Bloom’s Taxonomy. Perhaps that’s a familiar pair of words. Perhaps not. In short, Bloom’s Taxonomy is an ordered list of six learning objectives designed by a committee of educators in 1956. Benjamin Bloom headed that committee, so the name went to him over time. Sounds like a homeschooler’s nightmare. Committee of educators? Many of us removed children from school to avoid having our children educated by committee. 1956? Wasn’t that when rote memorization and corporal punishment reigned? What use is that to me, a homeschooling parent?
Plenty. Consider for a moment what learning means to you. What do you want for your children’s education? Few of us would say they simply want their children to remember numerous facts, since we’re aware the knowing times tables, spelling rules, the dates of rule for England through the last 300 years, and the genus and species of the ant on the kitchen floor. No problem with knowing those things. The first two are tools that can make learning a bit more easy. The last two are perhaps, at best, lessons in rote memorization, which is a skill as well, handy in medical school and when gathering edible mushrooms.
Bloom’s Taxonomy reminds one that remembering is only the base of learning. When we ask one to locate the parts of a snail or name the states and capitals, we’re working at the bottom of the pyramid. Classical education gives four years to honing this skill in the so-called grammar stage, from grades 1 through 4, capitalizing on the sponge-like minds of our youngest kids. Montessori takes advantage of this skill as young as three, emphasizing geography and science at that young age with great success and interest. For some folks, especially when their interest is piqued, this love of knowledge acquisition never end.
Understanding is the second stage, where one classifies material by any number of criteria, grouping and regrouping. “Why?” is the question by which we often understanding. Why does the rain fall from the clouds? Why did the Civil War begin? Summarizing and narration, popular activities in many homeschooling methods, fits well into this stage, since it goes beyond simple fact and asks one to restate just what is important into his or her own words. For classical homeschooling, this takes place in the logic stage, grades 5 through 8. (Three year olds may take the prize for frequency of asking why, although not all kids really care about the answer until years later.)
For too many homeschool curricula, especially math, history, science, and language arts for the pre-high school set, this is as far as evaluation of learning goes. Most fill in the blank, short answer, and multiple choice tests require little more than these skills, although at late high school level and beyond, more may be required. Many workbooks and tests in homeschooling resources stop here for the younger 2/3 of children, only asking them to remember and understand. It’s not enough.
This is where good use of Bloom’s Taxonomy allows educators, homeschoolers and teachers and alike, to make learning really happen. The third level, applying, asks one to take that remembered, understood information and use it. This may mean making a model of a watershed or writing an example of a declarative sentence starting with an appositive and containing a prepositional phrase. Problem solving utilizing previously learned math rules, such as finding the area of a floor plan, fall into this arena. This is where knowledge starts to be manipulated and used.
Analyzing takes another jump in thought, and at the fourth level, the learner needs to manipulate information in new ways. Here, comparing and contrasting activities fit. What might have been, what could happen later, and discussing what problems occurred are all tasks of this level of thinking. Knowledge from multiple domains is manipulated, shaped and reshaped, and understanding of a bigger picture occurs.
At the fifth level, evaluating, requires the ability to judge material and create an argument to support one’s thesis. The thesis could literature based (Which character in Huckleberry Finn shows the greatest growth?), historical (Who was more responsible for the Cold War, the US or USSR? Defend your answer.), scientific (Critique Pasteur’s use of the scientific method.), or any mix of domains. Classical education’s final stage, the rhetoric stage, focuses on these very skills. Certainly success in college and beyond demands ability at this level of the taxonomy.
The sixth level, or top of the pyramid, is creating. Somehow, creating seems more valued in the traditional second grade classroom (I recall having to draw and write about an invention at age 7.) but isn’t emphasized later on. Science calls for creating and idea generation by its nature. Ask a question, devise an experiment, draw conclusions, judge what should come text. Inventing something (a machine, a methodology, even a taxonomy) or improving upon an existing one fall under this tip of the pyramid.
Of course to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create, plenty of understanding and knowing must exist. But if a seven-year old (or far younger) can invent and create, surely these needn’t be done in order. Newer science curriculum, which is often inquiry based (Quite simply, see a demonstration or model, ask questions, make inferences, then get all the vocabulary.) starts higher up the pyramid, even backwards, some may say, yet the understanding that can come from inquiry based learning is impressive.
Is it more work to hold the discussions, grade the papers, and create and score the tests that come with the higher levels of thinking? Absolutely. Do many homeschool curricula approach the elementary and middle school years this way? Absolutely not. Should this change? Absolutely.
The jobs our children will hold as adults will likely require them to create new things and ideas, to judge what is a better or worse choice, to compare options, and to apply knowledge to new situations. Whether they end up in medicine, law, engineering, education, or in the music studio over their garage, they need the same tools. Let’s not educate our kids on the first two steps of the pyramid. Let’s start early, asking them to create, evaluate, analyze, and use their knowledge.
A Very Incomplete List of Curricula Using Bloom’s Taxonomy
Michael Clay Thompson (notably the grammar recipes in the Magic Lens loops but examples exist throughout)
Suppose the Wolf Were and Octopus (questions aligned with the taxonomy, with books for kindergarten and beyond)
CPO Science (Very usable at home and inquiry based.)
Singapore Science (While the content for the elementary texts seems scant by American standards, these teach real scientific thinking quite well.)
Middle School Chemistry (Excellent inquiry science)
Singapore Math (All those Challenging Word Problem texts are great application of skills. I’ve seen nothing better for the elementary set.)
Art of Problem Solving (Fantastic curriculum for highly talented and driven math students. Pre-algebra debuts in August.)
Calculus for Young People (Discovery-based math for those in early elementary through adulthood. Don’t be scared by the title.)
Online G3 (History, Literature, Grammar and more, G3 offers classes for highly and profoundly gifted kids. Most class time for literature and history is spent on the top 4 levels of the taxonomy.)