The Order of Things: Disrupting Bloom’s Taxonomy

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Anyone in the education field has, at some time in their training, encountered Bloom’s Taxonomy. blooms_taxonomy

Since its original conception in 1956 there have been many papers written about it and there have been many modifications introduced.

 The merits lie within the levels of learning and the identification of the cognitive thinking skills involved. However, in keeping with the movement towards the flipped classroom, it has been suggested that we should be revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy with an open mind and a more modern view. While the levels of learning are agreed upon, the order in which information is presented and acquired should be explored and disrupted.

In her article on Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy, Shelley Wright talks about changing how we look at the pyramid and suggests that the levels should be flipped. She calls this Bloom’s 21, with creating being at the bottom and remembering at the top.

Many people in education start a topic something like this:

  • Here is a new term/concept that we need to learn
  • This is the definition or an explanation of the term
  • Now, here are some examples

This method suggests that knowledge is the most important step, with emphasis being on the retention of factual information. Today’s learners need to know how to use that knowledge, the emphasis in our technological world being on learning how to learn. We are trying to move away from the idea that education involves a teacher telling the students what to learn and then testing the students to see if they can recall the correct answers.

For many students, the climb from the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy to the top is a difficult one and along the way many students get lost. When I was in school, a student’s ability to make it to the higher level of thinking was not so much taught, practiced or cultivated as it was seen as inherent.

As Shelley Wright suggests, the original pyramid implies that creativity is a rare commodity and can only be reached by those who master the lower levels of cognition. Educators know that this is not true. Students have infinite curiosity when they enter the school system and if that curiosity is cultivated, the potential for creativity is limitless. Wright tells us that we should begin with creativity and move towards knowledge.

I recently read a book called, 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by John V Antonetti and James R Garver, where they talk about the importance of a shift in “the order in which students interact with content”. This requires the teacher to start a lesson with the focus being on in the middle of the pyramid, somewhere in the analysis or application levels. If you start with examples, have students work in pairs or small groups to develop the idea and then finally provide the term that is the focus of the lesson, students are more likely to be engaged and able to move to the high levels of thinking.

When I reflect back on my years in the classroom, I realize that the more I did to provide the knowledge, the less the students were able to retain the knowledge. I was working harder on review than they were. I was being “too helpful”. I now realize that, by starting elsewhere in the pyramid, whether that be where Wright suggests, at the creating step, or where Antonetti and Garver suggest, in the middle, would provide for a more engaging experience and cultivate curiosity.

Of course, this would take time and thought on the educators part, deciding the thinking level on which you would like to begin and developing a plan to get to your learners to where they need to be. This does require a paradigm shift. By providing students the direction, allowing them to work and sometimes struggle together, will foster greater engagement and allow for them to experience the spectrum of Bloom’s taxonomy.

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