I aimed to begin the process of learning about Bloom’s taxonomy through selecting a simple question from the Knowledge level that would effectively show that I had an understanding of the concepts and could repeat them on request. That question was: “What are the six cognitive levels of the taxonomy and what type of cognition do they describe?”
Bloom’s taxonomy is a six-level classification system that uses observed student behaviour to infer the level of student achievement. Moving from simple to more complex, the taxonomy’s levels include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Although the construct is hierarchical, subsequent classes of behaviour include some, but not necessarily all, of the behaviours found in the lower levels. Thus, this is a hierarchical framework of conceptual sophistication and not a prescriptive model. This fuzzy characteristic may actually be part of the taxonomy’s strength as a heuristic tool. That it is not lock-step allows for creativity.
The first level of the hierarchy is Knowledge. Learning begins with remembering
previously learned material and becoming familiar enough with the subject matter to recognize
and recall terms, definitions, and basic principles. The second level of the hierarchy is Comprehension. ‘Comprehension is defined as the ability to grasp the meaning of materialâ€¦These learning outcomes go one step beyond the simple remembering of material, and represent the lowest level of understanding’ (Carneson, Delpierre & Master, 1996,p.12). Comprehension questions require the student to be aware of the context from which a fact or definition or concept is derived. For example, defining price elasticity of demand would be a knowledge level question, while restating this elasticity in mathematical form would represent comprehension. Again, at this level there is not a high cognitive achievement. Students are still recalling information, but at a slightly more sophisticated level since they are expected to translate words into a mathematical form. Application is the level at which students begin to take what they have from the first two levels and use it in a meaningful way, that is to begin creating something from what they have gained in Knowledge and Comprehension. At this level the student would be able to take the mathematical formula for price elasticity of demand and apply it to new data to calculate what the actual value is. At the analysis level of the hierarchy students ‘break down material into its component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood’ (Carneson, Delpierre & Master, 1996, p.15). Students at this level need to have competence at the previous levels in a topic to perform at the analysis level. In the elasticity example, a student would be required to interpret the meaning of a particular value for the price elasticity of demand and analyse the potential impact of that value in a context. The fifth level of the hierarchy is synthesis. This level poses a significant obstacle to the instructor seeking to use the various levels of the cognitive domain to structure, as I am, objective examinations. Synthesis involves the creation of something new from the cognitive achievements of the previous levels. Because objective examinations by their nature are not a venue for “creation,” I has sought to address this cognitive level through alternative assessment methods. Evaluation is also a challenge in the use of multiple-choice exams, but it is not an impossibility to test for this cognitive level in such exams. In the evaluation level a student is expected to judge that which they are examining. ‘Learning outcomes in this area are highest in the cognitive hierarchy because they contain elements of all the other categories, plus conscious value judgements based on clearly defined criteria.’ (Carneson, Delpierre & Master, 1996, p. 25)
Using the taxonomy to design assessments
The appeal of Bloom’s taxonomy lies in the systematic way it allows one to construct assessment for student learning. I initially used the taxonomy not to create new exams, but to evaluate existing examinations. In the hierarchy, I saw much of what I was trying to accomplish, that is, assess student learning at many different levels. The terminology differs from that of Bloom, but I wanted students to know the fundamental concepts, understand what they mean and then use those and understand the importance of those concepts. I was seeking “real-world” knowledge. The challenge was to find out whether I was actuality testing the different levels sought, through use of Bloom’s taxonomy. Additionally my intent was to examine the cognitive level of student learning in particular with respect to globally themed questions. This would allow I to establish achievement levels not only for course level program learning objectives, but also those relating to program level goals consistent with AACSB accrediting standards. Evaluation of exams revealed internationally focused questions ranging from the knowledge through the analysis cognitive levels. I found that the exams did have a high proportion of application and analysis question (the type of cognition they seek), but there were still questions at the two lower levels of the hierarchy. There were no evaluation level questions, but in the process of research have come across ideas for formulating some of these difficult questions for inclusion in the multiple-choice exam. Student achievement levels were commensurate with expectations for the different cognitive levels, that is, higher percentage correct scores at lower cognitive levels than at higher ones. In this
