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APPLYING BLOOM’S TAXONOMY TO TEACHING AND TESTING
When working with special needs students, it is helpful to recognize certain attributes about the kind of learning tasks we are giving children to do. We typically assign reading, followed by some discussion, and end up with some form of evaluation. Let me suggest a "model" that more closely reflects information about how we all organize information and ideas.
Many years ago, Dr. Benjamin Bloom proposed a theoretical ranking of the levels of thinking that people use. At the simple and basic level, Bloom suggested, people operate at a very "concrete" level of knowledge. Moving beyond that, people are able to "comprehend" what the facts are about and to some extent, they are able to manipulate those ideas by comparing or contrasting or even retelling events in their own words.
At the next level of complexity of thought, individuals are able to "apply" what they have learned from facts and comprehension. This level of thinking permits them to demonstrate knowledge, solve or apply what they know to new and related situations. Moving beyond "application," the next level of thinking allows people to "analyze" what they know. At this level, typically they can classify, categorize, discriminate or detect information.
The two highest levels of cognitive thought, according to Bloom, are synthesis and evaluation. In "synthesis," the individual is able to put ideas together, propose plans, form solutions, and create new information. In the "evaluation" stage, the thinker is able to make choices, select, evaluate and make judgments about information and situations.
How To Apply Bloom’s Taxonomy
To Improve Teaching and Testing
We typically start very young children out with simple tasks of "naming" or telling. We ask them to tell us how old they are. They are taught to count and sing simple rhymes. These are very concrete forms of knowledge. We are not particularly interested in whether they truly "comprehend" the concept of counting up, as getting more, or counting down, as getting less. Many special needs students have considerable difficulty moving very far beyond this concrete level of processing information, and they typically run into great frustration when asked to carry out higher levels of thinking on academic tasks, such as "compare and contrast," or when they are asked to "classify" animals into the correct phylum or species. Their information base can be very concrete, and they are most successful in doing tasks that accommodate their way of handling information. For them, the true-false test, the matching tests, and the "fill-in-the-blank" tests are likely to be more "user friendly."
Generalizing is frequently a noticeable deficit in learning disabled students, as well of in several other areas of special needs. While the average child without handicapping neurobehavioral difficulties is usually able to learn facts and generalize them to new situations, the special needs students must be taught explicitly how the "known" is related to the "new" situation. Thus, we are confronted squarely with the consequent failure of the whole language approach to the teaching of reading. Whole language is based on the assumption that children who are exposed frequently to good literature and some elements of phonics can generalize their day to day experiences in learning that is not sequentially organized and explicitly taught. The resulting leaps in numbers of older students entering special education for failure in reading skills is mute testimony to the poor fit between learner and curriculum.
Learning disabled students, and other students with limitations in their cognitive development or communication skills, need very carefully developed curriculum and appropriate testing. Lessons should be started at a very concrete level, and initial questions should be concrete and based on facts (true-false, yes-no, name this sound, state this number fact). Drill-type teaching is a very essential component that lays solid foundations of information on which future learning can be built. It is important here to urge balance in the use of drill – it should never be the sole basis for any form of learning! It is a tool to help when repetition is essential for reaching mastery.
After reaching a fair level of mastery in a limited set of facts, whether in phonics or beginning math, or any subject, students should be moved "up" the level of difficulty on Bloom’s taxonomy wherever possible. Children should be asked, as often as possible, to retell information in their own words. Allow them to make comparisons on what is similar from one object to another. Help them to notice attributes that are different so they can contrast the differences. Show them how to estimate. Use many concrete examples that reinforce their strength, but always try to help them stretch their boundaries at the same time.
For some students, the skills required of them at the "comprehension" level may be as complex as they are able to master. That does not mean you should ignore opportunities to demonstrate to them other ways that people use and apply information. For some children, you will notice that in academic areas, they are quite limited in moving beyond "comprehension" or "knowledge" kinds of thinking. However, you will be amazed to see how readily they can solve a problem with a toy, in a challenging situation or working with some artistic media. We are certainly fearfully and wonderfully made, and we must never impose our preconceived notions of how much our children can achieve.
