Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reflection on Bloom’s Taxonomy

If you’re like me, you heard a great deal, early in your career, about Bloom’s Taxonomy.  We, as beginning teachers, were exhorted to push the quality of dialogue up with students, urging and helping them to think more critically and develop a deeper understanding of events and ideas.  My current reading seems, on the surface, to challenge that notion, particularly for younger elementary students.  It seems that for younger learners, the goals must be quite explicit and the course of instruction directed primarily toward building a broad base of general knowledge about the topic studied.  Deep insights are generally unlikely.

Cognitive research has made clear several characteristics of human learning.  First, we are, by nature, curious beings.  At the same time, our brain is not primarily evolved as a thinking organ.  It’s first job is to take care of tasks which are highly automatic and reflexive.  We possess, relatively, a small amount of working space in out brains to solve major problems.  Consequently, our problem-solving skills develop quite slowly.  To solve a problem which seems quite easy to a trained adult (read teacher) may take quite a bit of both background knowledge about the subject area and sufficient experience with similar problems to see strategies or patterns which lead to a solution.  Bringing a depth of knowledge and experience makes creative thinking more economical.  It’s a wonderful thing about our brain that when we possess such knowledge and experience, we quite often don’t even realize that a time existed when we didn’t have it.  Unfortunately that makes it ever-so possible that we will fail to recognize that our students are not yet prepared to solve problems that we’d call “simple.”

I have said before that I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Accelerated Reader. One of the reasons for my enthusiasm is that it takes advantage of a principal human characteristic:  curiosity.  When students are given the opportunity to select the books they read, even with a modest bit of guidance from the teacher as to both reading level and content, they approach their reading with interest and the confidence that they can understand and enjoy the book that they’ve selected.  In the elementary grades, a heavy diet of “free” reading is a tremendous resource for the acquisition of abundant general knowledge about people and things, the raw material of later problem-solving skill.  While, on the surface, this may seem random, all learning is to a large extent dependent on circumstance and chance.  I’d argue, though, that both the skill and the breadth of background understanding gained by reading will support students in the acquisition of more specific content knowledge dictated by standards or curriculum.  No textbook or “class book”, chosen for a group of grade-level students, can equal the educational impact of a similar amount of effort put into broad reading at a student’s diagnosed level, which is, at that moment, interesting to that student.

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