I love Bloom’s Taxonomy. I literally have a picture on my phone, another pinned to my bulletin board by my desk, one in my marking bag, and a copy saved to the desktop of every computer I work on in the school, plus one on my H: drive and my flash drives…err…make that flash drives. Oh, and I completely forgot about the pretty laminated one gifted to me by my friend, Katie Marren. So, you could say I have a bit of a Bloom’s problem, but it is wonderful problem to have!
I use Bloom’s Taxonomy when I make learning scales. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I created a learning scale framework for my school so teachers could more easily implement a gradeless communication system with students and parents…blah blah blah. You’ve heard it before. While the framework seems simple enough, it is how one frames their own learning scales with regards to the curricular competencies that is the tricky business. It is easy enough to use the standard framework to assess anything: tests, assignments, and projects. But to truly reap the benefits of going gradeless, building scales to fit individual curricular competencies is gold. That’s where Bloom’s comes in!
In short, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a organized set of verbs that run from lower level thinking objectives (knowledge, comprehension, and application) to higher level thinking objectives (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation). It classifies educational learning objectives. For me, it’s an incredibly convenient way to unpack and manipulate the curricular competencies and understand the complexity of them.
The curricular competencies are incredibly vague….pathetically vague! I believe that is why many teachers would prefer to skim over them with a halfheartedness akin to reading a boring novel. They are hard to nail down. They seem difficult to decode because of that vagueness. It takes a Bloom’s view to get a handle on it.
At the heart of the curricular competencies are verbs that we are obligated to understand if we are to assess them correctly: assess, refine, create, explore, describe, interpret, model, justify, etc. Too often, teachers make assumptions about what these verbs, and others, mean, or use the curricular competencies more like workbook headings hoping that tests, quizzes, and assignments magically fall into them as categories. Truth is, each competency is a skill that needs to be carefully and meticulously broken down so we actually assess that particular competency. Bloom’s Taxonomy helps define and make sense of the curricular competencies. This takes work, but once unpacked, the curricular competencies are illuminated.
Let’s take a look at a curricular competency. I’ll even look at one that has nothing to do with Social Studies, English or Drama, my background,…to be fair. Here’s a Physical Education 8 curricular competency: Develop and apply a variety of movement concepts and strategies in different physical activities. That curricular competency falls under the Application section in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Developing and applying are not knowledge or comprehension skills; however, knowledge and comprehension skills would lay the foundation and framework for this skill. Let’s make this easier. Think…house building. Foundation skills are like the concrete foundation for a house…same idea. The next step might be the framing of the house. (Ok…I’m not a house builder…but you get the metaphor.) If I was a PE teacher, the knowledge and comprehension skills that lay the foundation and framework for this skill would not be assessed here for this curricular competency. Concrete foundations and a 2×4′ frameworks are not yet a house. Any knowledge or comprehension skills taught leading up to this skills would and should be formative (not assessed). PE teachers are phenomenally good descriptive feedback gurus (very much like Drama teachers…😉), so feedback for this foundation & framework work will be easy. They can give feedback on the quality of the concrete foundation and the structural integrity of the frame. Then, students are set to work on the actual skill, develop and apply. Students actually have to show their teacher how they are using various movement concepts. The scale for this curricular competency is the extent by which the student shows proficiency. In other words, to what extent can the student develop and apply a variety of movement concepts and strategies in different physical activities? The house is built now. Assessing the proficiency of the house. Assessing the proficiency of this skill. The teacher assesses this skill development over the course of the course. Think…building several houses. Assessing each house and noting the improvement. Are you with me so far?
What if the verb is hard to unpack or define? The key words in Bloom’s Taxonomy allow teachers the freedom to associate any of the other words in the list with the one in the curricular competency. They could use practice or demonstrate or make use of, for example. Those would work. There are many possibilities. If and when a teacher gets stuck on a curricular competency or a key verb in a curricular competency, they can refer to Bloom’s and make more sense of it. It’s awesome!
Not only does Bloom’s Taxonomy help make sense of the curricular competency verbs, they also validate those formatively assessed foundation and framework skills. Bloom’s actually takes the pressure off of teachers who feel the need to put a mark in a gradebook for everything students do. Assessment, of course, can take on many different configurations. Descriptive feedback, for example, is one way to check to see if a student has reached proficiency in a foundation skills, like knowledge concepts for Social Studies or Science (and others), for example. But it is important for teachers to leave those out of their calculations for an overall mark. It inaccurately inflates or deflates a skill assessment (curricular competency). As soon as a student reaches the skill verb in the learning journey, then…THEN start assessing that skill. Take a snapshot of learning. Let kids try and fail. Keep recording those snapshots and show growth. But use Bloom’s Taxonomy to see where exactly the curricular competency verb is…first!
So what’s the hangup? Why are some teachers sticking with their tried and true, traditional assessment values and not taking the Bloom plunge and kicking up amazing learning scales?
I have a thought on this. Of course I have a thought on this.
Some teachers don’t like change. These are fantastic teachers who have meticulously created a well oiled machine of a classroom. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? It’s true. Once one unpacks the curricular competencies, they see the heart of the skill. Once one understands the heart of the skill, one sees how the skill needs to be assessed. Once one sees how the skills needs to be assessed, suddenly one realize that many…of…their current assignments don’t… actually… measure… that skill. Ah…there’s the rub. Panic. Time to go back to the drawing board. It means dismantling some of their machines. It means buying a new model. It means work. Hard work. That’s scary. I get it.
The new curriculum means that some of our current, well established practices need to go in the recycling or up-cycling bin. It means tweaking our existing practices and trusting the process. It’s hard work. I don’t get paid any extra to do it. But kids matter. I am seeing the positive effects of assessing only the curricular competencies. I’m free to eliminate foundation and framework skills that used to inundated and pad my marks book. I get to be creative in the way in which I see the skills themselves. Imagine a new, better, shinier machine!
I’m also held to higher standard now. I have to authentically answer the question: does this work I’m giving my students actually teach them the skill? Maybe I need to create a new lesson or unit or project. I’m not held to that unrealistic standard that every skill means a kid needs to write an essay. It means I get to glorify and play with the skills in order to allow my creativity to shine. It’s something to celebrate. And I know that over time and on this journey, my students will appreciate it. They’ll grow those skills! I’ll grow my skills!
Now where did I put my Bloom’s Taxonomy….?