Bloom's taxonomy sucks

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Category: Education Dogma
Published on Tuesday, 01 May 2012 Written by Anonymous Teacher


750px-BloomsCogDomBloom's taxonomy of learning objectives is taught as if it were absolute fact in American teacher education programs. It finds its way into official policy in public schools and into teacher evaluation forms throughout the nation.

Most teachers have probably never questioned it's truthfulness, effectiveness, or utility. But Bloom's taxonomy sucks.

On the face of it, it seems reasonable. It makes sense, for example, that you'd have to remember (or know) some facts before you can apply them.

But what (if anything) is the difference between remembering and understanding? And how does any of this apply to teaching.

Bloom created this taxonomy for use in colleges where it was tried, and then quickly abandoned. Two of the biggest problems found were that it was impossible to agree on where to place any particular objective, and that the taxonomy proved to be useless in improving student performance.

After being abandoned by the college that spawned it, the taxonomy infested primary and secondary education where it exists today as largely unquestioned dogma.

Perhaps worst of all its effects, Bloom's taxonomy implies a hierarchy where some actions are better than others. And knowing is the lowest of the low.

This has been used by educators to rationalize abandoning actual content. Students are no longer expected to know or learn anything. Memorization is practically a four-letter-word in education. Instead, students are supposed to do 'higher level' thinking... about things they know nothing about.

You can imagine how well that works.

Imagine being asked to analyse the plans for a nuclear power plant without having learned anything about nuclear reactions, engineering, or architecture.

Here are some of my favorite criticisms of Bloom's taxonomy collected from around the web.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Invalidity
Bloom’s taxonomy is almost 50 years old. It was developed before we understood the cognitive processes involved in learning and performance. The categories or “levels” of Bloom’s taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) are not supported by any research on learning. The only distinction that is supported by research is the distinction between declarative/conceptual knowledge (which enables recall, comprehension, or understanding) and procedural knowledge (which enables application or task performance).

Unreliability
The consistent application of Bloom’s taxonomy across multiple designers/developers is impossible. Given any learning objective, it might be classified into either of the two lowest levels (knowledge or comprehension) or into any of the four highest levels (application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation) by different designers. Equally, there is no consistency in what constitutes instruction or assessment that targets separate levels. A more reliable approach is to separate objectives and practice/assessment items into those that elicit or measure declarative/conceptual knowledge from those that elicit or measure task performance/procedural knowledge.

Impracticality
The distinctions in Bloom’s taxonomy make no practical difference in diagnosing and treating learning and performance gaps. Everything above the “knowledge” level is usually treated as “higher-order thinking” anyway, effectively reducing the taxonomy to two levels.

Source: http://www.performancexpress.org/0212/mainframe0212.html#title3

and I love the phrasing of this next one. Semantic juggling... genius.

Steve-o, aka "Ignatius J. Reilly" said..... bigger problem with [the taxonomy] of Bloom. Semantic juggling, replacing one verb with another, does little to change how students actually learn. It makes little difference whether a student "knows" that Washington was the first president, or whether the the student "analyzes" whether Washington was the first president.

Source: http://teachercommons.blogspot.com/2008/04/bloom-taxonomy-criticisms.html

That reminds me of the annoyance of trying to teach the California state standards for science and being asked to make these 'higher-level' objectives. Students have to learn specific facts according to the state standards (which were made by scientific experts; not educators). Having students 'evaluate' things that they don't know does no one any good.

How exactly do you 'evaluate' that the cell membrane is semipermeable?

Commenting on the same webpage, we have:

Jonas said...

You say "...Bloom saw his work as scientific" yet there is surprisingly little solid empirical evidence to support Bloom's Model. Thus, why it is called a model or taxonomy (classification). In other words, it is not really a theory. At what point to you start to question some of these old school propaganda and behaviorist approaches?

Sorry, Jonas. No questioning of educational dogma allowed. As a teacher, you should know that by now.

Notice how Donald Clarck braces for a backlash after daring to criticise Bloom:

Sliced and diced
Since then we've had dozens of taxonomies which sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. We've had Biggs, Wills, Bateson, Belbin and dozens more. The problem with taxonomies is their attempt to pin down the complexity of cognition in a list of simple categories. In practice, learning doesn’t fall into these neat divisions. It’s a much more complex and messier set of cognitive processes.

Another danger is that crazy instructionalists, like Gagne, take these taxonomies and attempt to design learning that matches these categories, destroying much of the more useful approaches which an understanding of brain science brings; such as cognitive overload, working memory limitations, top-down processing and so on.


Thankfully, brain science has moved on and we have solid theory, especially on memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis. Using Bloom is barely more useful than phrenology when actually designing useful learning.

I am now putting on my headguard and body armour.

Source: http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2006/09/bloom-goes-boom.html

And here's another great post to give you non-teachers a glimpse inside the crazy messed-up world of American education:

For three days I went to a teaching conference that was supposed to make me a better teacher. At this conference I learned:

1. Most teachers are morons. At the conference I quite literally heard the following questions:
"What's a blackboard"
"If I'm a 7th grade teacher do you think that will have harder classes than 5th grade"

2. "Educators" speak in an illiterate garbled mess of obnoxious and useless terms. Literal words from the presenter at the conference:

Presenter: "So you really need to scaffold and watch your SIOPs. If you don't unwrap the standards and look at the PPOs you'll be birdwalking and we all know how low that is on Bloom's Taxonomy!

The crowd found this sentence to be hilarious. Lools were had all around.

Way to use a bunch of annoying buzzwords just to make yourself sound smart. You are not a lawyer or doctor and you do not need lingo. Regular human translation of that last piece of crap comment:

"You really need to plan your classes and work on teaching to the state standards. If you don't, it'll be too easy to get off topic and your kids won't learn."

American teachers are depressing, American education is sad. I have more great stories but tl;dr.

I cry for you, America.
-150cc

http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/39427/why-american-education-sucks

I love that one.

As you can see, I haven't spent much time describing what exactly Bloom's taxonomy is. There are plenty of websites that do that. My purpose here is to vent my frustration about how much it sucks.

For a really good overview of Bloom's taxonomy and why it is so very destructive, see Michael J Booker's A Roof Without Walls: Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy and the Misdirection of American Education.

Here's the abstract of Booker's article:

Plato wrote that higher order thinking could not start until the student had mastered conventional wisdom. The American educational establishment has turned Plato on his head with the help of a dubious approach to teaching developed by one Benjamin Bloom. Bloom’s taxonomy was intended for higher education, but its misappropriation has resulted in a serious distortion of the purpose of the K–12 years. Michael Booker attributes the inability of American children to compete internationally to a great extent to our reliance on Bloom in expecting critical and advanced thinking from kids who have been trained to regard facts and substantive knowledge as unimportant.

Bloom's taxonomy is a serious impediment to education in America. It needs to be uprooted and eradicated if we want to educate children in a way that actually works.

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