15 February 2023

Benjamin Bloom and the art of Cognitive Learning

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom, an American Education Psychologist, created a taxonomy of measurable verbs, to help teachers classify observable knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviours and abilities. By using these verbs, teachers are better able to set the learning expectations from their students across the cognitive hierarchy, as well as enable them to use a common curricular vocabulary to discuss evaluation problems, with greater precision.

In 1991, Lorin Anderson (a student of Bloom) revised the taxonomy, and this was further revised in 2001 by David Krathwohl. The current taxonomy of verbs moves up the ladder from the base remember understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and finally, the highest level, create.

By using the taxonomy, educators are now able to map the learning stage within a single lesson or across a whole course. It allows them to gauge a learner’s progress. It helps teachers evaluate which level every learner is on and assign individual tasks to help them speed up or catch up with the class.

How do teachers use this global framework? Here are some examples.

To gauge remembering true or false, multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks are used to test memory – some things need to be learnt by rote such as the language they speak in Spain.

Questions can be framed to test memory. For example, “Name the different types of cloud formations.” OR “How would you identify a Cirrus cloud formation?”

At the understanding level, students are expected to interpret facts, rather than simply state them. So, they could be asked to describe how various types of clouds are formed, rather than merely naming cloud types. “How would you differentiate between, Cirrus, Alto, Cumulus, and Stratus cloud formations?”

At the application level, students are required to use information provided to them or in the domain of common knowledge, to create a viable solution to a mock (or real) problem.

For example, we could ask “If Altocumulus cloud formations are seen, especially in a tower shape, what does that indicate about the weather?” OR “What weather predictions can you make, by studying the cloud formations?”

By using subjective and objective information, layered by their own judgement, students can analyze a situation, find patterns to solve problems.

Here, we take the question to the next level, by asking students to make judgement calls. For example, “Kindly study the following images of Cumulonimbus cloud formations and decide which way the weather is moving and parts of India that may be affected over the next 36 hours.”

At the next level of cognitive learning, which is evaluation, teachers tax the minds of students by providing data and asking learners to create new theories and draw conclusions. There may or may not be a right or a wrong answer at this stage to learning.

“These are images of cloud patterns over Cuttack in Odisha for the same day and month, over the past 10 years, along with temperature and humidity readings. In your opinion or judgement, how has the weather been changing, if at all, and what should we be prepared for over the next two years?”

Having moved beyond evaluating a problem, students now are able to make judgements, ask questions, and invent something new (maybe a solution to a nagging problem).

Over time, such exercises help students become global citizens, using their cognitive skills to contribute to industry and society at large.

It is a challenge for all educators to wear their thinking caps and create an environment in the classroom where students are best able to utilize the various teaching formats to quickly scale the Bloom Taxonomy hierarchy. Nothing gives a teacher more pleasure that to see a student’s hold their own in a debate, using their critical analytical skills to make sense of the world around them and contribute meaningfully to outcomes.

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