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Bloom’s Taxonomy

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Bloom’s taxonomy is a widely accepted model about how students learn, created in the 1950s by Benjamin Samuel Bloom, an American educational psychologist.

It is a set of hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. They cover learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains.

Bloom edited the first volume of the standard text, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956. A second edition arrived in 1964, and a revised version in 2001.

In the original version of the taxonomy, the cognitive domain is broken into six levels of objectives: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation. In the 2001 revised edition of Bloom’s taxonomy, the levels are changed to: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.

This above introduction was excerpted and adapted from Wikipedia by RK.
“Bloom’s taxonomy.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Sep. 2018.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Despite Bloom’s intentions for this to be used in college and graduate schools, it is now frequently used in American kindergarten through high school curriculum learning objectives, assessments and activities. Bloom himself was skeptical of this.

Despite popular belief, the taxonomy had no scientific basis.  Richard Morshead (1965) pointed out on the publication of the second volume that the classification was not a properly constructed taxonomy: it lacked a systemic rationale of construction.

Morshead, Richard W. (1965). “On Taxonomy of educational objectives Handbook II: Affective domain”. Studies in Philosophy and Education. 4 (1)

This criticism was acknowledged in 2001 when a revision was made to create a taxonomy on more systematic lines. Nonetheless, there is skepticism that the hierarchy indicated is adequate.  Some teachers do see the three lowest levels as hierarchically ordered, but view the higher levels as parallel.

Bloom himself was aware that the distinction between categories in some ways is arbitrary.  Any task involving thinking entails multiple mental processes.

The most common criticism, perhaps most important to hear today, is that curriculum designers implicitly – and often explicitly – mistakenly dismiss the lowest levels of the pyramid as unworthy of teaching. Common Core skills-based curricular and professional development drill into teachers the idea that we shouldn’t be teaching students “facts”; rather, we should encourage students to ask questions and investigate, and learn the material, organically, for themselves.  What this doctrine misses is the fact that today’s knowledge in math, science history, etc., is literally the product of thousands of thinkers and writers, and millions of man-hours of thinking, research, and peer-review. Constructing a substantial knowledge of algebra could take a student 20 or 30 years – or they could be taught supposedly “lower level facts” about the rules of algebra.

As you read the modern day evaluations of Bloom’s taxonomy, below, note the consensus: The learning of lower level skills is necessary to enable the building of higher level skills.

Thinking well requires knowing facts

Psychologist Daniel Willingham explains in his book Why Don’t Students Like School:

[Modern teachers have been told that] perhaps instead of learning facts, it’s better to practice critical thinking, to have students work at evaluating all that information available on the Internet, rather than trying to commit some small part of it to memory.

This argument is false. Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment)…. Critical thinking processes are tied to the background knowledge. The conclusion from this work in cognitive science is straightforward: we must ensure that students acquire background knowledge with practicing critical thinking skills.

From “Why Don’t Students Like School.”

Bloom’s Taxonomy: A Deeper Learning Perspective

Education Week, by Ron Berger

The problem is that both versions present a false vision of learning. Learning is not a hierarchy or a linear process. This graphic gives the mistaken impression that these cognitive processes are discrete, that it’s possible to perform one of these skills separately from others. It also gives the mistaken impression that some of these skills are more difficult and more important than others. It can blind us to the integrated process that actually takes place in students’ minds as they learn.

My critique of this framework is not intended to blame anyone. I don’t assume that Benjamin Bloom and his team, or the group who revised his pyramid, necessarily intended for us to see these skills as discrete or ranked in importance. I also know that thoughtful educators use this framework to excellent ends–to emphasize that curriculum and instruction must focus in a balanced way on the full range of skills, for all students from all backgrounds. But my experience suggests that what most of us take away from this pyramid is the idea that these skills are discrete and hierarchical. That misconception undermines our understanding of teaching and learning, and our work with students.

Here’s What’s Wrong With Bloom’s Taxonomy: A Deeper Learning Perspective, By Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer at EL Education.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – That Pyramid is a Problem

by Doug Lemov

A couple of useful notes though. 1) Bloom’s is a ‘framework.’  This is to say it an idea—one that’s compelling in many ways perhaps but not based on data or cognitive science, say. In fact it was developed pretty much before there was such a thing as cognitive science. So it’s almost assuredly got some value to it and it’s almost assuredly gotten some things wrong. 2) I was surprised, happy and concerned (all at once) to read the italicized phrase: with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.

