7 things you never knew about Bloom’s taxonomy

Benjamin S. Bloom, commonly referred to as the author of  “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” called it one of the most cited and least read books on education.

The full title of the 1956 book is A Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook 1, The Cognitive Domain.  Bloom was not the author. That honor goes to a “Committee of College and University Examiners.”

Bloom was the taxonomy’s editor. He was assisted by four other men, including David R. Krathwohl, who became one of the two lead editors of the 2001 revision of the book.

Here are 7 other things you probably don’t know about Bloom’s taxonomy.

1. The authors’ taxonomy consists of six classes of educational outcomes, which are organized in hierarchical fashion:

1.0 Knowledge
2.0 Comprehension
3.0 Application
4.0 Analysis
5.0 Synthesis
6.0 Evaluation

The higher the number, the more difficult the educational task. That’s why someone may be able to recall facts, concepts, and procedures but be unable to apply them in a new situation.

2. The famous Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid does not appear in the book.

The only triangular shapes in the book are in the math problems in the illustrative materials in part 2 of the book.

3. Stress on lower level learning came from teachers.

The authors wanted to craft definitions of terms used in the objectives so that a researcher in Maine and a kindergarten teacher in Monterey would mean the same thing when, for example, they used the term comprehend.

The team that prepared the taxonomy began by collecting samples of objectives from their own institutions and the literature.  When they did that analysis,  they found many more objectives about the lowest level of learning—knowledge—than about higher ones. The authors of the taxonomy write,  “Because of the simplicity of teaching and evaluating knowledge, it is frequently emphasized as an educational objective out of all proportion to its usefulness or its relevance for the development of the individual” (p. 34).

4. Consciousness and cognition go together.

The higher the educational objective in the taxonomy, the more likely learners are to be conscious of the cognitive processes they are using. In other words, the tougher the educational task, the more likely students are to pay attention to what they are doing.  (The authors hypothesize that this fact may be the reason that highly complex tasks may become automatic responses.)

5. Learning difficulty is learner dependent.

The authors acknowledge that the taxonomic level of any objective depends on the learner. A problem that is difficult for students to solve the first time they encounter that particular type of problem because they have to work, say, at the analysis level, may be easy the next time because the second time they need only recall what they did before.

6. Application is the focus of most education.

The authors of Bloom’s taxonomy say most of what is taught in schools is intended for transfer to real life. “The effectiveness of a large part of the school program is therefore dependent upon how well the students carry over into situations applications which the students never faced in the learning process”  (p. 122) [italics added]. They continue:

The general consensus seems to be that training will transfer to new areas most readily if the person is taught in such a way that he learns good methods of attacking problems, if he learns concepts and generalizations (rather than how to use certain facts in specific instances), if he  learns proper attitudes toward work, and if he develops proper attitudes of self-confidence and control. It is obvious that the objectives in the application category, as they embody the meaning of transfer of training, are extremely important aspects of the curriculum. Further, the evaluation of the extent to which the application outcomes are being achieved becomes one of the most important aspects of the entire evaluation process.

7. Teachers must choose essential knowledge.

Since there is a vast universe of discrete facts teachers could require students to learn, teachers must select those bits of information are essential for students to master at a given point in their academic careers.  (E.g. Does the student need to know this now, or is it enough that he knows the information exists and can be found when he does need to know it?)  The authors of Bloom’s taxonomy say teachers must:

  • Distinguish between student-level knowledge (or terminology, for example) and expert-level knowledge.
  • Determine the degree of precision to require of the student.
  • Decide how to organize the information to facilitate learning.
  • Distinguish between immediate and future needs for information  (pp. 36-37).

The authors make clear that the amount of instructional effort expended on knowledge undoubtedly exceeds its importance in learning for application to non-instructional settings.

[Broken links removed 04-03-2014]

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