The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I, The Cognitive Domain (Bloom, 1956) is a framework intended to classify any curriculum objective in terms of its explicit or implicit intellectual skills and abilities. Curriculum objectives describe the intended outcomes of instruction—its goals. Despite their age, the taxonomies have provided a basis for test and curriculum development in the United States as well as throughout the world (Chung, 1994, Lewy and Bathory, 1994, Postlethwaite, 1994). The Taxonomy was cited as one of the significant writings influencing curriculum in the twentieth century (Shane, 1981, Kridel, 2000). A Yahoo search showed “Bloom's Taxonomy” appeared in more than 455,000 entries.
Its six categories—Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation—were tested with sets of actual objectives to assure inclusiveness. The distinctions between categories were intended to reflect those that teachers make in curriculum development and teaching. Although each category was also broken into subcategories, most applications of the framework involved mainly the major categories.
Intended to be logically internally consistent, the underlying ordering dimensions were those of simple to complex and concrete to abstract. Because each category assumed mastery of the previous ones, the framework formed a cumulative hierarchy. For example, comprehension of a rule is assumed necessary to the rule's proper application to a problem. Therefore, one must assume certain background knowledge and skills in order to properly classify objectives for particular students.
Developed by faculty involved in building achievement tests for university courses, The Taxonomy was intended to ease communication among test makers so they could trade items designed to test the same objectives. Thus, the handbook included a large number of sample items for each major category as models. But the framework has found considerable use beyond this. By providing a panorama of the breadth of objectives, it became a standard against which sets of objectives could be compared. Therefore, a major application was the analysis of course objectives to determine the balance of goals across the categories. Repeatedly finding an overbalance of knowledge objectives compared to few, if any, skills and abilities objectives (comprehension through evaluation) led to increased emphasis on higher—level behaviors.
The cognitive domain was the first of three taxonomies developed to cover the objectives spectrum. The second, the affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia, 1964), covered interest, attitude, appreciation, value and adjustment objectives. Objectives dealing with motor coordination and physical movement were the subject of the psychomotor taxonomies of Simpson (1966) and Harrow (1972).
All these authors assumed that each field would create subdivisions to make the framework fit its own emphases, language, and characteristics. Indeed, Bloom, Hastings and Madaus (1971) provided examples of how it could be adapted. The Taxonomy's wide adoption (including translation into more than twenty languages) showed the usefulness of such frameworks and stirred development of alternatives. Bloom's introduction of taxonomy to the field of education with all the term implied was important. A chapter in The Taxonomy Revision describes 19 of numerous competing frameworks, many claiming to be taxonomies.
Advances in cognitive psychology suggested a need for revision. In 1995 Krathwohl and Anderson formed a committee composed of P. W. Airasian, K. A. Cruikshank, R. E. Mayer, P. R. Pintrich, J. Raths, and M. C. Wittrock. Their revision was Anderson and Krathwohl (Eds.) (2001). The revision made 12 major changes that fall in three categories, changes in emphasis, terminology, and structure.
Changes in Emphasis. First, the primary audience is elementary and secondary teachers. Second, instead of providing many sample test items, the revision emphasizes the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Third, rather than providing models, the sample assessment tasks illustrate and clarify the category's meaning. Finally, subcategories are used to define the major categories.
Changes in Terminology. First, the nouns forming the categories on the cognitive process dimension were rewritten as verbs. Second, the term Knowledge became Remember, but remained the least complex cognitive process. Third, Comprehension and Synthesis were renamed Understand and Create. Finally, the subcategories were completely renamed, reorganized, and were written as verbs.
Changes in Structure. The grammatical structure of educational objectives is subject-verb-object. In numerous elementary classrooms one sees the letters TLW, standing for “The Learner Will,” written as a lead-in to objectives written on chalkboards or whiteboards. The subject of educational objectives is the student or the learner. The first structural change was to classify each objective in two dimensions according to the verb and object. Second, the verb—what is to be done with or to knowledge—became the cognitive process dimension with Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate and Create categories. The object—what content is dealt with—became the Knowledge Dimension with Factual, Conceptual, Procedural, and Metacognitive categories. Third, the two dimensions became the basis for the Taxonomy Table described below. Fourth, the claim that the cognitive process dimension was a cumulative hierarchy was eliminated.
The taxonomy table provides a useful way of analyzing the objectives and instructional activities of a curriculum in terms of The Taxonomy Revision framework to show how well objectives and objectives are aligned and how they contribute to the larger course of study of which it is a part.
