Whenever I have spoken to my personal tutor or other staff at Birmingham City University, as well as my colleagues at my host school, they all have commented positively on my use of Bloom’s Taxonomy in my lesson plans and have praised the detail of my planning overall. As a teacher, it is easy to identify a need for reflection when faced with a deal of criticism, but perhaps it is equally as important to understand why something is going well and what can be done even better to ensure continued success.
Indeed, such reflective practice is supported by standards set by the Education & Training Foundation in regards to Further Education teachers and lecturers such as myself, namely PS 1, 2, and 10. (Education & Training Foundation, 2014)
For the unacquainted, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a set of domains that classify learning objectives by complexity developed by United States psychologist Benjamin Bloom. These domains are cognitive (knowledge-based), affective (emotion-based), and psychomotor (action-based). (Bloom, 1979) For the purposes of this writing, the scope will be limited to the cognitive domain as they are what I use explicitly in my learning objectives, which are traditionally defined as in order of increasing complexity:
Breakdown of my usage
All of my lesson plans will typically consist of three objectives containing verbs that fall into Bloom categories and are colour-coded within the document accordingly. A wider-reaching aim in the ‘SO THAT’ format might also be included to help plan and guide the overall scheme of work. For example, the following objectives were used for a Year 12 programming class (NB: colour-coding is not included as it is not supported on this platform) :
- Explain what CSS is and how it is used to complement HTML
- Employ a range of CSS code onto existing HTML to provide it with presentational formatting
- Combine existing work with CSS to produce a more elaborate end product
The first two objectives address the lower stages of the taxonomy – the ability to regurgitate information regarding the topic (in this case, CSS / cascading stylesheets) with limited understanding and being able to comprehend and apply the newly acquired knowledge in the form of practical programming tasks, and then ultimately synthesise new work altogether.
The benefits and drawbacks in my teaching life
Having three learning objectives across different stages of the taxonomy allow for clear and realistic targets for the diverse abilities in my class, as well as providing clear guidance on what should be assessed in the class’ Assessment for Learning. Resources for both classroom assignments and homework are easier to develop and scope to the specific needs of the class, as they should look to facilitate those defined learning objectives.
Following a discussion with my university personal tutor, I began to colour-code aspects of teaching resources, PowerPoint presentations, and other items used by both myself and my students to provide a subtle link back to the learning objectives announced at the beginning of the class, without explicitly needing to let them know. From my experience, this appears to provide some subconscious direction as to how what the students get up to relates to what they are required to learn for assessment (whether that be an exam or for coursework) and reduces the number of questions asked by demotivated or bored students as to how the current task ‘is relevant’ or ‘matters’ in the grand scheme of the course. Exploring whether or not other teachers find similar results would be an interesting basis for academic and / or classroom-based research, and a simple way of improving everyday teaching resources and learning materials, though one must take inclusivity (particularly colour-blindness and how colours might render on coloured paper for dyslexia, etc.) into consideration should it become more significant in one’s teaching.
The main drawback however from meticulously designing lessons and resources around three predetermined Bloom objectives is the time overhead. Whilst my lesson plans are detailed and meet all known school (and in the case of formal observations, university-based) criteria, classes take extensive amounts of time to plan due to having not become efficient at the process yet. I understand that with time and experience I will become more efficient at the process as I am constantly reassured of this by qualified teachers, some of whom have decades in the profession under their belts.
Does research support their usage and my opinions thereof
Looking first at research that focuses on computer science or software engineering specific tuition, Niazi (2013) found that the higher taxonomies of the cognitive domain are immensely useful for teaching software engineering to university students, with the other domains, whilst proving ‘helpful overall’, are not necessarily appropriate for higher level students due to their inherent simplicity.
I would argue that while that is absolutely the case for Stretch & Challenge students, such tiers of the taxonomy should still be looked at in the delivery of curriculum, as it is especially the case for incoming students of Computer Science that some students will have had prior programming and/or computer science experience at school, college, etc. and others will have not, depending on the university’s entry requirements – meaning that dramatic divisions in student ability are a challenge that must be prepared for. At Aberystwyth University where I previously enrolled as both an undergraduate and taught postgraduate student in these fields, I observed this to be the case, and can comment that at the time it was positively handled by lecturing staff.
On the other hand, Case (2013) in a critical review of the use of Bloom’s taxonomy explored some of the disadvantages and downsides of its use, specifically that over-dependence on action verbs and their usage as an indicator for understanding or having achieved the level of comprehension and creates a ‘false confidence’ in the assessment of learning. Case also argues that understanding or comprehension of a subject matter should not be so overlooked or perceived in a simplistic manner and that it nevertheless requires aspects of critical thinking to even comprehend.
Final reflections and conclusion
I believe that my usage of Bloom’s action verbs and the taxonomy is a positive foundation for my work as a trainee teacher and that it is something that I should continue to build upon. Whilst it is frustrating when presented with a large workload that planning can take substantial amounts of time, I should make efforts to simplify and make more efficient areas that I can, provided that does not subtract from the overall quality of the planning. Furthermore, I should remain confident that like all practical skills, it is something that I will become more efficient with as I progress in my career, learning from my peers and from literature wherever possible.
Nevertheless, the literature explored provides an important warning of the overdependence on methodologies, and that I should always critically consider their usage rather than following them for the sake of convention. I should be ready and willing to challenge and critique my own teaching methodology, as per the aforementioned professional standards, should it become apparent that further improvements can be made, or that simply a better way of doing things comes to light.
- Bloom, B. S. (1979). Taxonomy of educational objectives. London: Longman.
- Case, R. (2013). The Unfortunate Consequences of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Social Education, 77(4), 196-200.
- Education & Training Foundation (ETF). (2014). Professional Standards for FE Teachers. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.et-foundation.co.uk/supporting/support-practitioners/professional-standards/
- Niazi, M. (2013). Teaching global software engineering: Planning and preparation using a bloom’s taxonomy. In Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering (Vol. 1).