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One of the basic questions facing educators has always been "Where do we begin in seeking to improve human thinking?" (Houghton, 2004). Fortunately we do not have to begin from scratch in searching for answers to this complicated question. The Communities Resolving Our Problems (C.R.O.P.) recommends, "One place to begin is in defining the nature of thinking. Before we can make it better, we need to know more of what it is" (Houghton, 2004).
Benjamin S. Bloom extensively contemplated the nature of thinking, eventually authoring or co-authoring 18 books. According to a biography of Bloom, written by former student Elliot W. Eisner, "It was clear that he was in love with the process of finding out, and finding out is what I think he did best. One of Bloom's great talents was having a nose for what is significant" (2002).
Although it received little attention when first published, Bloom's Taxonomy has since been translated into 22 languages and is one of the most widely applied and most often cited references in education. (Anderson & Sosniak, 1994, preface), (Houghton, 2004), ( Krathwohl, 2002), ( oz-TeacherNet, 2001). As of this writing, three other chapters in this ebook make reference to Bloom's Taxonomy, yet another testament to its relevance.
Learning, teaching, identifying educational goals, and thinking are all complicated concepts interwoven in an intricate web. Bloom was arduous, diligent, and patient while seeking to demystify these concepts and untangle this web. He made "the improvement of student learning" (Bloom 1971, Preface) the central focus of his life's work.
Discussions during the 1948 Convention of the American Psychological Association led Bloom to spearhead a group of educators who eventually undertook the ambitious task of classifying educational goals and objectives. Their intent was to develop a method of classification for thinking behaviors that were believed to be important in the processes of learning. Eventually, this framework became a taxonomy of three domains:
• The cognitive - knowledge based domain, consisting of six levels
• The affective - attitudinal based domain, consisting of five levels, and
• The psychomotor - skills based domain, consisting of six levels.
In 1956, eight years after the group first began, work on the cognitive domain was completed and a handbook commonly referred to as "Bloom's Taxonomy" was published. This chapter focuses its attention on the cognitive domain.
While Bloom pushed for the use of the term "taxonomy," others in the group resisted because of the unfamiliarity of the term within educational circles. Eventually Bloom prevailed, forever linking his name and the term. The small volume intended for university examiners "has been transformed into a basic reference for all educators worldwide. Unexpectedly, it has been used by curriculum planners, administrators, researchers, and classroom teachers at all levels of education" (Anderson & Sosniak, 1994, p. 1). While it should be noted that other educational taxonomies and hierarchical systems have been developed, it is Bloom's Taxonomy which remains, even after nearly fifty years, the de facto standard.
What is Bloom's Taxonomy?
Understanding that "taxonomy" and "classification" are synonymous helps dispel uneasiness with the term. Bloom's Taxonomy is a multi-tiered model of classifying thinking according to six cognitive levels of complexity. The lowest three levels are: knowledge, comprehension, and application. The highest three levels are: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. "The taxonomy is hierarchical; [in that] each level is subsumed by the higher levels. In other words, a student functioning at the 'application' level has also mastered the material at the 'knowledge' and 'comprehension' levels." (UW Teaching Academy, 2003).
Clearly, Bloom's Taxonomy has stood the test of time. Due to its long history and popularity, it has been condensed, expanded, and reinterpreted in a variety of ways. Research findings have led to the discovery of a veritable smorgasbord of interpretations and applications falling on a continuum ranging from tight overviews to expanded explanations. Nonetheless, one recent revision (designed by one of the co-editors of the original taxonomy along with a former Bloom student) merits particular attention.
Revised Bloom's Taxonomy (RBT)
During the 1990's, a former student of Bloom's, Lorin Anderson, led a new assembly which met for the purpose of updating the taxonomy, hoping to add relevance for 21st century students and teachers. This time "representatives of three groups [were present]: cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists and instructional researchers, and testing and assessment specialists" (Anderson, & Krathwohl, 2001, p. xxviii). Like the original group, they were also arduous and diligent in their pursuit of learning, spending six years to finalize their work. Published in 2001, the revision includes several seemingly minor yet actually quite significant changes. Several excellent sources are available which detail the revisions and reasons for the changes. A more concise summary appears here. The changes occur in three broad categories: terminology, structure, and emphasis.
