge require different ways of thinking. Classifying and separating learning into sections of a pyramid is quite a simplistic view of learning that does not help important foundational knowledge.
3. Unlike the Social Learning Theory, Bloom’s Taxonomy centres on how an individual learns. It misses what occurs socially when we are learning something new. Ways of thinking come with different ways of talking and promoting learning conversations in the classroom is an important part of advancing the levels of complexity in an activity.
- Adams, N. E. (2015). Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives. Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA, 103(3), 152.
- Anderson, L. W., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman,.
- Armstrong, P. (2016). Bloom’s taxonomy. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.
- Crompton, H., Burke, D., & Lin, Y. C. (2019). Mobile learning and student cognition: A systematic review of PK‐12 research using Bloom’s Taxonomy. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(2), 684-701.
- Ramirez, T. V. (2017). On pedagogy of personality assessment: Application of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Journal of personality assessment, 99(2), 146-152.
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