Bloom's Taxonomy in the Classroom

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Have you ever heard a student complain, "This question is so hard!"? While this may be a common complaint, there are reasons that some questions are harder than others. The difficulty of a question or an assignment can be measured by the level of the critical thinking skill required. Simple skills such as identifing a state capital can be measured quickly. More sophisticated skills such as the construction of a hypothesis take much longer to be assessed.

 

Introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy:

To help determine the level of critical thinking for a task, Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist, developed a way to categorize the different levels of critical reasoning skills required in classroom situations. In the 1950s, his Bloom's Taxonomy gave all educators a common vocabulary for thinking about learning goals.

There are six levels in the taxonomy, each requiring a higher level of abstraction from the students. As a teacher, you should attempt to move students up the taxonomy as they progress in their knowledge. Tests that are written solely to assess knowledge are unfortunately very common. However, to create thinkers as opposed to students who simply recall information, we must incorporate the higher levels into lesson plans and tests.

Knowledge:

In the knowledge level of Bloom's Taxonomy, questions are asked solely to test whether a student has gained specific information from the lesson.

For example, have they memorized the dates for a particular war or do they know the presidents that served during specific eras in American History. It also includes knowledge of the main ideas that are being taught. You are probably writing knowledge questions when you use ketwords such as: who, what, why, when, omit, where, which, choose, find, how, define, label, show, spell, list, match, name, relate, tell, recall, select.

Comprehension:

The comprehension level of Bloom's Taxonomy has students go past simply recalling facts and instead has them understanding the information. With this level, they will be able to interpret the facts. Instead of simply being able to name the various types of clouds, for example, the students would be able to understand why each cloud has formed in that manner. You are probably writing comprehension questions when you use the following keywords: compare, contrast, demonstrate, interpret, explain, extend, illustrate, infer, outline, relate, rephrase, translate, summarize, show, or classify.

Application:

Application questions are those where students have to actually apply, or use, the knowledge they have learned. They might be asked to solve a problem with the information they have gained in class being necessary to create a viable solution. For example, a student might be asked to solve a legal question in an American Government class using the Constitution and its amendments. You are probably writing application questions when you use the following keywords: apply, build, choose, construct, develop, interview, make use of, organize, experiment with, plan, select, solve, utilize, or model.

Analysis:

In the analysis level, students will be required to go beyond knowledge and application and actually see patterns that they can use to analyze a problem. For example, an English teacher might ask what the motives were behind the protagonist's actions during a novel. This requires students to analyze the character and come to a conclusion based on this analysis. You are probably writing analysis questions when you use keywords: analyze, categorize, classify, compare, contrast, discover, dissect, divide, examine, inspect, simplify, survey, test for, distinguish, list, distinction, theme, relationships, function, motive, inference, assumption, conclusion, or take part in.

Synthesis:

With synthesis, students are required to use the given facts to create new theories or make predictions.

They might have to pull in knowledge from multiple subjects and synthesize this information before coming to a conclusion. For example, if a student is asked to invent a new product or game they are being asked to synthesize. You are probably writing synthesis questions when you use keywords: build, choose, combine, compile, compose, construct, create, design, develop, estimate, formulate, imagine, invent, make up, originate, plan, predict, propose, solve, solution, suppose, discuss, modify, change, original, improve, adapt, minimize, maximize, theorize, elaborate, test, happen, deletewords like select, judge, debate, or recommend.

Evaluation:

The top level of Bloom's Taxonomy is evaluation. Here students are expected to assess information and come to a conclusion such as its value or the bias that an author may present.  For example, if the students are completing a DBQ (Document Based Question) for an AP US History course, they are expected to evaluate the bias behind any primary or secondary sources in order to see the influence that the points that the speaker is making on a topic. You are probably writing evaluation questions when you use the keywords: award, choose, conclude, criticize, decide, defend, determine, dispute, evaluate, judge, justify, measure, compare, mark, rate, recommend, rule on, select, agree, appraise, prioritize, opinion, interpret, explain, support importance, criteria, prove, disprove, assess, influence, perceive, value, estimate, or deduct.

Things to Consider While Implementing Bloom's Taxonomy:

There are many reasons teachers keep a copy of Bloom's Taxonomy levels handy. For example, a teacher may design a task by checking the Bloom's Taxonomy to make sure that different levels of skill sets are required for different students. Using Bloom's Taxonomy during lesson preparation can help a teach make sure that all levels of critical thinking have been required over the length of a unit.

Many tasks designed with  Bloom's taxonomy can be more authentic, the kinds of tasks that challenge all students to develop the critical thinking skills needed for real life. Of course, teachers recognize that is much easier to grade assignments designed on the lower levels (knowledge, application) of Bloom's Taxonomy than on the higher levels. In fact, the higher the level of Bloom's Taxonomy, the more complex the grading. For the more sophisticated assignments based on higher levels, ​rubrics become more important to ensure fair and accurate grading with tasks based on analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

In the end, it is supremely important that we as educators help our students become critical thinkers. Building on knowledge and helping kids begin to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate is the key to helping them grow and prosper in school and beyond.

Citation: Bloom, B. S. (ed.). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Vol. 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: McKay, 1956.