In the mid-1950s, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues devised an organizational system for categorizing levels of learning and cognitive complexity. This system has been used extensively in curriculum development for all grade levels and in higher education. It has also more recently been modified and updated. The updated Bloom’s taxonomy model is precious for organizing classroom activities, developing curriculum, and constructing assessment methods. Below is a simplified version of the updated model of Bloom’s taxonomy proposed by Anderson and Krathwol.(Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001)
The taxonomy is divided into six different levels, with each level representing an increase in cognitive complexity. It is valuable to look at questions that may appear on a quiz or test and see where they fit in each one of these levels. Here are the six levels and some action verbs that you can use when constructing classroom objectives, activities or assessment questions:
Level 1: Remember
This level indicates the ability to recall content or factual information.
Action verbs: recognize, recall, identify, name, list
Level 2: Understand
This level indicates the ability to comprehend information more than just merely memorizing content or facts.
Action verbs: interpret, exemplify, classify, summarize, describe, compare, explain, illustrate
Level 3: Apply
This level indicates the ability to apply understood information to a new and unique situation or circumstance.
Action verbs: execute, perform, use, carry out
Level 4: Analyze
This level indicates the ability to break down a concept into separate parts.
Action verbs: differentiate, discriminate, organize, find, distinguish, select
Level 5: Evaluate
This level indicates the ability to judge or evaluate some aspect of the content in reference or comparison to a previously established standard.
Action verbs: check, recruit, judge, detect, assess
Level 6: Create
This level indicates the ability to create a unique expression of the content by pulling together separate parts.
Action verbs: generate, plan, design, construct, create, produce
There is currently a great deal of buzz in the education community about developing critical thinking skills in our students. The upper levels of this taxonomy are generally more effective in the development of these critical thinking skills. However, in many cases, simple recognition, memorization, or understanding of content information is essential before critical thinking skills can be engaged.
For example, critical thinking skills are vital in recognizing what might be causing a client’s shoulder pain. Here’s what a level 5 multiple choice question might look like:
Which of the following patterns would be likely for a client that has supraspinatus tendinosis? The client has pain with:
a. active and resisted abduction
b. passive medial and lateral rotation
c. active extension and resisted medial rotation
d. active medial and lateral rotation
In this question, the student is not just regurgitating memorized information but must apply a variety of concepts to evaluate which ones would be most likely to indicate pain for a client with the stated condition. That is a question focused on level 5 in the taxonomy.
However, part of that analysis might also involve recognizing what the four rotator cuff muscles are and noting that supraspinatus is one of them. Critical thinking skills aren’t of prime importance if the individual is trying to identify what the four rotator cuff muscles are (a level 1 question). Here’s what that level 1 multiple choice question might look like:
Which of the following is one of the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder?
b. latissimus dorsi
d. serratus anterior
Just because a question is in one of the early levels doesn’t mean it isn’t essential. We must keep in mind what type of cognitive mastery we are aiming for with our students for each of these items.
A good educator will recognize when information is appropriate for each of the different levels. Unfortunately, many of us were not trained to look at curriculum content through this lens of increasing cognitive complexity. Many of the standardized tests put way too much emphasis on level 1 questions, which may only test content memorization. We should strive for a wide variety of lesson and assessment activities that use different levels and use them appropriately. Doing so produces a much more lasting understanding and application of our intended learning outcomes.
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing. New York: Longman.
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