Lorna Smith is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol, and Harry Dodds is a former subject tutor for the Buckingham Partnership SCITT. Here they offer their ideas about using Bloom’s taxonomy to plan and structure learning.

by Lorna Smith and Harry Dodds
17th August 2020



Bloom's taxonomy is often represented as a triangle.

Perhaps Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom, 1956) is the nearest we have in education to the Swiss Army knife. Whether you’re planning for progression, for differentiation or for structured questioning, it is immensely useful. Whenever you’re addressing the central question ‘How do we get the student from where they are to the next stage?’, the taxonomy will help you structure their learning.

It’s been around for a while and has had an interesting revision (Anderson et al., 2001), but Benjamin Bloom originally created this taxonomy for categorising levels of abstraction of questions that commonly occur in educational settings. This is a very simple guide to the original version.

There are six competences. They are hierarchically arranged, with ‘Knowledge’ the first, representing the lowest level of abstraction, and ‘Evaluation’ the sixth, representing the highest.

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

Knowledge is about:

  • recalling information
  • recalling facts – dates, events, places
  • having important ideas at your fingertips
  • knowing your subject matter.

In building question sequences to explore knowledge, you’d typically use words like define, describe, identify, list, who, when, where…

Comprehension is about:

  • understanding information
  • understanding meaning
  • re-contextualising knowledge – using it in new situations
  • interpreting, comparing, contrasting
  • ordering information; understanding why
  • predicting.

In building question sequences to explore comprehension, you’d typically use words like contrast, describe, discuss, predict, summarise…

Application is about:

  • using information
  • using new ideas and new knowledge and comprehension in new situations
  • problem-solving using new knowledge and comprehension.

In building question sequences to explore application, you’d typically use words like apply, demonstrate, illustrate, show, relate, change, classify…

Analysis is about:

  • looking for and identifying patterns
  • seeing how parts relate to wholes, and vice versa
  • seeing beneath the surface
  • identifying structures.

In building question sequences to explore analysis, you’d typically use words like analyse, arrange, compare, classify, explain, order…

Synthesis is about:

  • using ideas you already have to create new ones
  • taking facts and generalising
  • making connections – pulling together knowledge and understanding from different areas
  • coming to conclusions; answering ‘What if…?’ questions.

In building question sequences to explore synthesis, you’d typically use words like create, modify, rearrange, rewrite…

Evaluation is about:

  • weighing one idea or conclusion against another
  • assigning values to ideas, conclusions, hypotheses, theories…
  • choosing on the basis of reason
  • deciding the validity and reliability of evidence
  • spotting subjectivity and objectivity.

In building question sequences to explore evaluation, you’d typically use words like assess, compare, conclude, convince, decide, rank, recommend…

In the revised version, the most significant change is from the use of nouns as descriptors to verbs – that makes the whole thing closer to classroom activity and less abstract: 

  1. Remember
  2. Understand
  3. Apply
  4. Analyse
  5. Evaluate
  6. Create

The taxonomy is often presented as a pyramid (see illustration), which makes it easier to appreciate the hierarchy of competences, from the bedrock ‘lower order’ thinking skill, ‘remember’, to the higher order pinnacle, ‘create’. The idea is that you can’t get to one level until you have achieved the one below; to help students move on in their learning, you need to be able to judge where they are and what they can do, then work out how to help them climb to the next stage.

References

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl. D. R., Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J. and Wittrock, M. C. (2001) (eds) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing – A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Bloom, B. S. (1956) (ed.) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Susan Fauer Company, Inc.




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