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analysis, the average percentages of correct answers for the different cognitive levels were as follows: Knowledge, 89.25%; Comprehension, 72%; Application, 51.1%, and Analysis 25%. This reveals the level of learning at different levels and provides data for determination of whether learning objectives and program level learning goals are being met. By cross referencing the Bloom’s levels with content areas I was also able to determine areas where questions were bunched in certain areas of the hierarchy, and this allows I to address this to get a better spread of cognition levels across content areas to track student performance at each level. This additional layer of data, student performance at different cognitive levels and by content, also reveals where students are excelling and where they are faltering. This allows I to address areas of concern through teaching interventions. For example, analysis of the Principle of Macroeconomics exams evaluated for international learning objectives revealed also that students were not performing as well in equilibrium analysis as in other areas. The instructor, armed with this information, can then focus teaching to address this deficiency. The analysis also showed that students as a whole were performing very well at the application/analysis levels. This validates many of the techniques used in the course to foster student learning. I has evaluated a number of exams in different disciplines, but is focusing in particular on the international focus of two exams administered multiple times from a Principles of Macroeconomics course. Working with a colleague to evaluate exams helps not only in categorization of the questions that do not obviously fit into a particular category but also allows for inter-rater reliability in classifications. The analysis performed on the Principles of Macroeconomics examinations revealed that exam A had 5 comprehension level questions, 3 application questions, and 1 analysis level question. Exam B had 1 knowledge, 2 comprehension, 4 application, and 1 analysis level question(s). Although I was pleased that the largest single share of questions was at the application/analysis levels, which reflected the objectives set for this introductory level course, there were no evaluation level questions and disproportionately fewer questions from the lower cognitive levels on exam B. The analysis revealed an area to be expanded (more lower level questions) and an area to be developed (evaluation level questions) but was also validating insofar as the other content categories and cognitive levels reflected the distribution of questions mirrored by goals. Bloom’s taxonomy gives an instructor the opportunity for such analysis for the improvement of assessment techniques, but can also be a starting point for the creation of assessment that reflects the desired learning outcomes set by an instructor in a course. To aid in either of these outcomes, examples of multiple choice questions drawn from the exams at each of the cognitive levels are presented. These can serve both as examples to compare questions for assessing their cognitive level, or to initiate creation of new questions.
Knowledge: The benefits from international trade include:
A. Increased world output of goods and services.
B. Greater efficiency in the use of the world’s limited resources.
C. Higher national standards of living throughout the world.
D. All of the above.
Comprehension: When tariffs are imposed, the losers include:
A. Domestic consumers and the domestic government.
B. Foreign consumers and domestic producers of import competing goods.
C. Domestic consumers and domestic producers of import competing goods.
D. Domestic consumers and foreign producers.
World output of goods and services increases with specialization because:
A. The world’s resources are being used more efficiently.
B. Each country’s production possibilities curve is shifted outward.
C. Each country’s workers are willing to work harder than they did before specialization.
D. All of the above.
Application: Suppose the United States can produce 2000 cars or 2000 trucks. Japan can produce either 2000 cars or 1000 trucks. In terms of car production we can conclude that:
A. Japan has an absolute advantage.
B. The United States has an absolute advantage.
C. The United States has a comparative advantage
D. Japan has a comparative advantage.
Farmers are most likely to be in favour of:
A. Free trade for fertilizer and crops.
B. Free trade for fertilizer but restricted imports of crops.
C. Restricted imports of fertilizer and crops.
D. Restricted imports of fertilizer and free trade of crops.
Analysis: The elimination of import restrictions will:
A. Alter the mix of output from export industries toward domestic industries.
B. Redistribute income from import-competing industries to export industries.
C. Alter the mix of output from export industries to import-competing industries.
D. Redistribute income from domestic to foreign producers.
These multiple choice questions were used directly or adapted from questions the test banks accompanying Schiller’s The Macro Economy Today. Recall that the exams did not include questions at the evaluation level of cognition, but research has shown to me how that can be achieved:
Evaluation: A student was asked to do the following: “Briefly describe the economic rationale and impact of NAFTA in both the United States and Mexico.”
As an answer the student wrote the following:
“NAFTA, The North American Free Trade Agreement, was designed and implemented to take advantage of gains from free trade. These gains are increased production in areas of comparative advantage and increased consumption possibilities. It is expected that there are adjustments in economies that go to free trade. The goods and services that are produced without comparative advantage will decline. It was expected that the U.S. would lose manufacturing and agricultural producers and jobs especially with fruits and citrus crops, but it would be made up in other areas. This was the case when the U.S. had its largest economic expansion ever in the 1990’s. This was also experienced in Mexico with great growth, decreasing poverty, and diminishing illegal immigration to the United States.”