Ironically this is exactly the opposite of what people interpret Bloom’s to be saying. Generally when teachers talk about “Bloom’s taxonomy,” they talk with disdain about “lower level” questions.  They believe, perhaps because of the pyramid image which puts knowledge at the bottom, that knowledge-based questions, especially via recall and retrieval practice, are the least productive thing they could be doing in class.  No one wants to be the rube at the bottom of the pyramid.

But this, interestingly is not what Bloom’s argued—at least according to Vanderbilt’s description. Saying knowledge questions are low value and that knowledge is the necessary precondition for deep thinking are very different things. More importantly believing that knowledge questions—even mere recall of facts—are low value doesn’t jibe with the overwhelming consensus of cognitive science, summarized here by Daniel Willingham, who writes,

Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment)

In other words there are two parts to the equation.  You not only have to teach a lot of facts to allow students to think deeply but you have to reinforce knowledge enough to install it in long-term memory or you can’t do any of the activities at the top of the pyramid. Or more precisely you can do them but they are going to be all but worthless. Knowledge reinforced by recall and retrieval practice, is the precondition.

Bloom's Taxonomy revised delivery

In the spirit of the FDA which recently revised its omnipresent food pyramid to address misconceptions caused by the diagram created to represent it, I’m going to propose a revision to the Bloom ‘pyramid’ so the graphic is far more representative. I’m calling it Bloom’s Delivery Service. In it, knowledge is not at the bottom of a pyramid but is the fuel that allows the engine of thinking to run. If I had more time for graphic design, I might even turn the pyramid on its side. You probably want to do quite a bit of analysis and synthesis but only if you’ve got comprehension solidly in the bag. In other words you kind of need all of the pieces.

– Doug Lemov


A Critical Appraisal of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Seyyed Mohammad Ali Soozandehfar and Mohammad Reza Adeli

American Research Journal of English and Literature (ARJEL), Volume 2, 2016

… In 1999, Dr. Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom’s, and his colleagues published an updated version of Bloom’s Taxonomy that takes into account a broader range of factors that have an impact on teaching and learning. This revised taxonomy attempts to correct some of the problems with the original taxonomy. Unlike the 1956 version, the revised taxonomy differentiates between “knowing what,” the content of thinking, and
“knowing how,” the procedures used in solving problems.

… Today’s world is a different place, however, than the one Bloom’s Taxonomy reflected in 1956. Educators have learned a great deal more about how students learn and teachers teach and now recognize that teaching and learning encompasses more than just thinking. It also involves the feelings and beliefs of students and teachers as well as the social and cultural environment of the classroom.

Anderson (2000) argues that nearly all complex learning activities require the use of several different cognitive skills. Like any theoretical model, Bloom’s Taxonomy has its strengths and weaknesses. Its greatest strength is that it has taken the very important topic of thinking and placed a structure around it that is usable by practitioners. Those teachers who keep a list of question prompts relating to the various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy undoubtedly do a better job of encouraging higher-order thinking in their students than those who have no such tool.

On the other hand, as anyone who has worked with a group of educators to classify a group of questions and learning activities according to the Taxonomy can attest, there is little consensus about what seemingly self-evident terms like “analysis,” or “evaluation” mean. In addition, so many worthwhile activities, such as authentic problems and projects, cannot be mapped to the Taxonomy, and trying to do that would diminish their potential as learning opportunities. In the following sections, this study presents several in-depth criticisms:

…. it has been maintained that Bloom’s Taxonomy is more often than not interpreted incorrectly. Booker (2007) believes that “Bloom’s Taxonomy has been used to devalue basic skills education and has promoted “higher order thinking” at its expense” (2007, p.248). In other words, lower order skills such as knowledge and comprehension are being considered as less critical or invaluable skills.

Being referred to as lower order skills does not make knowledge or comprehension any less important, rather they are arguably the most important cognitive skills because knowledge of and comprehension of a subject is vital in advancing up the levels of the taxonomy. Therefore, in line with Booker’s conclusion, the Taxonomy is being improperly used. Bloom never stated that any of his cognitive levels were less important, just that they followed a hierarchical structure. Booker (2007) points out that even Bloom himself recognized that the application of the taxonomy was unexpectedly happening at the K-12 level and much less so at the university/college level.

