Sunday, May 26, 2019

3 reasons why it's unwise to draw Bloom's Taxonomy as a pyramid

In my last post I looked the different ways Bloom's Taxonomy is presented in diagrams, and by far the most common is the famous Pyramid of Bloom's Taxomony. Here are 3 reasons why using the pyramid form can lead us to confused thinking about teaching and learning.

Problem #1.  A misunderstanding of the role of knowledge leads down the path of technological dependency.  

Pyramid thinking has led to this type of "21st Century Learning" discourse:

We remove the human element from "remembering", and indeed as we increasingly see in student work, there is an over reliance on Google and Wikipedia for analysis and evaluation.  I don't think we are far off from the next phase where Google Assistant, Siri and other tools do most of this thinking for us,


and finally it we just throw in the towel:

Yes, this may be an exaggeration, but people are now seriously considering that sophisticated software, built on a large knowledge depository (hmm, funny that) will soon be as creative, if not more so, than humans.  Anyone who thinks by focusing on creativity we will "future proof" students is in for a rude shock as the AI software goes to the next level.

Problem #2 : Thinking there is just one pyramid

Pyramid thinking can quickly become monolithic - the concept that there is one, all embracing pyramid which integrates all knowledge and all cognitive processes.

The ONE TRUE "integrated" pyramid of cognition

In this view, there is one large pool of knowledge to "remember" and learning how to "understand", "evaluate", "create" is a transferable skill that can be applied to all the knowledge in the "one pyramid". All the cognitive science papers I have read suggest this is just not true. Developing creative skills in music isn't going make me a creative essay writer or a creative mathematician. Both knowledge and cognitive skills are domain specific.

Problem #3 : The pyramid completely misrepresents the revised Bloom's Taxonomy

The 2001 revision of Bloom's Taxonomy by Anderson & Krathwohl involved so much more than changing the words from nouns to verbs. The 2001 work corrected a major flaw in Bloom's original taxonomy : the conflation of knowledge (bottom level of the pyramid) and cognitive processes (the rest of the pyramid).

Two explicitly delineated dimensions
in the 2001 revised Bloom's Taxonomy.
Nothing like a pyramid!

The pyramid representation only provides a one-dimensional view of the new taxonomy, completely omitting the knowledge dimension. Without the knowledge dimension explicitly in view, we are at risk of making category errors focusing too much on the development of skills at the expense of building knowledge.

Pyramids are just so 26th Century BC
it's time for a new diagram.

In terms of graphic design and correctness, this diagram is far better:

In my next and final post on this topic, I'll consider how Bloom's (revised) Taxonomy and indeed Bloom himself, is worthy of being considered a key player in the development of the Knowledge Based Curriculum.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

How do we visualise Bloom's Taxonomy?

I've been thinking a lot about Bloom's Taxonomy lately and just how influential it is to teachers' thinking. The more deeply I look into  Bloom's Taxonomy, the more surprising things I find.  However before we go there, here's a question for my teacher friends : If I say "Bloom's Taxonomy", what image do you form in your mind?

Now compare your mental image to the great Google mind....

Result of a Google Images search for "Bloom's Taxonomy"

Based on this search,  I'm predicting your mental image is a pyramid. With labels like "Facts", "Knowledge" or "Remember" at the bottom rung, and perhaps "Synthesise" or "Creativity" at the top.  And there's an implied, or maybe even explicit, upwardly pointing arrow.  And that's how I remember Bloom's Taxonomy. 

I couldn't help myself and did a frequency analysis of the first 60 images thrown up by Google. Just under 50% were pyramid versions, either the classic version:

Source: Learn NC, “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” used under a Creative Commons license.

or the updated 2001 Anderson & Krathwohl version:

Source: Learn NC, “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” used under a Creative Commons license.

Around 33% show the taxonomy in a grid with clear hierarchy:

Many of these diagrams come with arrows and labels to reinforce the visual message of hierarchy:

Less than 10% of the images present the taxonomy as components without a particular order - or more interestingly, as an integrated view:

Much to my surprise, the more deeply I read into the history of Bloom's Taxonomy, the critique of the taxonomy, it's 2001 reformulation and the more nuanced commentary by supporters and critics of the taxonomy, the more I realise my mental image of Bloom's Taxonomy is just plain wrong - and I think Bloom would say that too.

Scrolling further down the Google Images search result, much further down, image #76 reveals something very different which hints at the important (and much neglected) aspect of the revised 2001 taxonomy:

SOURCE: Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York, N.Y.: Pearson.

No more pyramid, no more hierarchy (mostly).  Knowledge has been pulled out of the list and turned into a separate dimension. The other parts of the taxonomy have moved into a cognitive process dimension.

I find this summary from Julie Stern very helpful in understanding the change:
Few educators, including those who criticize the taxonomy, have considered the other major change to Bloom’s Taxonomy: the knowledge dimension. Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) have taken “knowledge” out of the cognitive domain and added it as a separate dimension, recognizing four distinct types: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive. ... that instead of six ways to think about one type of knowledge, there are now six ways to think about four distinct types of knowledge. 