Changes in terminology between the two versions are perhaps the most obvious differences and can also cause the most confusion. Basically, Bloom's six major categories were changed from noun to verb forms. Additionally, the lowest level of the original, knowledge was renamed and became remembering. Finally, comprehension and synthesis were retitled to understanding and creating. In an effort to minimize the confusion, comparison images appear below.
The new terms are defined as:
Structural changes seem dramatic at first, yet are quite logical when closely examined. Bloom's original cognitive taxonomy was a one-dimensional form. With the addition of products, the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy takes the form of a two-dimensional table. One of the dimensions identifies The Knowledge Dimension (or the kind of knowledge to be learned) while the second identifies The Cognitive Process Dimension (or the process used to learn). As represented on the grid below, the intersection of the knowledge and cognitive process categories form twenty-four separate cells as represented on the "Taxonomy Table" below.
The Knowledge Dimension on the left side is composed of four levels that are defined as Factual, Conceptual, Procedural, and Meta-Cognitive. The Cognitive Process Dimension across the top of the grid consists of six levels that are defined as Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create. Each level of both dimensions of the table is subdivided.
Each of the four Knowledge Dimension levels is subdivided into either three or four categories (e.g. Factual is divided into Factual, Knowledge of Terminology, and Knowledge of Specific Details and Elements). The Cognitive Process Dimension levels are also subdivided with the number of sectors in each level ranging from a low of three to a high of eight categories. For example, Remember is subdivided into the three categories of Remember, Recognizing, and Recalling while the Understanding level is divided into eight separate categories. The resulting grid, containing 19 subcategories is most helpful to teachers in both writing objectives and aligning standards with curricular. The "Why" and "How" sections of this chapter further discuss use of the Taxonomy Table as well as provide specific examples of applications.
Click here for an Interactive Table developed by Designer/Developer, Dianna Fisher, Oregon State University
Changes in Emphasis
Emphasis is the third and final category of changes. As noted earlier, Bloom himself recognized that the taxonomy was being "unexpectedly" used by countless groups never considered an audience for the original publication. The revised version of the taxonomy is intended for a much broader audience. Emphasis is placed upon its use as a "more authentic tool for curriculum planning, instructional delivery and assessment" (oz-TeacherNet, 2001).
Why use Bloom's Taxonomy?
As history has shown, this well known, widely applied scheme filled a void and provided educators with one of the first systematic classifications of the processes of thinking and learning. The cumulative hierarchical framework consisting of six categories each requiring achievement of the prior skill or ability before the next, more complex, one, remains easy to understand. Out of necessity, teachers must measure their students' ability. Accurately doing so requires a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. Bloom's Taxonomy provided the measurement tool for thinking. With the dramatic changes in society over the last five decades, the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy provides an even more powerful tool to fit today's teachers' needs. The structure of the Revised Taxonomy Table matrix "provides a clear, concise visual representation" (Krathwohl, 2002) of the alignment between standards and educational goals, objectives, products, and activities. Today's teachers must make tough decisions about how to spend their classroom time. Clear alignment of educational objectives with local, state, and national standards is a necessity. Like pieces of a huge puzzle, everything must fit properly. The Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Table clarifies the fit of each lesson plan's purpose, "essential question," goal or objective.
How can Bloom's Taxonomy Be Used?
A search of the World Wide Web will yield clear evidence that Bloom's Taxonomy has been applied to a variety of situations. Current results include a broad spectrum of applications represented by articles and websites describing everything from corrosion training to medical preparation. In almost all circumstances when an instructor desires to move a group of students through a learning process utilizing an organized framework, Bloom's Taxonomy can prove helpful. Yet the educational setting (K-graduate) remains the most often used application. The Revised Taxonomy includes specific verb and product linkage with each of the levels of the Cognitive Process Dimension. Because of its 19 subcategories and two-dimensional organization, there is more clarity and less confusion about the fit of a specific verb or product to a given level. Thus the Revised Taxonomy offers teachers an even more powerful tool to help design their lesson plans.
Website: Bloom's Taxonomy - Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology, http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Bloom%27s_Taxonomy
Forehand, M. (2005). Bloom's taxonomy: Original and revised. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved 8/27/10, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/