A Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy

A few years ago at an instructional workshop for university professors the following question was posed to the attendees: “What do you know about Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain?” Most of the respondents answered, “Whose taxonomy of what?”

That answer indicates a general lack of knowledge about one of the most basic pedagogical principles in education. Here are some straightforward guidelines on what Bloom’s taxonomy is and how you can use it in your class.

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom (an American educational psychologist),with collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl, published a framework for categorizing educational goals: Taxonomy of Educational Objectives familiarly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. The framework consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.

The New Version of Bloom's TaxonomyIn 2001 Bloom’s taxonomy was revised by a group of cognitive psychologists, led by Lorin Anderson (a former student of Bloom). To update the taxonomy to reflect 21st century work the authors used verbs to re-label the six categories and included “action words” to describe the cognitive processes by which learners encounter and work with knowledge. The figures accompanying this article reflect that work. This revised Bloom’s taxonomy proves to be a very useful tool that can be used in all classrooms for several reasons listed below.

Bloom’s Levels of Understanding - ActionsAbout ninety percent of the questions students handle in any class are memory questions. The memory level is perfectly respectable and even essential in many learning situations. There are, however, disadvantages in using pure memory that an instructor should keep in mind. The memory level is a tool that promotes the use of short term memory, and the information may be forgotten if it is not used. Another problem with the memory level is that it does not guarantee understanding. We often assume that just because a student can cough up words, facts, and figures that s/he has “learned” and understands the material. That is simply not the case. By moving up the scale to teaching that involves students understanding, applying, and analyzing information, their learning outcomes will improve.

That is not likely to happen, though, without some thoughtful preparation. In instructional design, questioning strategies can be as simple as the intentional progression of questions leading to higher levels of thinking and involvement. Bloom’s revised taxonomy can provide a framework for constructing those questions.

Some examples of how to incorporate Bloom’s taxonomy into classes include the following:

1. Creating Course Learning Objectives 

In education, learning objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of a course, unit, or class period. Instructors can benefit from using a framework to construct and organize learning objectives for themselves and for students. Having an organized set of learning objectives helps instructors plan and deliver appropriate instruction, design valid assessment tasks and strategies, and ensure that instruction and assessment are aligned with the objectives.

For example, learning objectives following Bloom’s revised taxonomy could be constructed as follows.
Students should be able to:

  1. Exhibit previously learned material by recalling facts, terms and basic concepts.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, interpreting and giving descriptions and stating main ideas.
  3. Solve problems by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way.
  4. Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes; making inferences, and finding evidence to support generalizations.
  5. Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.
  6. Present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria.

2. Asking Questions

In-class questioning can be varied from the most simple to those that require more thought. These questions can be categorized following Bloom’s hierarchy of cognitive skills. Here are some examples of questions asked about the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Do you remember the story line? The little girl Goldilocks visits the home of the papa, mamma, and baby bear where she sleeps in their beds, eats their food, and sits in their chairs.

Remembering: List the items used by Goldilocks while she was in the Bears’ house.
Understanding: Explain why Goldilocks liked Baby Bear’s chair the best?
Applying: Demonstrate what Goldilocks would use if she came to your house.
Analyzing: Compare this story to reality. What events could not really happen?
Evaluating: Propose how the story would be different if it was Goldilocks and the Three Fish.
Creating: Judge whether Goldilocks was good or bad. Defend your opinion.

3: Constructing Test or Exam Questions

This is a combination of the above two points. If the course is arranged around learning objectives, designed with Bloom’s taxonomy in mind, then those objectives can be used to construct test and exam questions. This process will ensure alignment between instruction and assessment and provide validity to your evaluation of students’ knowledge and skills.

Additional Resources

  1. Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
  2. Bloom, B., Englehart, M. Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green.
  3. Davis, B.G (2009) Tools for Teaching, 2nd edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco
  4. Southey, R. (1837) The Three Bears. [Note this original version involves a nameless old woman instead of the little girl Goldilocks.]

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Department of Biology
Director, TA Training Institute and The Summer Teaching Institute, Center for Educational Resources

Richard Shingles is a faculty member in the Biology department and also works with the Center for Educational Resources at Johns Hopkins University. He is the Director of the TA Training Institute and The Summer Teaching Institute on the Homewood campus of JHU. Dr. Shingles also provides pedagogical and technological support to instructional faculty, post-docs and graduate students

Image Source – CC Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy: Andrea Hernandez
Image Source – Bloom’s Levels of Understanding – Actions: Preparing Future Faculty Teaching Academy, Johns Hopkins University
http://www.cer.jhu.edu/graduatestudents/pffta.html

Using Twitter in Your Course

The Innovative Instructor has written about using Facebook in the classroom, what about Twitter? What’s next? you might ask, Pinterest? Yes, even Pinterest seems to have inspired faculty to find uses for its boards in the classroom. Today, however, I want to make a case for using Twitter.

