It sounds very high brow – however, it’s not! Bloom is simply the name of the person who devised this idea and taxonomy simply means to categorise or classify
So what is being categorised or classified?
‘Thinking’ is the quick and accurate answer! Bloom researched what really made people think and what didn’t require much of the grey matter to be engaged. These thinking skills were further grouped into two categories, lower order thinking skills and higher order thinking skills. I’ll start with the first of the lower order thinking skills, a familiar term called…
At the bottom of the pile is remembering or recalling, a fairly straight forward task for the brain, this kind of thinking is very useful for pub quizzes, mental maths warm-ups and trying to join in with ‘who wants to be a millionaire’. It’s the ‘you either know it or you don’t’ type of thinking. It may be at the bottom of the pile, but it’s incredibly important for learning; it is the prior knowledge on which you will build future learning. In the classroom this type of thinking is evident when children are labelling diagrams or maybe the teacher is probing prior knowledge, for example, what is a verb? Remembering or recall is the first of the ‘lower order thinking skills’
As we move up Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking (or down or across – whichever way you choose to view it) we arrive at understanding. If we understand something it means that we can use it in the future. It means we can summarise pieces of information because we know what they mean and what the message is. This kind of thinking is useful for comprehension of text, pictures, the spoken word and predicting outcomes; the learner will know what something means. In the classroom you might hear the teacher ask, what does this symbol mean? Or why are verbs important in writing or in maths why does 12+57=69? Activities that require this sort of thinking might be when children are asked to summarise a piece of text, or asked to talk about the steps in a scientific investigation cycle.
The last of the so called lower order thinking skills is applying. It could be argued that in schools this is a far as we get (Not the schools fault, more the fault of the constraints (mainly time) in which a school operates). However, applying is a very important skill and one that certainly should not be ignored. Maths is often associated with applying, for example children may use (Apply) their understanding of multiplication to solve a word problem, however in literacy if we use the example of the ‘verb’ again; children will not only be expected to know what it is and explain why it is important, they’ll move on to using it in their own writing. The more independently the learner can use prior learning to a new situation, the better they are at applying their learning. Children can also be encouraged to consider where their new learning could be used, for example ask the children to list three new situations where their new learning can be used – this sort of activity can also reinforce meaning and therefore improves the chances of retention.
That brings us to the end of the ‘lower order thinking skills’. Calling them lower order can seem a little harsh, however this is based on the how complex the thinking is. For a brain of over 100 billion neurons, if taught properly, remembering, understanding and applying are a reasonably straight forward task for most of us.
The next three thinking skills are the ‘higher order thinking skills’, a set of skills that sets the brain a more complex task, requiring more of the ‘cogs’ to set in motion. The first of the higher order thinking skills is…
Ok, so you know the story of Cinderella (remembering), you understand the why she had to run like the wind at midnight (understanding) and maybe you even had a go at the acting out a scene yourself (Applying) – but what comes next? Well, according to Bloom; analysing! Analysing means to break things up into its component parts, considering what makes them different and what makes them the same or similar. The learner may also be asked to differentiate between facts and opinions, or sort objects in different piles. In the classroom, activities that require this type of thinking could be to sort a set of numbers into three categories of your choice (If the categories are chosen by the teacher then it could be argued that this would simply be an ‘understanding’ task). Separating fact and opinion in a piece of text will also require the skills of analysis. Analysing is the first of the higher order thinking skills.
Evaluating requires ‘bits’ from the other thinking skills to be effective; for example if you don’t understand a piece of text, you are highly unlikely to be able to analyse it and therefore won’t be able to evaluate it – this makes evaluating a tricky task for the brain! Evaluating means to judge, assess or critique text, objects, films, poetry, the learning process etc. The ‘Why’ question is critical to this skill, in order to judge or assess you must have good reason, to have good reasons you must have an idea what success and failure looks like and this means either using or choosing a success criteria. Let’s take a look at Cinderella again; who was the worst ugly sister? To complete this task you would have to come up with criteria for what is meant by a ‘worst’ ugly sister, the criteria would help with reasoning and ultimately aid the decision, ironically learners would have to analyse the behaviours of the two hags to in order to evaluate (hopefully by now you realise that evaluating is a complex skill.) Consider this, when children are asked ‘What have you learned today?’ a confident answer usually follows, but what happens if they are asked ‘How do you know?’ (You have learned this) A much more complex answer is required; children will need to reflect on the success
criteria to answer this question – This is why success criteria are an essential component of good learning in the classroom.
This is the most complex level of thinking. Creating doesn’t just mean submerging you hand in paint and making pretty pictures on paper, it’s far more than that. It means using what you know, understand, can apply, analyse and evaluate to create a thought or outcome that is completely new. Now this might sound like you need Stephen Hawking in you classroom but actually you don’t’. Let’s looks again at Cinderella (I know it’s boring by now but it provides a common thread!) and combine this story with some ‘What if’ questions (What if questions are a great creativity tool!), for example, what if Cinderella had two ugly brothers? What if both of Cinderella’s feet fell off when she ran away from the ball? How would the story be different? These might sound like silly questions, but without an in-depth view of the story, children would not be able to answer them. In science you might ask what would happen if the moon disappeared?… this would test children’s understanding of orbits, moon phases, eclipses and tidal patterns, so whilst the question might seem a little odd, the complexity of thinking in order to come up with a decent answer is enormous. Other ideas might include asking learners to write a diary report from the point of view of a specific character, at a specific time in a story, or in a more traditional sense, creating a piece of art that represents a chosen mood. When creating, brand new though patterns emerge in the brain!
The six thinking skills that Bloom describes are subdivided into two; higher order thinking skills and lower order thinking skills, see below;
Lower order thinking skills
High order thinking skills
It is important to note that when lower order thinking skills are being used, the learner is usually unaware that they are being used (Unconscious thought), however when higher order thing skills are in operation, the learner is aware that they are thinking (Meta-cognition), this is because it takes a greater cognitive effort to perform higher order thinking; it is more complex. When designing activities to promote thinking skills consider how they can be used for differentiation; rather than making the task ‘harder’, for example, more writing, or larger numbers/values, consider how Bloom’s taxonomy can the task more complex, i.e. moving into higher order thinking