How I Use Bloom's Taxonomy To Reach All the Learners in My Classroom



If you're a teacher, there is a 99.234% chance that you've heard about that guy named Benjamin Bloom, creator of the infamous Bloom's Taxonomy. But have you actually used the taxonomy in your classroom? Like, really, thoughtfully used it? It's a great framework for educators to implement while planning for instruction and creating assessments that are aligned to the standards. First, though, it's important to have more than a vague idea not only of what each of the six levels of the taxonomy are, but what it means to create and implement lessons and activities that are both aligned with the consistently reach the highest levels of the taxonomy. Gifted learners NEED this consistency, and they really need to spend the majority of their learning time in the highest levels of the taxonomy. Due to their very nature as high-ability learners, it's likely that ( if they don't already know it) gifted children will move very quickly through the lowest levels of the hierarchy. In order to meet their needs, they need to be interacting with content and skills in deeper, more meaningful ways. Let's explore the taxonomy a little, and then consider some ways to strengthen the implementation of the taxonomy in your own lesson and assessment design.
hierarchy of learning,  and reaching towards allowing students to

Bloom's 101

First a little crash/refresher course, a Bloom's 101-ish type review of the important aspects of where the taxonomy originated, and how it has evolved.

Benjamin Bloom and some colleagues first published their framework for learning in 1956. Their motivation was really creating a way to categorize educational goals. They called it "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives", but eventually it became more widely known as Bloom's Taxonomy. (Am I the only one who feels bad for the colleagues of his who don't get much credit for this creation? Sorry, I digress.) It was created with six categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The Comprehension level and every level above that Bloom considered to be skills and abilities; they were things that could only be achieved after the knowledge was already in place.

Here is a simple graphic I found that shows the original taxonomy:



Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching has a great article outlining the six levels of the taxonomy. Here is an excerpt of their definitions of the levels, based on their interpretation of the original publication:

"Here are the authors’ brief explanations of these main categories in from the appendix of Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Handbook One, pp. 201-207):

  • Knowledge “involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.”
  • Comprehension “refers to a type of understanding or apprehension such that the individual knows what is being communicated and can make use of the material or idea being communicated without necessarily relating it to other material or seeing its fullest implications.”
  • Application refers to the “use of abstractions in particular and concrete situations.”
  • Analysis represents the “breakdown of a communication into its constituent elements or parts such that the relative hierarchy of ideas is made clear and/or the relations between ideas expressed are made explicit.”
  • Synthesis involves the “putting together of elements and parts so as to form a whole.”
  • Evaluation engenders “judgments about the value of material and methods for given purposes.”

The 1984 edition of Handbook One is available in the CFT Library in Calhoun 116. See itsACORN record for call number and availability."
In 2001, a former student of Bloom's decided to revise the taxonomy to include verbs as descriptors instead of nouns for each of the levels, because verbs imply action, and are more fitting to the fact that learning is an active process.

The revised taxonomy is summarized beautifully in this table from Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. It's easy to see how the cognitive process moves from lower order thinking skills like remembering and understanding up into the highest levels of thinking: evaluating and creating.

So, now what?

Now that you remember and perhaps understand the taxonomy, it's time to learn how to apply the learning. Start by analyzing what you're doing in your classroom already-- evaluate your current curricular materials, including your learning objectives and assessments. Are they helping you to reach the highest levels of the taxonomy? There is a good chance that the materials you're using are not going much beyond the first three levels of the hierarchy. So, now it's time to create materials and build lessons and objectives that help your students learn and achieve at the highest levels. 

Getting into the habit

Crafting Questions, Lessons, and Assessments That Employ Higher Order Thinking 

One of the first things I found helpful when I set a goal for myself to be more mindful of reaching for those higher order thinking skills with more intention was to first teach the taxonomy to my students. Yep. I said it. Teach it. To them

You know how you have accountability partners when you start a new workout plan, or you have certain people in your life that you ask to help keep you on track when you're trying to reach new goals you've set for yourself? Well, aside from a teacher friend in your building to whom you can talk each day about how you think you did, or an administrator who can tell you how they think you're doing, there is an easy, effective solution to help get you started and keep you going. And the solution happens to be sitting right in front of you. Times 25. I'm serious. You can teach Bloom's Taxonomy to your students, and they will help you stick with it. 

When I taught the taxonomy to my students, I used an analogy from one of my favorite teacher authors, Jen Jones from Hello Literacy.  She has a passion for literacy instruction, but she also has a background in gifted education, which is how I stumbled upon her years ago. She created a set of posters that equate Bloom's taxonomy to cell phone signal strength. So smart, right? It is probably difficult to find a child, even in the youngest classrooms, who isn't at least aware of those little bars on the mobile phone, right? Take a look at what the posters look like in my classroom: 



Here is a closer look, right from Jen Jones' blog, Hello Literacy: 




SO great, right? (You can link to her blog by clicking on the picture directly above, and you can buy her posters for yourself here.) The nice thing for me about the posters, aside from how they made a really dynamic display on my classroom wall, is that they were a constant reminder for me and my students about our goal to strive for the highest levels of thinking each and every day. It's a little tricky to see in the picture, but there are verbs on each of the poster that also help us to do things like creating questions easily during a discussion of ANY topic, and design activities while lesson planning, keeping the levels in mind all the while. And the best part about using this in your classroom and getting the students involved? They will help you. With practice, they will use the display when developing their own questions, they will recognize when you are doing activities in the upper levels, and they might even call you out if they see you spending too much time on lower order thinking. It truly is amazing (and helpful) to involve your students on this journey. 

