How Does Your Homeschool Bloom?

The new Bloom Taxonomy, with skills gaining complexity as you move up the triangle.

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.)

10 thoughts on “How Does Your Homeschool Bloom?

  1. formulas, methods, curicula, … this made my brain instantly want to run the other direction.

    What I want from this homeschool experience is for my kids to know how to learn when/what they need to learn.

    • These are all pretty natural levels of learning. When we’re discussing the decay of the bird on our walking path (that’s been our hot one the past few days), we do all this naturally, organically, at least when I’m paying attention. Why do the insects eat the bird? Why do we have flies? What would happen if we didn’t? If there was no decay, what would the world be like? Or when discussing reading a child has done: What would you have done if you had been Ravenpaw? How are those two characters alike? How are they different? Bloom’s taxonomy is a structural representation of what attentive adults do with their kids ever day.

      We’re curriculum users. It sounds like you’re not. We likely want similar outcomes — kids who can learn what they need when they need it. That’s not likely to happen with a steady diet of textbooks and assignments that stay at those first two levels, which, unfortunately, is how so many are written. We’re eclectic homeschoolers, and our materials and methods change frequently, based on need and interest. But higher thinking can occur regardless of what we’re using formally or reading informally. And the skills Bloom’s Taxonomy lists are the skills of life. No need to find a book that uses them (although especially for science and math it makes life a bit easier). Just live them.

      Thanks for contributing!

  2. I’m fascinated by this Taxonomy…I like the concept and can visualize how it works for everything but math past the third level. Do you have any ideas on using it for math in the last two levels. You are right we are already doing this unknowingly in so many ways by just aking questions and having discussions with our children. I’m looking forward to doing something a bit more “formal” with this as we cast off the new year (our second at home, with twin 6th graders and a 3rd grader).

    • Good question! Creating something new with math (the skill at the top of the pyramid) can seem rather daunting. (At least it does to me.) But when math hits science (or any other domain) this level is part of the game. As part of discussion of fractions and decimals, the idea of density could be introduced. Density, or mass per unit volume (mass in the numerator, volume in the denominator) can be introduced as a concept (a set of density cubes is great here, but not necessary). Problem solving can go from here, encouraging hypothesis making, experimentation, and math. Even deciding the most effective way to display data (chart. graph, etc) involves these skills. For the fifth level, evaluation, finding a false statement or inconsistency and then supporting the correct answer would qualify. Solving the same problem two ways and discussing links between these ways, then judging (and defending the judgement) the ways is another evaluation task. Higher level math brings these tasks to light along the way.

      Calculus for Young People is full of creation, evaluation, and the lower levels. Many problems in the Singapore Challenging Word Problem books push students to choose a route to solving mulit-step problems. This requires creation of a plan and judgement along the way. Whenever mathematics is more than computation (and real mathematics always is, IMO), you’ve climbed the pyramid. When it relies on only a memorized (and then often poorly understood) algorithm, it’s likely the assignment is near the bottom of the pyramid. Playing with books like the Pappas books and other math-as-puzzle games may help. Flatland (and the Pappas books have a short similar story) can also lead to plenty of creative thinking and even creation of new worlds based on a different number of dimensions. Have fun!

  3. Such a timely post! You are right that it takes more effort on the parent’s part to make certain those higher levels. Then again, that sort of issue is why I chose to homeschool. Thanks for the great reminder.

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  5. You have me totally confused or I am not reading your article correctly. Home Schooling’s one outstanding quality is to keep the children away from Common Core yet you are supporting Singapore Math and Science of which are aligned to the Common Core – their web site states so. I am not sure what home school program you are following, but there are still some home school curriculum that is NOT aligned to the Common Core and since non-Common Core learning is one of the main objectives – please heklp me to understand where you are coming from.

    • Singapore Math and Science texts predate Common Core, and, as the name clearly indicates, aren’t American curriculum. They are outstanding materials that teach higher-order thinking skills rather than emphasize memorization of facts and algorithms. While newer editions do note that they align with Common Core, they are essentially the same books as before. Common Core happens to focus on deeper mathematical understanding, which is what Singapore materials have done all along.

      Homeschooling is by no means homogenous. Escaping Common Core or any particular curriculum or list of learning goals isn’t why we’re home. Heck, Common Core didn’t exist when we started. As I state often on this blog, we don’t follow a particular curriculum — we’re eclectic in approach. We use what works, and for us, Singapore Math continues to work as my younger son heads into 10th grade.

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