Why Should You Use Bloom’s Taxonomy?

We learned in the last lesson that the big idea of Bloom’s Taxonomy is the hierarchical ordering of educational objectives and cognitive skills that can help teachers teach and students learn.

In the foreword of the original publication, the cohort states, “You are reading about an attempt to build a taxonomy of educational objectives. It is intended to provide for classification of the goals of our educational system.”

In other words, they meant to create a concise tool to help educators clarify (and ultimately elevate) the cognitive behavior of students. Below, then, are several of the numerous benefits of (properly) integrating this kind of tool into your work as an educator.

Benefit 1. Clarifying (a common) language

What does it mean to ‘understand?’

To ‘think critically’?

What does it mean to ‘read deeply’?

These powerful but ultimately vague sorts of questions are wonderful discussion prompts but can be frustrating when trying to create something practical from something so abstract. Great teachers grapple with these kinds of questions throughout their careers.

“(Some teachers want) students to “internalize knowledge,” still others want their students to “grasp the core or essence” or “comprehend.” Do they all mean the same thing? Specifically, what does a student do who “really understands” which he does not do when he does not understand? Through reference to the taxonomy as a set of standard classifications, teachers should be able to define such nebulous terms as those given above.

In a standards-based and outcome-driven model of education, this kind of ambiguity is a real problem–an ongoing bugaboo for formal schooling and education: what does it mean to ‘understand’? What is a ‘good question’? A ‘good school’? 

The taxonomy, then, is one attempt to qualify this concept and to provide a common language educators can use when discussing, creating, and evaluating the bits and pieces of education: thinking, teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, instruction, learning feedback, and more.

You will learn about specific uses of Bloom’s Taxonomy in an upcoming lesson.

Benefit 2: Promote Critical Thinking

While promoting critical thinking was not the primary goal of the work, the clarifying language and hierarchical nature of the taxonomy lend themselves to this task. 

The study asks, “What does a student do who ‘really understands’ which he does not do when he does not understand?”

A wonderful question–one in line with our own work at TeachThought that consistently emphasizing not just the ability to read but the tendency to read and not only the ability to think critically but the tendency to think critically.

That is, knowledge vs behavior.

The benefits of teaching with Bloom’s Taxonomy vary depending on what and how you teach but in clarifying a common language of cognitive behaviors (e.g., analyze, evaluate, create, etc.), educators who integrate Bloom’s Taxonomy are required to define and confront these ideas and frame them in terms of educational outcomes.

It’s not just possible but entirely natural to design backward from complex thinking and behaviors–that is, what you want the student–that is, the student’s mind–to be able to know and do as a result of the lesson.

Rather than starting with an academic standard, teaching strategy, topic, group activity, or other pedagogical tool, Bloom’s makes cognitive complexity both accessible and clear by providing a system to teach what some might call ‘critical thinking.’ 

Benefit 3: Flexibility

Another intended function of the taxonomy is, according to the study, to “facilitate the exchange of information about their curricular developments and evaluation devices.”

In the opening section, the authors tell the story of a teacher struggling with the number–and vagueness–of the standards she was supposed to teach: “…when I first saw the drafts of the standards, I was appalled. There were so many…And they were so vague. I remember one in particular. ‘Describe connections between historical and cultural influences and literacy selections. What connections? What influences? What selections? And what do they mean by ‘described’? I ask myself how can you things possibly help me teach better and help my students learn better?’”

The authors continue, “What do teachers do when confronted with what they believed to be an exceedingly large number of learning objectives? To deal with the vast number of objectives, they need to organize them in some way…teachers need an organizing framework to increase his precision and, most important, promotes understanding.”

In this way, the Cognitive Domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy provides exactly six verbs that can function as learning strategies, learning outcomes, discussion prompts, debate tools, and even starting points for the design of lessons and units that promote higher-level thinking in students.

If you teach 2nd-grade math, you might benefit from using Bloom’s Taxonomy to create increasingly complex bell ringers over the course of a unit, moving from lower levels to higher levels of thinking.

If you’re helping a high school senior, you can use the taxonomy to help them create a project or a middle school social studies student analyze an abstract idea like ‘freedom’ from different angles and with different outcomes in mind. 

Benefit 4: It Emphasizes Student Cognitive Behavior Over Traditional Academic Content

Traditionally, teacher planning starts with academic standards and learning objectives. Though helping teachers create those objectives is exactly what Bloom’s Taxonomy is designed to do, it does so through student behaviors–that is, cognitive behaviors.

In Handbook 1: The Cognitive Domain, they explain, “What we are classifying is the set of intended behavior students…as a result of participating in some unit of instruction.” They continue that the “emphasis in the Handbook is on obtaining evidence on the extent to which desired and intended behaviors have been learned by the students.” (12)

Put another way, it provides a hierarchy of observable behaviors in students teachers can both design and instruction, assess, and otherwise promote in students while also facilitating differentiation and personalization of learning (more on that in a future lesson). This shifts the focus (some) from academic content and its curriculum to students and their thinking.

We will offer more examples of using Bloom’s in the classroom. For now, keep in mind the flexibility of the taxonomy itself: there is no ‘best’ way to use it–and it’s exactly that flexibility that, compared to other teaching tools, makes it worthy of your study and application as an educator.

Publishing & Research Citations

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals (1st ed.].). Longmans, Green.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). Longman.

Ferguson, Chris. (2002). Using the Revised Taxonomy to Plan and Deliver Team-Taught, Integrated, Thematic Units. Theory Into Practice – THEORY PRACT. 41. 238-243. 10.1207/s15430421tip4104_6.