The Misdirection of American Education

A Roof without Walls: Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Misdirection of American Education, By Michael Booker

Abstract: Plato wrote that higher order thinking could not start until the student had mastered conventional wisdom. The American educational establishment has turned Plato on his head with the help of a dubious approach to teaching developed by one Benjamin Bloom. Bloom’s taxonomy was intended for higher education, but its misappropriation has resulted in a serious distortion of the purpose of the K–12 years. Michael Booker attributes the inability of American children to compete internationally to a great extent to our reliance on Bloom in expecting critical and advanced thinking from kids who have been trained to regard facts and substantive knowledge as unimportant.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has become influential to the point of dogma in American Colleges of Education.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been used to devalue basic skills education and haspromoted “higher order thinking”at its expense.

Shortchanging basic skills education has resulted in producing students who misunderstand true higher-order thinking and who are not equipped for advanced education.

…. Soon after it was published, a body of research began to build around theTaxonomy. In 1970, Cox and Wildemann collected an index of the existing research into Bloom’s Taxonomy.12According to their study, 118 research projects of various sorts had been conducted in the previous decade and a half. A review of their data, however, shows that most of the research lacked experimental results that might either confirm or invalidate it. The results noted are not reassuring. Initial studies showed that individuals skilled in the Taxonomy frequently could not agree on the classification of test items or objectives.

… This adds up to an extraordinary misreading of the Taxonomy. Standards intended for college students get pushed down to the K–12 system. Instead of teaching those K–12 students hierarchically, the foundation of the structure is ignored. The push is made to the highest levels of the Taxonomy, especially level six, Evaluation. Since Handbook 1 is currently out of print (a measure, perhaps, of how carefully it is studied in the colleges of education), I will quote its caveats about Evaluation.

For the most part, the evaluations customarily made by an individual are quick decisions not preceded by very careful consideration of the various aspects of the object, idea or activity being judged. These might be termed opinions rather than judgments.…For purposes of classification, only those evaluations which are or can be made with distinct criteria in mind are considered.

Despite these warnings, typical Evaluation questions take the form of “What do you think about x?”and “Do you agree with x?” These questions are often accompanied by praise for what education literature misidentifies as the “SocraticMethod.” The result of this strategy is to occupy class time with vacuous opining.

When I speak with my fellow community college instructors, we rarely complain about student ’lack of advanced intellectual skills. Our chief source of frustration is that they haven’t mastered the basics needed to succeed in college-level work. Since I teach philosophy, I don’t expect my students to come to class knowing any content about my subject area.

Still, it would be lovely if they exited high school with some knowledge of world history, science, English, and geography. A large cohort (much to my frustration) doesn’t know how many grams are in a kilogram or when to use an apostrophe. I have a friend, Dr. Lawrence Barker, who once taught statistics at a state university. Each quarter he quizzed his incoming statistics students about basic math. The majority, he learned, couldn’t determine the square root of one without access to a calculator. He left teaching and is now happily employed by theCenters for Disease Control.

A Roof without Walls: Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Misdirection of American Education, Michael Booker, Academic Questions 20(4):347-355 · December 2007


Alternative models of learning

Rex Heer, at the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching created this model. He writes:

Among other modifications, Anderson and Krathwohl’s (2001) revision of the original Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956) redefines the cognitive domain as the intersection of the Cognitive Process Dimension and the Knowledge Dimension. This document offers a three-dimensional representation of the revised taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Although the Cognitive Process and Knowledge dimensions are represented as hierarchical steps, the distinctions between categories are not always clear-cut. For example, all procedural knowledge is not necessarily more abstract than all conceptual knowledge; and an objective that involves analyzing or evaluating may require thinking skills that are no less complex than one that involves creating. It is generally understood, nonetheless, that lower order thinking skills are subsumed by, and provide the foundation for higher order thinking skills.

A Model of Learning Objectives by Rex Heer

The Knowledge Dimension classifies four types of knowledge that learners may be expected to acquire or construct— ranging from concrete to abstract.

Knowedge Dimension based on Bloom's

The Cognitive Process Dimension represents a continuum of increasing cognitive complexity—from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills. Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) identify nineteen specific cognitive processes that further
clarify the scope of the six categories.

Cognitive Processes dimension based on Bloom's

Based on this, Rex Heer develops this three dimensional model. Again, please note that – as Bloom himself always intended – remembering facts (misunderstood as the “lowest” part of the method) – is actually the most important part: remembering facts is the base on which everything else depends. One can’t engage in higher level critical thinking skills on a subject without first knowing the content of the subject.

Rex Heer Revised Bloom's taxonomy

Model by Rex Heer, Iowa State University, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Jan 2012. Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.




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