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Bloom's Taxonomy

Page history last edited by Jessie Prebble 11 years ago

This page contains some fairly dry background on Bloom's taxonomy. For exciting ideas on how to write clicker questions at each level of the Taxonomy click here.


Bloom’s Taxonomy and higher order thinking

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives is a framework for categorizing educational objectives. First published in 1956 it has provided a basis for test design and curriculum development throughout the world (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). The original taxonomy consisted of six educational objectives arranged in a cumulative hierarchy from the simple to the complex: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.


Applications of the taxonomy

Since its publication, Bloom’s taxonomy has been widely used by curriculum planners, administrators, researchers and classroom teachers at all levels of education (Bloom, 1994). The taxonomy is treated as a kind of dogma in many educational circles (Postlethwaite, 1994), although this use and understanding of the taxonomy is in direct contrast to the intention of its developers, who submitted it “in the hope that it [would] help stimulate thought and research on educational problems” (Bloom et al., 1956).


Criticisms of the taxonomy

The taxonomy is not without its critics, and two major criticisms (following Postlethwaite 1994) are:

1.     the distinctions between any two levels of the Taxonomy may be blurred, 

2.     the Taxonomy is not hierarchical; rather it is just a set of categories.

Postlethwaite (1994) contends that although it is correct that the same objective/exercise can be placed in different categories, this largely depends on the student’s previous knowledge and experience and therefore does not render the taxonomy useless. Additionally the original authors acknowledged that they had failed in “finding a method of classification which would permit complete and sharp distinctions among behaviors”.


Several empirical studies have been conducted in an attempt to test the cumulative hierarchical nature of the taxonomy (Kreitzer and Madus, 1994). None found a hierarchy for all six categories; however, all supported the hierarchy to some extent. In one case the knowledge, comprehension and application categories were found to be hierarchical, with a branching to analysis on one side, and synthesis and evaluation on an another. In another case, knowledge was found not to fit the hierarchical structure, but the comprehension - evaluation categories were found to be hierarchical (Kreitzer and Madus, 1994). In a test by Kropp and Stoker in 1966 (described in (Kreitzer and Madus, 1994)) evaluation questions were found to be easier than synthesis questions.


Recent revisions of the taxonomy


These criticisms were partly addressed in the recently published revised and updated version of the taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). The revised version has a two dimensional framework. The cognitive process dimension is made up of six categories similar to the original taxonomy: remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. Creating is equivalent to synthesis, hence essentially the major change is the switch between the two highest orders.


Considered as a loosely hierarchical arrangement, from lower order to higher order thinking, the taxonomy is a useful tool. At which point categories switch from being considered lower order to higher order is a matter for debate. Bloom (1956) considered the knowledge category to be lower order and all others to be higher order, but others e.g. (Bruff, 2009) suggest that only analysis, synthesis and evaluation should be considered as higher order. Regardless, it is possible to write questions that encourage students to engage at the different levels. The columns labelled question cues/verbs in figures 1 and 2 offer suggestions for how questions can be directed towards the different categories. 





Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. 2001. A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: a revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Abridged version. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc, United States.


Bloom, B.S. 1994. Reflections on the development and use of the taxonomy.  in: Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R., (eds), Bloom's taxonomy: a forty-year retrospective. National Society for the study of education, Chicago.


Bloom, B.S., Engelhart, M.D., Walker, H.H., Furst, E.J., & Krathwohl, D.R. 1956. Taxonomy of educational objectives; the classification of educational goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. Longman, Green and Co., New York.


Bruff, D. 2009. Teaching with classroom response systems: creating active learning environments. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.


Kreitzer, A.E., & Madus, G.F. 1994. Empirical investigations of the hierachica structure of the taxonomy.  in: Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R., (eds), Bloom's taxonomy; a forty-year retrospective. National Society for the study of education, Chicago.


Postlethwaite, T.N. 1994. Validity vs. utility: personal experiences with the taxonomy.  in: Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R., (eds), Bloom's taxonomy: a forty-year retrospective. National Society for the study of education, Chicago.


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