The Taxonomy Table's Cognitive Process Dimension. Verbs in this dimension usually name the columns of the Taxonomy Table (see Table 1). The learner will remember. The learner will classify. The learner will apply. The learner will organize.
Its Knowledge Dimension. The objects of objectives are derived most frequently from the curriculum content: The learner will remember the major exports of countries; be able to classify poems as ballads, sonnets, etc.; apply algorithms to mathematical operations; organize tree leaves based on botanical principles. Knowledge's four classifications of this content transcend subject matter and grade level and form the rows of the Table (see Table 1). 1) Factual knowledge includes knowledge of terms and facts. “Major exports of countries” is an example of factual knowledge. 2) Conceptual knowledge includes knowledge of categories, principles, theories, and models. “Ballads, sonnets, odes, and epics” are all categories of poems. 3) Procedural knowledge includes knowledge of techniques and methods. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division algorithms are
mathematical procedures. 4) Metacognitive knowledge includes knowledge of general strategies, school tasks, and oneself. Knowing how to write an essay that meets the approval of the teacher is an aspect of metacognitive knowledge.
Because the format of the Taxonomy Table mirrors the grammatical structure of objectives, it can be used (1) to increase understanding of educational objectives, (2) to design assessments that are aligned with specified educational objectives, and (3) to develop instruction that is aligned with both the objectives and the assessments. Each of these applications is described briefly in the sections that follow.
Increased Understanding of Objectives. The Taxonomy Table provides a framework for showing the underlying similarities across subjects and grades. Consider the following objective: “The learner will compare democracies and autocracies.” In this objective, “compare” means the student will understand the similarities and differences of two forms of government. Because “compare” is a cognitive process associated with “Understand” in the Taxonomy Table and because “democracies” and “autocracies” are forms (classifications) of government, this objective would be classified as “Understand Conceptual Knowledge” (see Table 1).
Now, consider an objective dealing with important science concepts: “The learner will compare weather and climate.” This objective, like the first, would be classified as “Understand Conceptual Knowledge.” The Taxonomy Table, thus, allows educators to move beyond rather superficial subject matter differences (social studies versus science) to a deeper understanding of the objectives in terms of intended student learning.
Designing Valid Assessments. Far too often, educators focus on the objects of the objectives with only a secondary concern for the verbs included in them. Numerous test items can be written about democracies and autocracies or weather and climate. To conform to the objective's real meaning, however, the items cannot ask students to provide or identify memorized concept definitions (which would be less complex, cognitively speaking), nor can the items ask students to evaluate the relative merits of each concept (which would be much more complex, cognitively speaking). If they are to be valid, the items need to determine whether students can compare two forms of government or two meteorological categories in terms of their similarities and differences. One method of improving the alignment between objectives and test items, which is consistent with the Taxonomy Table, is to build items using item formats designed to test these complex objectives (Haladyna, 1999; Roid and Haladyna, 1982).
Planning Effective Instruction. One of the insights many educators gain from using the Taxonomy Table to plan instruction is that objectives that are classified into the same cells of the Table are taught in much the same way. For example, both of the objectives used as examples in the previous sections would be classified as “Understand Conceptual Knowledge.” Based on a great deal of research, much is known about teaching students to understand conceptual knowledge (Klausmeier, 1980; Tennyson and Coc-chiarella, 1986). Teaching concepts in context, teaching defining features, and using examples and non-examples are all empirically verified ways of teaching concepts.
Much of the written criticism has been directed toward The Taxonomy. Furst (1994) questioned the assumption that The Taxonomy was a “purely descriptive scheme in which every kind of goal could be represented in a relatively neutral way.” (p. 28). He also questioned whether The Taxonomy was sufficiently comprehensive, suggesting that omitting the term understanding was an error. Bereiter and Scardamalia (1998) criticized the placement of knowledge on the same continuum as intellectual skills and abilities, particularly its placement at the lowest end of the continuum. Still others resist the objectives-based-movement as overly simplistic or as slicing and dicing the curriculum so as to destroy holistic processes (Marsh, 1992). The taxonomy revision attended to many of these criticisms, including a separate knowledge dimension as well as understanding as a primary cognitive process category. The focus on curriculum standards by both state and federal governments has reminded educators of the importance of objectives.
Shulman (2002) had the right idea when he wrote: “what is important about these taxonomies is that they are … heuristics. They help us think more clearly about what we're doing, and they afford us a language through which we can exchange ideas and dilemmas” (p. 42).
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