Revised Bloom’s taxonomy: 13 lesser-known facts

The revised Bloom’s taxonomy appears destined to become an education classic that people think they know but have never read, just as its famous predecessor did.

A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing:  A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, edited by Lorin W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl, was published in 2001. It is available in a hardcover edition and an abridged soft cover edition. The authors tactfully say teachers seek second-hand information instead of reading primary sources because they are so busy. The softcover edition eliminates that excuse by omitting chapters and one appendix considered less interesting to teachers than to researchers.

Below is a Baker’s dozen of lesser-known facts about the revision.

1. The revision is based on cognitive research and constructionist perspectives (p. 38).

In the revised Bloom’s taxonomy, the term cognitive process replaces the term behavior in the original. Besides aligning more closely with neurological research into how people learn, the cognitive terminology permits greater precision. For example, an objective in the original taxonomy that might have called for students to list can be more precisely identified as either remembering or analyzing, which are very different cognitive processes (p. 14).

2. The revised taxonomy adds metacognition as a knowledge category (p. 55).

3. The revised taxonomy is two-dimensional ( p. 5).

Forget pyramids.  Think instead of a graph with the  X axis as the cognitive process dimension and the Y axis as the knowledge dimension. Each dimension is a continuum arranged from the 0 point in order of increasing complexity ( (p.4). If your imagination is not up to picturing a graph, these two simple charts from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State University give  a good representation of the content.

If you see reference to an objective that consists of only a verb, you should recognize immediately that the author is not using the Anderson and Krathwohl taxonomy. Objectives in the revised taxonomy consist of a verb and a noun. The verb refers to a cognitive process, the noun to a type of knowledge  (p. 27).

4. The categories of the revised taxonomy are not cumulative hierarchies.
The revised taxonomy does not assume that mastery of the less complex behaviors is necessary for learning the more complex ones (Ch. 16).

5. Revised Bloom’s taxonomy objectives don’t go in daily lesson plans.

Educational objectives are Goldilocks sized. They describe curricular goals that are  narrower than institutional goals (i.e. “college and career ready”) and broader than instructional goals in the daily lesson plans (p. 105).  Objectives for standards based education are written at the educational objectives (unit or course) level.  The taxonomy’s authors believe that the classroom teacher—not the school board, state education department staff, or a publisher—is the judge of how to shape each day’s instruction toward the educational objectives set out on the standards (p. 15).

6. Placement is by subcategories.

To determine where an objective falls on the cognitive processes dimension requires looking at 19 specific cognitive processes, not just the six broad categories. Similarly, a determining of where an objective calls on the knowledge dimension is most readily achieved by looking at the subcategories of the four knowledge dimensions. The revised Bloom’s taxonomy defines them carefully and gives examples. You don’t have to be able to recall the dimension items in order. You can look them up.

7. Educational activity is a group noun.

Anderson and Krathwohl use the term “educational activity” as a group noun implying a collection of learning experiences.

8. The authors assume teachers are professionals.

Anderson and Krathwohl’s revision of Bloom’s taxonomy is written for teachers, elementary through high school.  By necessity, teachers must choose from vast amounts of information what they will teach. The authors expect most teachers in schools from elementary to high school will need to make those choices within a standards-based curriculum. They clearly expect teachers to have the expertise and professionalism to teach students instead of simply presenting publishers’ materials. They say the majority of instructional decisions “depend on the creativity, ingenuity, and wisdom of the teacher.”

Anderson and Krathwohl say teachers should treat standards as “general guidelines to what is worth learning” (p. 6). They urge teachers to make their own decisions as to what their students need to know at a particular time in their education and not rely on  publisher-provided content to determine what they teach. They draw teachers’ attention to the fact that the difficulty of a learning task for students depends on prior learning (p. 106).  A demanding cognitive task that was hard to master initially may be easy a second time because the students need only remember what they previously learned.

After teachers have place their objectives on the Taxonomy Table, the authors expect them to use educational research to determine what kinds of activities will facilitate that particular type of learning.

