One of the most commonly used taxonomies for understanding and planning education curricula, assessments and learning activities is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Named after the educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, who headed a team of researchers, the taxonomy was first published in 1956.
The purpose of the taxonomy was to devise a classification system of educational goals or objectives. This was in much the same way as biologist might develop a taxonomy as a means of “understanding the organisation and interrelation of the various parts of the animal and plant world” (Bloom, 1956). The intention was to promote higher order thinking in college education, such as analysing and evaluating concepts, rather than just focusing on factual recall, or rote learning, as had been a major focus of education to this time.
The handbook was the result of the series of conferences held between 1949 and 1953 and the list of contributors is lengthy. The intent of the taxonomy was to be of general help to all educators who deal with curricular and evaluation problems. It was to promote communication, to define commonly used terms so that teachers could discuss their work with understanding. Finally, it was to help educators understand what intended behaviours of students could be encouraged by setting a particular set of educational goals.
The original plans developed three domains of educational activates or learning
- Cognitive – mental skills (knowledge)
- Affective – growth in feelings or emotional areas (attitude or self)
- Psychomotor – manual or physical skills (skills)
However, in the initial handbook only the cognitive domain was published.
The original Cognitive Domain included 6 sub-domains – knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The cognitive domain involves knowledge and the development of intellectual skills. It included recall or recognition of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts and served in the development of intellectual abilities and skills. The sub-domains were intended to be developmental and sequential – increasing in degrees of difficulties, although, there is now some argument to the validity of that conception.
There are any number of references on the internet for using Bloom’s cognitive domain in the development of learning. The 3 most common uses however, continue to follow the original intent of the development of the taxonomy.
1. Planning curricula
Bloom’s taxonomy can be used to plan curricula by working through each of the levels of the sub-domains and setting the goals for learning. The teacher begins by considering what it is the students should know – facts, processes, terminology, conventions, theories and structures, and so on. These form the foundation blocks of further learning and cannot be ignored, it does not matter at which grade a student is studying. From there each of the next sub-domains should be considered, and planned for in the development of the students learning. The higher levels become particularly important in setting the learning goals for students who are gifted and talented and who like to be stretched in their learning. Though it should not be limited to them!
2. Planning assessments
Once the goals for learning have been established, and the classroom curricula planned, it is time to plan the assessments. Students complete assessment tasks to demonstrate their achievement of the learning goals. Remembering that we are assessing the intended learning behaviours. Assessments should be written so they do assess each of the relevant levels of the taxonomy. Students should be able to demonstrate knowledge, comprehension, application and so on.
What is important here, is that in the higher levels of education, such as at a second or third year university, the demonstration of knowledge may not be the focus. You can ask students to demonstrate their knowledge of facts, concepts, processes and so on, as part of their demonstration of their critical engagement with higher order thinking skills. For example, when explaining the causes of WW2, you may expect students to be demonstrating a knowledge of the facts of international events that led up to WW2, as part of their explanation.
3. Planning learning activities
Finally, you need to plan the learning activities at the appropriate levels. These can help students to master the learning goals, and be able to demonstrate the intended learning. I want to add here a note of caution, that echoes the one from the original Handbook. The actual learning behaviours of the students, on completion of the learning activities, may be different from the intended learning behaviours, as specified in the learning goals of the curriculum. This may be because the ‘effects of instruction may be such that the students do not learn a given skill to the desired level’ or even to any degree. The teacher should then use their review of students’ progress to plan further learning activities which will help the students reach the desired level.
In summary, in this short blog the intention was to give a short background to Bloom’s taxonomy and show how it was intended to be used, to plan curricula, to plan assessments, and to plan learning activities. I myself have used the taxonomy across the field of education, from primary school, through to university students. What I have loved is the ease with which the 3 areas can be aligned, from the simplest learning behaviour to the most complex. And it allows me to communicate these to my students with equal ease. By using the measurable verbs often suggested, I can demonstrate to my students what they must do in order to demonstrate learning. Thus making my assessment of that learning so much easier, very explicit and accessible.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain. D. McKay.