Here's a very nice attempt to show both dimensions from the 2001 model in one diagram without too much hierarchy

The most serious problem with the pyramid view of the first iteration of Bloom's Taxonomy is that knowledge is right at the bottom and seen as something we just build upon, a "low order" thing (the lowest in fact).  Versions of the 2001 pyramid omit the knowledge dimension, focusing solely on the cognitive processes, leaving most teachers with the impression nothing changed except the words, with knowledge now just called "remembering (facts)".

In the next blog post, I'll be looking at some of the issues resulting from using an oversimplified view of Bloom's Taxonomy. For now it's enough to point out many of us, myself included, have been guilty of lazy thinking. Maybe it's not our fault - it's the brain's wonderful design to simplify ideas so we can cope with them efficiently.

To finish off, here are two surprising 21st Century Learning versions of the taxonomy which really had me scratching my head.  Observe that well motivitated and exciting as they are, both of the them have completely lost the knowledge dimension.

Ron Carranza's "Bloom's Digital Taxonomy".
I'm very pleased to see that by writing a blog post I'm at the top of the grid...
In the 21st Century we're not even "remembering", we're "bookmarking".

The "Flipped Learning Bloom's Diamond"

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Three ideas for defusing the pedagogy wars

There's been a battle for teachers' (and parents') hearts and minds over the last few decades that, now appearing on twitter, can on some days seem particularly virulent. No, I'm not talking about the reading wars, but a broader dispute between what is often called "traditional" versus "progressive" approaches to teaching and learning. Or to use a catch phrase often used, pejoratively I'm afraid, as a choice between the teacher being "the sage on the stage" versus "the guide on the side".  

In the Australian context, it feels this debate is pretty much a one-sided affair, with almost unquestioning acceptance that we need more "future focused, student centred" learning, but for those following the broader international scene, it's remarkable to witness the resurgence and reformation of traditional approaches into "knowledge based, explicit teaching" informed by findings from cognitive psychology. For the mathematics teachers among us, it's been fascinating to see some high profile teachers in Britain completely change their view on how to teach mathematics - switching from very innovative "student centred discovery learning" approaches to embracing their inner "teacher as the subject expert".

Craig Barton, a highly respected UK mathematics teacher, writes in 2018 about
his almost 180 degree change of view on how to teach mathematics. 

But meanwhile the slanging matches continue - it can be quite ugly some days to read the ad hominem attacks and to see the emotive grenades being tossed over the trenches. What is a teacher to do? Especially if they have formed a view that isn't the currently dominant view? How can we move forward?

#1: Respect and recognition for our colleagues ("niceness")
Right from the outset, I think we need to set a much much better example to the outside world as to how educated people can have a proper and respectful debate. It really disturbs me to see teachers write messages on twitter that exhibit behaviour we would not accept in our students.  It's essential we recognise that even if we 100% disagree with a fellow educator, even if we think they are naive/partisan/ignorant/bigoted, that we recognise they are motivated by the very best intentions: the well being and care of young people.  I may not concede that motivation for some others in the education debate (especially people with products to sell), but it's axiomatic to me that I respect and recognise that anyone who signs up to be a teacher and stays with it really has the best motivation. Let's remember that and start every discussion with the right tone. My mum called it "being nice".

#2: Remember context, context, context
Just as the real estate agent reminds us it's all about "location, location, location", as teachers it's essential we keep "context, context, context" at front of mind. Each time we  are about to say that something "for sure is correct", or "definitely doesn't work", we need to remind ourselves just how much context matters. What works for a Year 8 mathematics teacher with a specific class for a specific year for a specific group of students may well not work for a Year 4 primary teacher or a Year 12 music teacher in a different year, at a different school.  It's so easy to get caught up in your own certainty, your lived experience as reality, and forget context. Am I a "relativist"? No I'm not, it is my view now that there are some universal things we can confidently say about teaching and learning. But on a broader scale, education truly is a "wicked problem" - there aren't many simple answers that work everywhere.  We need a lot more caveats in our heated debates to explain our context and to recognise different contexts.

#3: Can we change the words? Mode A and Mode B
Tom Sherrington, in his wonderful book "The Learning Rainforest" takes an interesting approach to defuse the angst: just stop using the words "traditional" and "progressive". Instead use the generic terms "Mode A" and "Mode B". 

A language reset : "Mode A" and "Mode B".
Tom Sherrington's book is my #1 reading pick for 2019.

This is a surprisingly powerful technique - it reduces the emotion and short circuits the automatic, non-thinking responses. It allows Tom to make statements like "for my subject, for my group of students, I think 80% Mode A and 20% Mode B is a good mix". And then we can calmly look at the ideas, strengths and challenges inherent in each different Mode A and Mode B teaching technique, without getting bogged down in polemics.

So does that mean there shouldn't be a debate?
Certainly not! There's lots to debate about when it comes to teaching and learning and it's important, especially if we believe, as I do, that well educated young people are an essential component to addressing challenges such as climate change, socioeconomic inequality and role of technology in our future.  But we need to deescalate. It's not an arms race - we need diversity in our education systems and every school will have a blend of Mode A and Mode B. Different students will respond differently to different teachers, to different teaching and learning strategies. Diversity is the strength of our system.