Benjamin Samuel Bloom (February 21, 1913 – September 13, 1999) was a famous American educational psychologist and one of the most significant educators of the 20th century. His involvement in the classification of educational objectives (Bloom’s taxonomy) and the theory of mastery learning has left an unforgettable trace in education.
His work has influenced the educational practices of teachers, pedagogues, and educators all across the world. As an educator himself, Bloom understood the power of research and of relevant questions in finding answers.
Benjamin Bloom’s academic work has helped numerous teachers to make a difference, and students to achieve their true potential. He taught teachers how to set proper educational goals, and students how to fulfill those goals. His belief that practically any student can learn what’s expected of him or her if suitable learning conditions are provided made a big impact on educational psychology. So, let’s recall Benjamin Bloom’s accomplishments and see if his learning strategies can be implemented.
Benjamin Samuel Bloom was born on February 21, 1913, in a small city in Pennsylvania called Lansford. In high school, he showed superiority both in sports and education, graduating in his class of 1931 as the valedictorian. After high school, he continued his education at the Pennsylvania State University, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology in 1935. Seven years later, he obtained a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Chicago. His impressive success in education was followed by an ever more impressive career as a researcher and academic.
His passion and fame in the field of education grew stronger over time. He became a renowned educational advisor to governments of countries such as India, Israel, and many more. Benjamin Samuel Bloom died on September 13, 1999, at 86 at his home in Chicago.
Benjamin S. Bloom will be remembered by educators for presenting the world with useful educational theories and possibilities. His legacy is embedded in many publications. One of those publications is the famous Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Bloom knew that educational objectives lie beyond mere repetition. He strongly believed that talent can be developed in the many, not just found in the few. Therefore, while he was working under the mentorship of Ralph W. Tyler in Chicago, he directed his research on organizing educational objectives according to their cognitive complexity. He wanted to provide university examiners with a more reliable assessment procedure by developing a hierarchy of objectives. In 1956, his work resulted in the publication of “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain,” later on, known as Bloom’s taxonomy.
Bloom’s taxonomy is based on the idea that cognitive processes can be arranged into six levels with increasing complexity. If the student is capable of performing at a higher level, it means that he’s able to perform at all other preceding levels. So, Bloom’s taxonomy is not just a simple classification, far from it!
Bloom’s great achievement was to order cognitive processes hierarchically, and later on emotion-based affective processes. That resulted in the publication of the affective taxonomy, “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook II: The Affective Domain” in 1964. The cognitive and affective taxonomy were divided into the following categories, the first representing the lowest, and the last representing the highest level of mastery:
Cognitive, knowledge-based categories:
- Knowledge: The student recognizes and remembers facts, terms, and basic concepts.
- Comprehension: The student demonstrates and understands facts and ideas.
- Application: The student is using and applying the acquired knowledge in problem-solving situations.
- Analysis: The student is breaking complex ideas into its component, and understands their relation.
- Synthesis: An opposite process of analysis, where the student creates a structure from diverse parts to form a new meaning.
- Evaluation: The student presents and defends opinions based on the information provided.
Affective, emotion-based categories:
- Receiving: The student is willing to participate in the activity and pay attention.
- Responding: The student shows interest and actively participates in the learning process.
- Valuing: The student starts adding value to objectives, activities, phenomena, or information.
- Organizing: The student puts together different ideas, values, and information and compares them to form a reliable system of values.
- Characterizing: The student adopts a long-term system of values that is “universal, consistent, and predictable.”
Bloom’s taxonomy, in its day, was a revolutionary method for objective classification. Teachers use it to design their lesson plans and to help students progress in the process of learning, starting from the lowest level to the highest level of thinking, from basic knowledge to the process of evaluation. It’s also a powerful tool for assessment development, as it helps you match your lesson-learning objectives to any level of the cognitive domain. For example, if you teach introductory courses, you can assess students using lower-level objectives and use higher-level objectives to assess students when teaching more advanced courses. Thanks to his efforts, teachers can set clear cognitive and affective goals, and students know what’s expected of them. One thing is for certain, Bloom’s taxonomy works in favor of both teachers and students!
