Pedagogy Focus: What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

As part of our Pedagogy Focus series, we look at the ideas behind Bloom’s Taxonomy and how it can be used in schools

Bloom's Taxonomy, named after educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, is a series of models designed to help teachers classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is one of the best-known theories in education, used to create and classify learning objectives according the level of complexity. 

The taxonomy comprises three domains of learning: cognitive, affective and psycho-motor. Skills are ordered in a hierarchy, where each level takes over from the one before.

In principle, the taxonomy promotes higher forms of thinking and supports learning outcomes that focus on depth of learning rather than tasks.   

Where did it come from?

In 1956, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom chaired a committee of educators, which devised the taxonomy with the intention of creating a framework for categorising educational goals. 

This was revised by David Krathwohl (an original committee member) and Lorin Anderson in 2001, who implemented a new level at the top of the hierarchy ("creation”) and changed “knowledge” to “remember”. 

In this taxonomy, there is a greater emphasis on the verbs attached to these cognitive processes.     

How has it influenced pedagogy?

Bloom’s Taxonomy shifts the focus away from content and instruction, and emphasises cognitive processes and higher-order thinking skills.

These ideas and principles can be used in a variety of ways in schools, such as:

Curriculum mapping and planning course goals 

It can provide a useful checklist for ensuring that pupils develop a variety of skills and that the course content allows for a full learning experience.

Setting learning objectives

The taxonomy helps to plan for development and the building of skills in relation to a particular topic or feature. This is often referred to as “spiralling”, where the hierarchy becomes a pathway for cognitive progression.

Designing assessment

Using Bloom's for assessment allows students to show progress in terms of cognition. In particular, using the verbs of the revised taxonomy means teachers can design forms of assessment that facilitate ways to clearly display their learning.

Developing questioning

Using the verbs of the revised taxonomy to construct a variety of questions can help to build towards critical and deeper thinking, as responses are developed by working through the skill levels.

Differentiation and personalised learning

The different levels of the cognitive taxonomy can be used to simplify tasks or increase the challenge. Planning activities and questions using the verbs associated with each skill level inevitably alters the complexity of cognition that the teacher is asking the pupil to display.    

Metacognition

The taxonomy can encourage pupils to consider how they learn and when they know they are learning.

Is it controversial?

Bloom’s Taxonomy was developed more than 60 years ago; it was not substantiated by any research at the time and continues to be lacking in evidence for its effectiveness. 

The idea that learning is a linear process is also considered by many to be problematic as it gives the impression that some skills are more important and more valuable than others. 

The pyramid structure tends to imply that knowledge (remembering) and comprehension are less important. But these skills are an essential foundation for learning and, depending on what is being learned, potentially the most appropriate cognitive skill to utilise at times. 

Further reading

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