How would you judge the student’s answer?
A. EXCELLENT (All statements about policy and outcomes correct, answer is logically consistent, answer is complete)
B. GOOD (All statements about policy and outcomes correct, answer is logically consistent, but is not clearly argued.
C. MEDIOCRE (Some statements about policy or outcomes are incorrect and/or the answer lacks logical consistency and/or is unclear.)
D. UNACCEPTABLE (Policies and outcomes incorrect, not logically consistent, incomplete.)
Meeting course learning objectives and program level learning goals certainly involves content acquisition, but professors also seek to determine whether the student in the course can operate at higher cognitive levels. Multiple-choice exams can play a role in measuring both content and cognition in students especially if they are designed to cover a range of skills showing varying cognitive skills. Bloom’s taxonomy provides a great framework for evaluating, revising, and creating multiple-choice exams that can assess such student achievement.
How can “Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners” help me to improve my classroom instruction to a diverse student group?
In this final section, I would like to elaborate on how my own learning process in reading the first two chapters of “Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners” (Coyne, M.D., Kame’enui, E.J., & Carnine, D.W. (2007). can be illustrated by reference to Bloom’s taxonomy. I propose to focus solely on one key argument in the first chapter and show how I moved from knowledge to evaluation on that particular subject. The argument that I have selected, which is, in fact, central to the focus of the whole book, is how to arrive at a balanced set of instructional practices which can be both child-centred and teacher-directed, with the goal of supporting the learner in managing the higher-order analysis and problem-solving demands of the current national curriculum. This statement in itself that I have at least moved from Knowledge level to Comprehension level in being easily able to present the argument in my own words. My strategy, here at least, was that I am bound by this essay brief to explain my attainment of successive levels of the taxonomy in writing. To return to attainment of the Knowledge level, I read the initial argument on curriculum standards, pp 2-3. After my first read I was able to mentally recall I’s arguments which might be described as forming the problem statement which would lead to a provisional solution. At that moment, I could recall the social pressures on children outside school which have an effect on classroom performance, the constantly evolving standards of the curriculum towards higher-level cognitive skills of synthesis and evaluation and the initial problem statement of how to assist learners in reaching those standards. Due to my experience as an educator, and more specifically, a university lecturer, I was able to make the step from knowledge to comprehension very quickly due to my significant teaching experience, therefore I was using context to furnish my comprehension. Arriving at the Application stage took rather longer as, firstly, I had not yet gained the Knowledge level in I’s proposal of how a teacher can teacher can develop instructional strategies to support learners attainment of the curriculum. Secondly, the analysis of past innovations which takes up pp. 3-6 of chapter 1 added nothing to moving from comprehension to application as I expected. Rather, I was pushed back into the cycle of Knowledge moving to Comprehension. This led me to reflect that attaining the six levels of the taxonomy may be sequential but is not necessarily a complete process from Knowledge to Evaluation. Rather it seemed to be a series of smaller cycles from the first to the second level of cognition. I was able to attain the Application stage only after reading I’s statement that: “The principle premise of this book is that synthesising teacher-directed and student-directed learning and incorporating the basics in the quest for higher-order thinking can contribute to improved learning for widely disparate groups of students”. I then made, at least, a mental picture of Application in the case of a particular class of foundation year students which I instruct. The group is entirely made up of Saudi and Chinese students who have markedly-differing learning styles and, therefore, needs. I was wondering how any form of student-directed instruction would work with the Saudi students as they are highly teacher-centred. I was aware that the Chinese students were more open to this approach. I was then able to move through to the deduction phase by testing an idea that the Chinese students could sometimes work with Saudi classmates to lead on problem-solving projects while maintaining some degree of teacher-directed instruction to support and reassure the Saudi students. I then realise that I could not, practically, move this idea onto the Synthesis level as this would require actually designing some tasks which aimed to integrate student and teacher-directed learning approaches. This then gave rise to my theory that the Synthesis and, perhaps, Evaluation stages of the taxonomy can only be properly attained through actual practice of the concepts or skills acquired during the previous phases.
Carneson, John, G. Delpierre, & K.Master (1996). Designing and Managing Multiple Choice Questions.
Coyne, M.D., Kame’enui, E.J., & Carnine, D.W. (2007). Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners (3rd ed.).
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