Twitter Logo Blue BirdWhat is Twitter? Wikipedia tells us that “Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called ‘tweets’. Registered users can read and post tweets, but unregistered users can only read them.” From celebrities to revolutionaries, the Twitterverse (aka the Twittersphere) is comprised of more than 500 million users; 271 million of these use Twitter actively. While many complain that the content is mostly inane babble, there are serious, even scholarly, conversations taking place on Twitter every day.

This example of an educational use comes from the CIRTL MOOC, An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, now completed, but due to run again in the near future.  If you signed up for the MOOC, you may still be able to access the content. The Twitter example was presented in Week Five: Inclusive Teaching and Student Motivation.

Margaret Rubega, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut with a PhD in ornithology, decided to use Twitter, appropriately enough, for her introductory ornithology course. Rubega describes the course as face-to-face with approximately 100 students each semester it is taught. There is no lab component, so she struggled to find ways to introduce active learning in what has been primarily a lecture format. Another issue is that most of the students have grown up watching nature programs on TV (or YouTube videos), which exposed them to the concept that animals and birds are exotic species that live in remote areas. To her incoming students, nature was something that takes place somewhere else.

Rebega wanted to get her students to appreciate the way that biology plays out in their world. That it is something that they could observe when they walked out of the classroom onto campus. She knew that telling them (in lecture form) did not equal an appreciation that comes from observation and experience. She wondered if she could get students to use their electronic devices in some way that would force them to look up and see what was happening around them.

Thus was born #birdclass. The # sign is called a hashtag and is used to identify a specific conversation within the cacophony of tweets. By using the hashtag, Rubega and her students could have a targeted discussion. You can search Twitter for #birdclass to see the class-related tweets. Rubega assigned her students to tweet once a week. Each tweet was to 1) identify where they were, 2) what bird-related phenomena they saw, and 3) how it connected to course content. If it had the required three components, the tweet was awarded three points. She put a cap on the total number of points she would award each student.

Rubega’s initial goal was to make students take the course content outside of the classroom and see that what was described in class actually occurs in their world. She looked at Twitter as a tool that would allow her and her students to gather their observations in a way that was immediate and easy to access. She was not thinking about the social implications.

As soon as the students started using Twitter (and Rubega was posting to encourage them and provide examples of her expectations), their interest in engaging in conversation with her and their peers became immediately apparent. She began retweeting (forwarding and promoting in Twitter parlance) their best tweets to a larger audience interested in ornithology and thus facilitating a broader conversation outside of the class. This provided feedback from others in the field. The social aspect created instructional value that Rubega had not anticipated.

The second year she taught the course using Twitter, she traveled to Belize during spring break. She had not mentioned this trip to her students. While in Belize she began posting a list of birds she seen and asked if her students could identify where she was. Even though it was spring break and she had no expectation that any of her students would be monitoring their Twitter feeds, several student responded immediately. In a series of tweets, they worked on figuring out her location by looking at bird range and distribution charts. Rubega described being “blown away” by this experience. Further, when she returned to class, she gave the winning (first to correctly guess her location) student a token souvenir as a prize. This young women commented that she had learned more about geography in doing research during this tweet exchange than she had in high school.

Rubega maintains that Twitter works for her students because it allows self-directed, real-life discovery of the world around them. Their observations bring affirmation of what they have heard in class. The reward comes via interaction with their peers and a larger community of ornithologists, as well as acknowledgement of their tweets with the point system. By the end of the course, the students are using their knowledge to teach others in the Twitter ornithology community – by correcting and commenting on others’ identifications and observations, for example.

In thinking about the kind of learning that students achieve in the tweeting assignment, many of their tweets involved application and analysis (Bloom’s Taxonomy). This represents a higher level than might normally be associated with a straight lecture format – typically, transfer of knowledge and comprehension by the students.

You can see Margaret Rubega’s tweets at https://twitter.com/profrubega. Besides teaching at the University of Connecticut, she is also Connecticut’s state ornithologist.

If you are interested in using social network applications, such as Twitter, in your classroom, there are several articles by Derek Bruff, director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics, that will be informative. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, A Social Network Can Be a Learning Network (November 6, 2011), Bruff references the concept of “social pedagogies,” a term coined by Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University. “They define these as “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.” Leveraging student interests through social bookmarking, a CIRTL Network blog post from August 22, 2012, describes Bruff’s experiences using social bookmarking in two classes he has taught. And his students’ preferences for social bookmarking tools are discussed in a post, Diigo Versus Pinterest: The Student Perspective (May 31, 2012), on Bruff’s Agile Learning blog.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Twitter blue logo https://about.twitter.com/press/brand-assets