Kinetic connections: Bloom's taxonomy in action
An introduction to strategies for using the web to push your students to higher levels of thinking.
This article is about the original Bloom’s Taxonomy. Please see our other article comparing the original Bloom’s Taxonomy to the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Everyone in education has heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We all know that there are different levels of thinking and inquiry and that in an ideal classroom, we would help students move up the ladder to higher-level thought. But in the real world of teaching, we often can’t find the time or the resources to make that happen.
The Web — despite its reputation for providing information and nothing more — can help you push your students to higher-level thinking. This series of articles will show you how
Theory vs. practice
The standard reproach teachers give when presented with innovative or pedagogically powerful teaching methods, methods that address various learning styles or target critical questioning skills, is, "Does this help me prepare my students for the end-of-course/end-of-grade test?" The current frenzy spawned by accountability systems across the nation all but eliminates the slightest thought of preparing our students to think. Instead, we often seem resigned to ensuring classrooms of "3’s" and "4’s." So how do we respond to the question "Why do I need to know this?" And why does this question exist at all if we are teaching effectively? Must our response always be, "You need to know this because it will be on the test"?
In the past few years, though, a considerable amount of attention has been given to students’ ability to think critically about what they do. Leaders in business, medicine, and various other professions have all announced their concern that schools are not preparing students to be critical thinkers. It is not enough to have knowledge of a particular medical procedure or to be able to calculate an interest rate on a new car loan. These skills mean very little without the ability to know how, when, and where to apply them.
Recognizing that there are different levels of thinking behaviors important to learning, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues developed a classification system which has served educators since 1956. This system, known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, is a common structure for categorizing test questions and designing instruction. The taxonomy is divided into six levels, from basic factual recall, or Knowledge, to the highest order, Evaluation, which assesses the value of theories or asks the teacher or learner to discriminate among ideas. In the 1950s, Bloom found that 95% of the test questions developed to assess student learning required them only to think at the lowest level of learning, the recall of information.
All teachers develop questions at various times that span the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. The difficult part is to address each level in the same lesson. Take a look at this analysis of a lesson plan from Huntington College, which highlights all six of Bloom’s levels in a lesson on Pearl Harbor. A close study of this lesson reveals how a teacher can help students advance beyond simple repetition to self-regulated learning. If this is so powerful and so easy, then why doesn’t every teacher do it every day?
Using the web
Most of us think of the Internet as a giant library…and not always a very good one. But the World Wide Web is more than just a warehouse for disorganized information. For the creative teacher, it’s a vast opportunity to encourage student inquiry at every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, from knowledge to evaluation.
Knowledge measures recall. On this level, students are asked to remember pieces of information, specific terms and techniques.
- The student will name…
- Label the diagram and list… Define these terms…
Resources for finding, practicing, and memorizing information are sites that support knowledge-level questioning. The Reference Desk of LEARN NC’s areas for students includes ready-reference sites, like almanacs and encyclopedias, for students to find facts. The Teaching Tools from DiscoverySchool.com include puzzle generators and a quiz generator, tools teachers may find useful to help students practice and recall terms and facts.
Comprehension is understanding. On this level, students are asked to grasp meaning and to demonstrate understanding by summarizing or explaining.
- Paraphrase the following…
- The student will explain…
- Illustrate the concept of… and give examples.
Resources that foster understanding through discussion, description, and translation are sites that support comprehension-level questioning. The tutorials and self-paced instructional materials from eHow provide the context for learning anything from pet care (How to train your dog not to beg at dinner) to holiday planning (How to throw a perfect Fourth of July barbecue).
Application is when you use what you know. Students are expected to take what they learn and apply it in a new, real-life situation.
- The student will demonstrate…
- Using this information, prepare… Solve the following…
Sites with activities that allow students to use the knowledge they have gained are sites that support application-level questioning. CNN Student News has weekly activities that encourage students to draw conclusions from a series of facts. For example, given information about the life and work of an individual, students can try to guess the person’s identity. TryScience has a section for experiments that allows students to read about a topic and try an experiment, at home and/or online. Students may read the responses of other students or post their own.
Analysis answers why. It is the breaking down of knowledge into parts and the relation of those parts to the whole concept.