10. The authors don’t push standardized testing.

Because national and state testing programs and performance scoring guides have high stakes consequences, they can have a negative impact on classrooms, the authors say.  They refer to such testing programs as external assessments  “because people who typically do not teach in classrooms mandate them  (p. 248) [italics added].  Since such high stakes tests won’t disappear any time soon, the authors of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy say, “Teachers need to find ways of incorporating these external assessments into classroom instruction that are positive and constructive” (p. 233).

11. Self-teaching is easiest way to learn the taxonomy.
Anderson and Krathwohl say going through training with using someone else’s materials is the hardest way to learn to use the taxonomy. It’s much less frustrating and much more efficient to use the definitions and examples in the text to help you figure out your own teaching program (Ch. 6).

You may want to buy a copy of the book just to be able to show that to the curriculum people for your district.

12. Appendices summarize the original taxonomy & highlight changes.

Appendix A summarizes changes from the original Bloom’s taxonomy framework. One particularly useful chart, Figure A. 1, shows the structural changes between the original and the revision. Appendix B summarizes the six major categories typically associated with the original taxonomy.

13. Original taxonomy can’t be beat for assessment items.

Anderson and Krathwohl say the best set of test items aligned with specific educational goals is still found in Bloom’s original taxonomy (p. 298). About 130 pages of that original book is devoted to presentation and discussion of objective-specific items.

[Links to information no longer available on the web removed 04-03-2012. Revised reference to the Iowa State Univeristy celt page to reflect changed content.]

Formative assessment of graphic awareness

Assessment is an essential part of teaching.  Unfortunately, schools focus on summative assessments that, even if appropriate, don’t provide either student or teacher with information about to get to their educational goals.

For  “how are we doing?” help, you need formative assessment.

Our tendency as teachers is to use formative assessment to see how well students learned what we taught. However, formative assessment can also be used in determining what you need to teach. Students may know more than you think—or they may know something quite different from what you think they know.

I find the best formative assessment tool for my nonfiction writing classes is informal writing in response to a writing prompt. Misunderstandings about the meaning of common English class terms are a routine problem.  I use informal writing to uncover such problems.

Another potentially serious source of misunderstandings are graphics.

I started thinking about the problems inherent in graphic representations when reading Richard McKenna’s The Sand Pebbles. Early in the novel, Jack Holman  attempts to teach an illiterate Chinese man how a steam engine operates. Jack’s first attempt is frustrated by Po-han’s lack of numerical literacy. Since Po-han does not understand numbers, he thinks the larger the type size on a dial the greater the amount of pressure in the engine.

I teach students to use graphic elements such as heading size as reading comprehension tools. It had not occurred to me how important it is be sure students are correctly reading graphics that are supposed to help them understand course content.

When I thought about it, I realized it’s not just illiterate coolies that can misunderstand graphic representations. Literate people can misunderstand a graphic that they interpret with a different set of associations than those held by the graphic’s designer.

Take, for example, the little magnifying glass icon. If you use the web regularly, you know clicking the magnifying glass icon will bring up a search box. You may assume that everyone will interpret the magnifying glass as you do. However, if you were to ask a group  of folks who are not regular web users to write a sentence or two telling what they would expect to happen if they clicked on a magnifying glass icon, you might  learn many people  assume that the magnifying glass icon will make the type bigger because that’s how they are accustomed to using a magnifying glass.

Another problematic icon in education is the pyramid representation of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  Many people interpret that graphic as meaning they must spend much more time on the broadly based objectives than on the more narrowly based ones, which fits the graphic image but is a total misinterpretation of the taxonomy. (The graphic, incidentally, is not in the Bloom’s taxonomy, which presents the objectives an ordered list.)

If you use many graphics to communicate concepts and procedures, as I do, you can identify potential  graphic misunderstandings by using informal writing for formative assessment.  Simply have the learners write a sentence or two explaining what they think a particular graphic feature means. For example, you might ask, “What would you expect the relationship between these two items to be?”

Or ask, “How do you think the information represented by the yellow area of this graphic is likely to be related to the information represented by the blue area?

Such formative assessment writing prompts are not hard  to prepare, and don’t take long to administer, but the answers can go a long way toward improving teaching and learning.

[Removed links to information no longer available 04-03-2014.]

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]