When we test at the "comprehension" level, we should be moving beyond simple "multiple choice" questions and/or true-false information. Such facts can be useful if we are only seeking to create "talking heads" who have all the right words, but who lack understanding. Our responsibility is to teach and train up children in understanding, which God promises to those who ask. Thus, our testing should move the child along toward higher levels of thinking skills, such as asking them to extend what they have learned. Can they illustrate the concepts they have just learned either in art and/or in writing? We can ask them to explain how the lesson in "silent /e/" is different from the "short vowel" rules we have used. Or, we might have them explain how the causes of a particular event in history are different from the causes of an event many years before. This kind of testing will strengthen their thinking, and it will promote longer retention of what they learn.
At the next level, we find that we are reaching the place where activity and application make our use of information "real" to us. Edgar Dale in the 1950’s studied what kinds of information people remember the most and for the longest period of time. He concluded that when students "do the real thing," "simulate" the real thing, or teach others what they have learned, the retention rate is about 90% of what was taught. You can see on Bloom’s taxonomy that "application" is a higher order thinking skill than simple recall or telling. To apply, the student must truly have facts correct and be able to relate them to each other and to what they already know. The complex working of the mind that allows this kind of "integration" to occur permits the learner to reach higher levels of accomplishment. Teaching parents should be asking the student to solve problems by using learned information, constructing projects or posters, writing plays or acting out mini-plays, making original portfolios or building models in order to help them with applying new learning. Testing should be less involved with pencil and paper tests with short answers, and more directed towards essays, hands-on projects or presentations, or having the student writing his or her own test, to see how well they can target key concepts. Outlining helps students with such thinking levels, as well as using graphic organizers, such as "spider webs," to lay out information in a manner that reflects the organization of the material in the mind.
The last three levels of higher level thinking are rather fluid, and there seems less of a simple discernible line among the thinking attributes here. Obviously, higher order thought demands higher difficulty levels of testing. At this point, many special education students with learning disabilities will have great difficulty carrying out assignments or assessments. These students will require more externally supplied supports, or scaffolding. The teacher will need to provide explicit explanations of the organization of the teaching materials or texts. Highlighting by the instructor assists students in paying attention to the appropriate content.
Students can generate flash cards to drill themselves on the materials. The use of the flash cards should not be limited, however, to simple "word" and "definition" usage. Where possible, the teacher/parent should be requiring students to manipulate the information in several ways that teach higher order thinking. For example, have the students organize the cards into categories of dates, places, important men, important women, and so on. Likewise, have them create a large-scale timeline and place the cards in the correct order. These activities stimulate higher order skills while forcing a review of basic knowledge and learning skills. Flash cards can also be used to help plan a writing activity. Unlike computer-based cut and paste activity, the manual activity increases the use of visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile learning that is so essential for special learners.
These are just a few of the ideas that can be implemented in working with Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills. I hope you have acquired a basic perspective that will assist you in planning future instruction and assessment that more closely meets the individual needs of your special student. These principles work well for ALL students, so I hope you are able to apply them yourself! Happy teaching!
2001 © Judith B. Munday
For details refer to Benjamin S. Bloom, Bertram B. Mesia, and David R. Krathwohl, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (two vols: The Affective Domain & The Cognitive Domain) (New York: David McKay, 1964).
Recall of something encountered before but without having to change it, use it or understand it; facts.Comprehension
Understanding the knowledge that has been acquired without needing to relate it to other information.Application
Use of a learned concept to resolve some situation or solve a new problem in an appropriate way.Analysis
Taking something learned apart into separate components for purposes of thinking about the parts and how they fit together.Synthesis
Generating or creating something different by assembling or connecting ideas in a way that makes a whole.Evaluation
Looking at the particular value of materials, information or methods in characterizing the whole.