Designing Effective Projects : Thinking Skills Frameworks
Bloom's Taxonomy: A New Look at an Old Standby
Original Hierarchy of Thinking Processes
In 1956, Benjamin Bloom wrote Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive Domain, and his six-level description of thinking has been widely adapted and used in countless contexts ever since. His list of cognitive processes is organized from the most simple, the recall of knowledge, to the most complex, making judgments about the value and worth of an idea.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Original)

Skill Definition Key Words
Knowledge Recall information Identify, describe, name, label, recognize, reproduce, follow
Comprehension Understand the meaning, paraphrase a concept Summarize, convert, defend, paraphrase, interpret, give examples
Application Use the information or concept in a new situation Build, make, construct, model, predict, prepare
Analysis Break information or concepts into parts to understand it more fully Compare/contrast, break down, distinguish, select, separate
Synthesis Put ideas together to form something new Categorize, generalize, reconstruct
Evaluation Make judgments about value

Appraise, critique, judge, justify, argue, support  

Today’s world is a different place, however, than the one Bloom’s Taxonomy reflected in 1956. Educators have learned a great deal more about how learners learn and teachers teach and now recognize that teaching and learning encompasses more than just thinking. It also involves the feelings and beliefs of learners and teachers as well as the social and cultural environment of the classroom.

Several cognitive psychologists have worked to make the basic concept of a taxonomy of thinking skills more relevant and accurate. In developing his own taxonomy of educational objectives, Marzano (2000) points out one criticism of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The very structure of the Taxonomy, moving from the simplest level of knowledge to the most difficult level of evaluation, is not supported by research. A hierarchical taxonomy implies that each higher skill is composed of the skills beneath it; comprehension requires knowledge; application requires comprehension and knowledge, and so on. This, according to Marzano, is simply not true of the cognitive processes in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The originators of the original six thinking processes assumed that complex projects could be labelled as requiring one of the processes more than the others. A task was primarily an “analysis” or an “evaluation” task. This has been proven not to be true which may account for the difficulty that educators have classifying challenging learning activities using the Taxonomy. Anderson (2000) argues that nearly all complex learning activities require the use of several different cognitive skills.

Like any theoretical model, Bloom’s Taxonomy has its strengths and weaknesses. Its greatest strength is that it has taken the very important topic of thinking and placed a structure around it that is usable by practitioners. Those teachers who keep a list of question prompts relating to the various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy undoubtedly do a better job of encouraging higher-order thinking in their learners than those who have no such tool. On the other hand, as anyone who has worked with a group of educators to classify a group of questions and learning activities according to the Taxonomy can attest, there is little consensus about what seemingly self-evident terms like “analysis,” or “evaluation” mean. In addition, so many worthwhile activities, such as authentic problems and projects, cannot be mapped to the Taxonomy, and trying to do that would diminish their potential as learning opportunities.

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