Bloom’s taxonomy – a well-known 6-level hierarchy of broad cognitive skills from simple (knowledge) to advanced (creating). Often used to phrase questions (ensuring that students of all abilities can participate).
Bloom’s taxonomy is found in every education textbook. It is a hierarchical taxonomy of cognitive skills – in other words, it shows levels of thinking from the most basic to the most complex. There are 6 levels in Bloom’s taxonomy: ‘remember’, ‘understand’, ‘apply’, ‘analyse’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘create’. ‘Remember’ is the most basic – for example, getting students to recall facts and numbers. ‘Understand’ and ‘apply’ are mid-level – students at these cognitive levels know what the facts mean, and they can apply their knowledge in other contexts. ‘Analyse’ and ‘evaluate’ are more challenging – students make judgements and consider alternatives at these cognitive levels. ‘Create’ is the most advanced level – students develop new knowledge (such as concepts and ideas). Teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy for several reasons, including designing assessments and learning programs. It is also widely recognised as the cornerstone of effective questioning skills: teachers carefully phrase questions at 1 of the 6 levels, depending on the abilities of the student.
Teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy in a number of ways including
Hint: some teachers display Bloom’s taxonomy in the office or classroom as a reminder to use it.
Here is a very simple example of how questions can be posed at each level of Bloom’s taxonomy:
As you can see, the questions become progressively more challenging with each level. Interestingly, it could be argued that some questions belong in different levels. The response expected by the teacher affects where the question is placed on the taxonomy. For example, referring to why WWI started, there is no consensus amongst experts. However, almost all teachers expect a student answer to be along the lines of ‘the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’. This answer is simple and can be placed at the ‘remember’ level.
A common strategy is to begin an activity with basic questions to revise a topic and to allow less- able students to contribute. More advanced questions soon follow to challenge more advanced students.
However, if the expected response is more detailed, it’s more likely to be placed on the ‘understand’ level. Students working at the ‘understand’ level can answer a series of ‘why’ questions that drill further into their understanding. Higher levels require students to consider alternative arguments: for example, were the Germans to blame? Is everyone to blame? Are some countries to blame more than others? Was it just a series of unfortunate events?
It may be impractical to spend time and effort rephrasing and classifying questions by their cognitive level while actively teaching. The line between ‘analyse’ and ‘evaluate’ for example is largely irrelevant in the context of a class discussion. Bloom’s taxonomy can be thought of as a reminder to address the diverse cognitive needs of a group of learners in order to challenge each student based on their abilities with a given topic.
There is no practical reason why teachers should feel the need to rigidly ask a set number of questions for each level. A common strategy is to begin an activity with basic questions to revise a topic and to allow less- able students to contribute. More advanced questions soon follow to challenge more advanced students. Some questioning sessions are all basic (cognitively speaking), while others are mostly advanced. This is fine, provided these approaches are done purposefully and for good reason.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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