Uses of Bloom’s taxonomy
Bloom’s taxonomy has had a tremendous impact on education since its introduction in 1956. It’s used all across the globe by teachers as a lesson planning and assessment tool. For an even greater impact and application in practice, Bloom’s taxonomy was revised in 2001. The famous categories in the cognitive domain received equivalent verbs describing students’ actions and thinking processes. The revised taxonomy brought a new modern light to the original. It made it even more applicable in the day-to-day activities in the classroom, inspiring a high level of thinking skills. Let’s look at the verb equivalents starting from the highest level of thinking and see how to use them more effectively:
- Evaluation- Create
At the highest level of thinking, ask students to create original work using design, construction, comparison, development, investigation, imagination, and invention.
- Synthesis- Evaluate
Use the objectives in this level of the cognitive domain to motivate students to make evaluations, take a stand and justify their decision based on solid argument, critique, support, weight, verification, and value.
- Analysis- Analyze
Now’s the time for your students to find connections between ideas through experiments, questions, tests, examinations, categorization, and comparison.
- Application- Apply
Place students in a situation where they can apply their knowledge in new situations and be able to use, implement, solve, demonstrate, operate, execute and interpret information.
- Comprehension- Understand
Encourage students to classify, locate, describe, discuss, identify, recognize, and explain ideas.
- Knowledge- Remember
Make sure students memorize, repeat, list, define, duplicate, and state facts and basic concepts.
For ever more effective use of Bloom’s taxonomy in your classroom, design activities that will challenge your students to move from the basic thinking processes to a higher, more complex level of thinking where they’ll be able to evaluate and create. To do so, try asking the right questions. Questions that will initiate thinking at a particular cognitive level by using the appropriate verbs.
Developing learning outcomes
The original, or revised Bloom’s taxonomy is a powerful tool for developing learning outcomes.
Why you may ask?
Simply because it explains the learning methods. For example,
- For students to understand the concept, they must remember it.
- To apply the concept, they first need to understand it.
- To evaluate a procedure, they first must have analyzed it.
- To get to a correct conclusion, they first must conduct a thorough evaluation.
Remember, you don’t have to start at the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy and work your way up with your students (one concept at a time). Try taking into consideration the level of thinkers in your class and start from there. That way, both you and your students will enjoy the learning process.
Now, let’s follow Benjamin Bloom’s footsteps and perceive education as an exercise in optimism and a determination to fulfill human potential. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries by trying to make a difference. Start setting proper level-based objectives and never stop challenging your students!
Criticism of Bloom’s taxonomy
The following criticisms have been raised against Bloom’s taxonomy:
Ron Berger, in EdWeek (2018), wrote: “I don’t assume that Benjamin Bloom and his team, or the group who revised his pyramid, necessarily intended for us to see these skills as discrete or ranked in importance… But my experience suggests that what most of us take away from this pyramid is the idea that these skills are discrete and hierarchical. That misconception undermines our understanding of teaching and learning.”
“Learning is not a hierarchy or a linear process. This graphic gives the mistaken impression that these cognitive processes are discrete and that it’s possible to perform one of these skills separately from others. It also gives the mistaken impression that some of these skills are more difficult and more important than others.”
“The root problem with the framework is that it does not accurately represent the way that we learn things. We don’t start by remembering things, then understand them, then apply them, and move up the pyramid in steps as our capacity grows. Instead, much of the time we build understanding by applying knowledge and by creating things.”
Doug Lemov is concerned that the construction of the pyramid places knowledge/remembering at the bottom of the stack, an argument that others have raised in the past. Lemov argues that most teachers see knowledge because it is at the bottom of Bloom’s pyramid when Bloom intended it as its foundation.
It is “difficult to state an objective in the affective domain because they often refer to the feelings and internal processes of the mind and body that cannot be tested and measured using traditional methods.” – Richard A Santos. Assessment in the affective domain (2016).