We need to talk about blooms

Almost all teachers will have come across Bloom’s Taxonomy in one format or another during their training, and probably at several CPD subsequently. Unfortunately, it’s use is almost always either badly understood, or badly explained.

Many think it’s a good backbone for differentiation. It really isn’t

Many think it’s a way of setting objectives. It absolutely isn’t.

Many think it’s a good way to ask different questions to different students at different ability levels. It isn’t, unless you understand the type of ability we’re talking about; I’ll explain.

Here’s an example of some differentiated objectives I’ve seen in a lesson.

MUST Describe the reasons that the Second World War took place.

COULD Explain the reasons that the Second World War took place.

SHOULD  Analyse the reasons that the Second World War took place.

Others thought that this was an excellent example of differentiation. Ask yourself if it actually is? It’s the same content. All that’s been done is a command word has been changed that cognitively less able students may not even understand the difference between.

What would perhaps be better is if we identified which of the reasons were most complex, and asked our higher ability students to study these, and then later in the lesson allowed students to teach each other about the reasons they had studied. Perhaps then leading to all students writing about all the reasons.

So then where would Bloom’s fit in; do we abandon it? No, it has a place in questioning, but not in the way we usually imagine.

Typically many teachers use low level Bloom’s questions with weaker students and higher level Bloom’s questions with more able students. ‘Do you remember which acid we used last lesson’ vs ‘Why did it change colour when we added the indicator?’.

What we actually need to do is realise that we should ask questions that are cognitively challenging to all students. They do not have to be high level to be stretched cognitively, but you do have to plan your questioning carefully. Here’s an example.

Suppose we put a picture of a machine on the board. If we ask, ‘who knows what this does?’ or ‘can you remember what this part is called’, we are asking those typical low level questions that often go to the less able students. Why can’t we ask, ‘what do you think this part might be for?’ - this might be a very easy question if it’s pretty clear from the picture, but it’s much more cognitively challenging as they have to think about it. It’s not about ability, it’s about changing your style of questioning at times, and planning out your questioning to lead to more enquiry-based thinking. A topic we’ll add more tips on.