Differentiate between… The student will analyze and infer… Reduce these materials, then outline…
Sites that dissect the subject matter, explain how the parts fit together, and then encourage students to seek more information support analysis. Teachers may use the Problem-based Learning Clearinghouse to find questions to use with their secondary-level classes or to learn to develop their own scenarios and role-playing questions. Using the collections of the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, teachers may use posted lessons or create their own assignments to encourage student use and analysis of primary source documents.
Synthesis is assembling knowledge into a new whole. This means collecting information, then creating a new insight.
- The student will design…
- Devise a new…
- Revise this work and integrate…
Sites that encourage cooperative learning activities that use a variety of materials to create new products support synthesis-level questioning. ThinkQuest is an activity in which students can work together to create interactive, content-rich Web sites. Explore projects in the ThinkQuest Library to see some amazing creations. A WebQuest is "an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners’ time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners’ thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation." By definition, then, the WebQuest model is an activity using higher-level thinking skills. This activity is very popular; in addition to the activities listed on the official site, there are WebQuests online to cover virtually any subject.
Evaluation is judging. Given criteria, students judge the value of the information for a specific purpose.
- Evaluate the given material…
- Using these criteria, critique…
- The student will compare…
Sites that require the student to evaluate contain information, often primary-source information, that the students must judge and then convey their opinion. The National Constitution Center provides opportunities to examine, evaluate, and assess situations to determine the role of constitutional rights and responsibilities in the student’s daily life. Opportunities for debate abound! 42eXplore’s Oral History site gathers the firsthand expressions of individuals who have lived through experiences the students may be studying. Students must consider the role of the speaker, the relationship of the interviewer, and the time in which the interview took place in order to properly evaluate the content of the oral history piece.
A dynamic learning environment
Bloom’s Taxonomy and the World Wide Web are two pieces of a puzzle that forms a dynamic learning environment. With them in place, the remaining two pieces, the teacher and the student, will be changed. If the teacher creates a constructivist or inquiry-based classroom environment, then both teacher and student must behave differently to take advantage of the learning opportunity it affords.
In an inquiry-based classroom, students are not relegated to the traditional desks in straight rows. Students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled. They assume an active role in which they must locate, evaluate, organize, synthesize, and present information, transforming it into knowledge in the process. (Note the distinction here from Bloom’s definition of knowledge — see below.) Students work collaboratively with classmates to explore a problem. This makes it possible for each student to come to his or her own understanding of a particular topic as he or she constructs knowledge. This environment is focused on the learning and is more student-centered than the traditional classroom.
If the classroom has become more student-centered, then what does this mean for the teacher? Is he or she no longer necessary? Of course not. In fact, the teacher’s role is just as important as it has always been — if not more so. With a knowledge of learning styles and of Bloom’s Taxonomy coupled with access to the wealth of resources provided by the World Wide Web, the teacher works alongside the students. Teachers scaffold learning so that students can assume a more active role in their own learning. This means that lessons are in fact more carefully constructed to guide students through the exploration of content. Teachers’ instructional arsenal contains a greater variety of instructional techniques and knowledge of instructional design. Their role has evolved from the limited didactic form of lecturing once held as the standard view of an effective teacher.
Attention to Bloom’s Taxonomy does not mean that every class period must be optimally designed to place students in inquiry-based roles. Teaching requires that we constantly assess where students are and how best to address their needs. This may mean that on certain occasions it is necessary to lecture. In the long run, it means that the teacher balances methods of instruction by providing opportunities for the students to take some ownership of their learning. It means that it is more likely that various learning styles will be addressed. And it means that we may not hear the dreaded question Why do I need to know this? so often
Final thoughts: A Bloom by any other name
Benjamin Bloom did his work long before the advent of the "Information Age," and some of his terms conflict with the way we often talk about the Internet. It has become common to say that what students find on the Web is only information, and that they have to construct knowledge from that information on their own. If Bloom were devising his taxonomy today, he might call the first level Information instead of Knowledge.
Perhaps the point to remember is that it doesn’t much matter what you call it, as long as you teach it. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a convenient means of talking about higher-level thinking, but other taxonomies could be (and have been) designed with different names for more or fewer levels. If your students are analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating, they’ll be able to decide for themselves what to call their ideas!