Bloom’s Taxonomy Basics

Does the application of Bloom's Taxonomy to teaching help students learn at a higher level? The answer is yes. It can turn a student into a thinker. *

For decades, teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through college, have improved the quality of their teaching and increased the level at which their students learn with one simple teaching job aide. That aide is a list comprised of what are most commonly called Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs. These instructors create richer learning experiences for their students, and students retain more useful knowledge in the process.

An Overview of Bloom’s Taxonomy

In 1956, Dr. Benjamin S. Bloom and his colleagues published Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. This work categorized instructional objectives into what is commonly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. It provided educators with a valuable tool to help them understand higher order thinking skills, create meaningful learning objectives and assess students’ mastery of those objectives.

Bloom’s basic premise was that not all learning has the same merit. Rather, there is a hierarchy that begins with memorization and proceeds to higher levels whereby learners can apply their knowledge in increasingly more sophisticated and, arguably more useful, ways. From lowest to highest, those six levels are described below.

The 6 Levels of Bloom's Taxonomy

Rote memorization is valuable, but it does not always translate to knowledge and skills the student can apply in the real world.  As a student's learning advances from Knowledge to Evaluation, he/she becomes increasingly capable of making productive use of the course content.
  • Knowledge – This is result of memorization and is sometimes referred to verbal knowledge. The outcomes can be described by verbs such as define, identify, list and state.
  • Comprehension – This is the understanding level. At this level learners are able to demonstrate their knowledge through actions such as discussing or explaining what has been learned.
  • Application – This is the first of four levels evidenced by a learner’s ability to put knowledge to use. By remembering and understanding, the learner should be able to apply or transfer that knowledge to different situations, perhaps to solve a new problem.
  • Analysis – Think of this as the critical thinking level. Learners can examine what they have learned, and they are able to compare and contrast literature, processes, theories, concepts, events and the like.
  • Synthesis – This is the first level at which learners make creative use of their knowledge. For example, the learner can now compose a poem, design a bridge, make a ceramic bowl, paint a picture or repair an automobile.
  • Evaluation – At this level, learners display a degree of expertise. The art student can critique a painting, the chemistry student can predict the outcome of a reaction and the engineering student can select the best material for a new product.
  • Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

    When developing learning objectives, creating lesson plans and assessing student learning, instructors should use action verbs. And a number of online resources are available to assist. For example, the TeAch-nology website> provides a simple list of Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs. On TeacherVision website there is printer friendly version Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs.

    This is not to imply that applying Bloom’s Taxonomy and using the appropriate action verbs is easy. It requires different instructional techniques, ones that engage learners and turn students into active learners rather than passive information recipients.

    Testing Students' Learning

    The instructor's challenge is 2-fold.  A college instructor should strive to guide students to the basic learning objectives and create a learning environment that can lead them to higher levels.

    But how do you know they have achieved your goal? You need to assess them at those higher levels. To get started you may want to check out some examples of questions that assess higher level learning.

    The Benefits of Bloom’s Taxonomy

    The benefits of helping students achieve higher level learning seem obvious. However, in a 2010 article entitled "12 Things Teachers Must Know about Learning," Bill Page suggested that this was not common practice. He referred to a study by eminent educational researcher, John Goodlad. Goodlad reported that 95 percent of all teaching and testing was done at level-one thinking.

    Why don’t instructors teach to higher levels of learning? According to Page, it is because teaching to the knowledge level is the easiest form of teaching. At the same time however, memorization is the most difficult type of learning for many students. Conversely, Page explained that “learning that utilizes higher level thinking effortlessly goes into long-term memory.” Bloom’s Taxonomy explains why a math student may be able to do the homework and answer questions in class, but still fail an exam with problems that did not exactly mirror the examples in the book. That student did not move past the second level of learning. The same would be true of a literature student who provides an accurate written summary of a short story but is unable to identify the metaphors or explain the author’s intent.

    Clearly, Bloom’s Taxonomy can help a teacher transform a student from a memorizer into a thinker. It may require additional time and effort to create more challenging lesson plans, ones that guide students to higher level thinking and learning. But there are rewards. Students learn and retain more, and the instructor has the satisfaction of seeing students succeed. Reference Page, Bill. "12 Things Teachers Must Know about Learning." Education Digest, April 2010. * I originally published this article September 11, 2010, on Suite101.

    © 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

    Posted May 3, 2012

    About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

    My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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