Another thing that helped me design better lessons, activities, questions, and assessments was by having a (bigger) list of those verbs, along with a set of question stems and possible activities right in my plan book. One important thing to keep in mind as you're planning--it's really important when you're designing (or finding) curriculum and assessments for your students that you match the verbs in the standards to the verbs in your objectives and assessments. You can locate the verb on the Bloom's chart, and then make sure that at a very minimum, your students are able to complete tasks that are aligned in their depth and complexity with the expectations of your standards.

If you search Bloom's question stems, you'll come up with TONS of search results, but here are a couple of quick links: 

Bloom's Taxonomy --These are aligned to the older version of Bloom's, but still very valuable, as the document contains questions, activities, and assessment ideas. 

What kinds of activities are aligned with Bloom's? 

The activities for the lowest levels of the hierarchy are fairly straightforward and likely to happen in the duration of a regular day. You know these ones--making lists, reading fact charts, doing worksheets, writing summaries, etc. So, in order to help get your wheels turning a little more here are some examples of activities I've done in my classroom that employed higher order thinking skills and, side note--these activities are FUN! And when children have fun in the classroom, they learn better! (You can read more about that here.)

Here, my fifth-grade students are playing with peer-invented board games.  The games included the creation of complex math problems that aligned to whatever math topic we were studying at the time. And you better believe that they were not allowed to create problems that were lower than the application level of Bloom's!

Below, students are also playing another student-created board game. They LOVED creating the games, and they also really loved playing the games on game day. I loved the activities because they were working on the highest levels of the taxonomy, meeting learning standards, getting extra practice with math skills, and of course, having FUN!



The picture below is of an art project that a dear colleague and fellow creative thinker, Mrs. Scalli and I worked on implementing. We found the idea on NCTM's Illuminations website and adapted it for our classrooms. Students had a list of "must include" geometrical ideas that they put into their paintings. We integrated a little art history lesson about an artist named Wassily Kandinsky, whose paintings were often created as interpretations of feelings he had while listening to music. Students also had to write an artist's statement to describe to us how their geometry elements and colors helped create the mood of their painting, using mathematically accurate and relevant vocabulary. Again, students were engaged in high-level thinking, with a fun and creative activity and the results were awesome, as you can see.





Finally,  like I've mentioned in previous posts, part of my mission is to help others use strategies in their classroom that are relevant and meaningful in meeting the needs of gifted learners, I will share with you here a book unit that I just created, with activities for EACH of the level in Bloom's Taxonomy.

Using picture books with Bloom's activities is a really great way to reach your gifted learners, particularly in the lower to mid-elementary age, because there are many picture books that are filled with rich vocabulary and complex concepts and ideas that your gifted children will really enjoy working with.

The added bonus is that some of the best picture books for young children are actually written at higher readability levels so you can give your littlest students books that are aligned with their instructional reading level. The other thing I love about using notable picture books with gifted children is that although the books are sometimes written at a fourth- or fifth-grade reading level, the content in the book is generally more appropriate than some of the other options. If you have been working with a gifted student (or you have one living with you at home), you are likely very familiar with the difficulty of finding content-appropriate books for your advanced readers (it can be SO hard sometimes, right?).
I created the unit based on an Irish Folktale, "Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato," by Tomie DePaola, which is a story about a lazy man who gets tricked by a leprechaun into taking a magic potato seed instead of his pot of gold. It has lower level activities in it, like making a timeline of the story's events and answering comprehension questions, but it also has higher level activities like using descriptive language to create a soundscape for a favorite scene in the book. Children can also write a book review, but it has to be in the style (and length) of a tweet. Holding a debate, creating a board game, or developing an advertisement for the leprechaun's magic seed are also tasks that encourage lots of creative and critical thinking. You can click on the picture below if you want to know more. This is the first in a series I will be creating, so if you find yourself liking this product, make sure you follow my store, Soaring with Snyder, on Teacherspayteachers.com.



If you're into offering students choices and powering up their learning by using Bloom's Taxonomy in your classroom, here are just a few of the time-saving resources that are ready to print and go to work for you! Click on the pictures below to access these documents and others. 










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2 comments

  1. It’s really good to know about Bloom's Taxonomy. I am a teacher at a Phoenix pre-k but never used this taxonomy in my classroom. But after reading this post, will definitely be using it in class. Thanks for this interesting post!

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    1. I'm so glad you found this post helpful! Using Bloom's Taxonomy starting in pre-k is a FANTASTIC idea! Good luck to you! Those students are lucky to have you!

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