Flip This: Bloom’s Taxonomy Should Start with Creating

| May 17, 2012 | 50 Comments
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Chris Davis, Powerful Learning Practice LLC

By Shelley Wright

I think the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy is wrong.

I know this statement sounds heretical in the realms of education, but I think this is something we should rethink, especially since it is so widely taught to pre-service teachers. I agree that the taxonomy accurately classifies various types of cognitive thinking skills. It certainly identifies the different levels of complexity. But its organizing framework is dead wrong. Here’s why.

Conceived in 1956 by a group of educators chaired by Benjamin Bloom, the taxonomy classifies skills from least to most complex. The presentation of the Taxonomy (in boththe original and revised versions) as a pyramid suggests that one cannot effectively begin to address higher levels of thinking until those below them have been thoroughly addressed. Consequently (at least in the view of many teachers who learned the taxonomy as part of their college training) Blooms becomes a “step pyramid” that one must arduously try to climb with your learners. Only the most academically adept are likely to reach the pinnacle. That’s the way I was taught it.

Many teachers in many classrooms spend the majority of their time in the basement of the taxonomy, never really addressing or developing the higher order thinking skills that kids need to develop. We end up with rote and boring classrooms. Rote and boring curriculum. Much of today’s standardized testing rigorously tests the basement, further anchoring the focus of learning at the bottom steps, which is not beneficial for our students.

Rather than starting with knowledge, we start with creating, and eventually discern the knowledge that we need from it.

The pyramid creates the impression that there is a scarcity of creativity — only those who can traverse the bottom levels and reach the summit can be creative. And while this may be how it plays out in many schools, it’s not due to any shortage of creative potential on the part of our students.

I think the narrowing pyramid also posits that our students need a lot more focus on factual knowledge than creativity, or analyzing, or evaluating and applying what they’ve learned. And in a Google-world, it’s just not true.

Here’s what I propose: we flip Bloom’s taxonomy. Rather than starting with knowledge, we start with creating, and eventually discern the knowledge that we need from it.

Creating at the Forefront

In media studies we often look at the creation of print and digital advertisements. Traditionally, students learn many of the foundational principles for creating a layout through a lecture or text book reading, and then eventually create their own.

What if we started with creativity rather than principles? My students start with the standard elements of an advertisement (product photo, copy, logo etc.)  and create a mockup. Then students evaluate their mock-up by comparing their ads to a few professional examples and  discuss what they did right and wrong in comparison to what they’ve seen.

As students are pointing out design elements that work, we begin to analyze for similarities and divide them accordingly into groups. Most will likely fall into the four design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. At this point, students compile their findings as a class, and only then are the four design principles formally introduced.

Now students can apply what they’ve learned as they return to their own mock-up and fix elements based on the design principles they’ve begun to absorb.

Finally, students research the four design principles to flesh out their understanding where needed, and possibly correct any misconceptions. From this research, students create their own graphic organizer of the four design principles for future reference and to help them remember.  We started with creativity and ended with the knowledge my students have curated. They’ve been engaged with the entire process from start to finish, and my students have make some significant decisions about the essential knowledge they need.

But Will it Work for Science?

Not only does flipping Blooms work for classes like media studies,  it also blends beautifully with my inquiry-based Chemistry class.

As we study science, I’ve come to realize that it’s very important for my students to encounter a concept before fully understanding what’s going on. It makes their brain try to fill in the gaps, and the more churn a brain experiences, the more likely it’s going to retain information.

When we study ionic compounds, we start with a lab. My students begin by creating conductivity testers out of tin foil, batteries, and mini Christmas lights. Students then create their own lab and test 10-12 different substances, from salt water, to HCL, to sugar water, to check which substances conduct electricity. Usually, about half of the solutions provided do.

I have them compare their findings to how scientists usually categorize these solutions. Sometimes, solutions that are supposed to conduct electricity, don’t.  So providing the results of experts helps them to have more confidence in their own results.

However, it’s not enough to discover which substances conduct electricity. I want them to try to figure out why. With the results my students have obtained, they analyze their findings. By dividing the solutions into appropriate categories, students often discern that the solutions that conduct electricity are made up of two elements and the elements combined are found on opposite sides of the periodic table, such as NaCl. They also realize that solutions that don’t conduct, such as sugar, are usually made of elements found on the same side of the table.

Once they begin to analyze each solution’s makeup more closely, they tend to realize that conductive solutions are, for the most part, made up of a metal and non-metal, whereas solutions that don’t conduct usually don’t contain any metals. Once they’ve exhausted this activity, I introduce the concepts of ionic and covalent bonds to label each category.

Then students re-evaluate their own findings and apply their learning by fixing elements in their categorization system.

At this point, my students research ionic and covalent bonds, either through cooperative research, or by using the flipped classroom model, to fill out their findings with information about the characteristics of each type of bond, such as malleability, boiling and melting points, etc. They’re essentially creating their own notes.

How About English?

Flipping Blooms — putting Creating, Evaluating, Analyzing and Applying first — also works in English.  From what I can tell, it’s likely the easiest route to creating a flipped English classroom. In the past, I’ve struggled to teach my students concepts such as grammar rules and abstract ideas like voice. Flipping Blooms makes this much easier.

We’re creating the churn, the friction for the brain, rather than solely focusing on acquiring rote knowledge.

I begin with having my students write a paragraph, either in response to a prompt or their own free writing. Next, students, working in small groups or pairs, evaluate several master texts for the criteria we’re working on. How does the writer use punctuation or voice in a particular text? What similarities are there between texts? Students then compare their own writing with each text. What did they do correctly or well? How does their writing differ and to what effect?

As a class, or in their groups, we analyze the pieces for similarities and differences and group them accordingly. Only then do I introduce the concept of run-on sentences, comma splices, and fragments. Essentially, through this process, my students identify the criteria for good writing. From this, we’re able to co-construct criteria and rubrics for summative assessments.

Students then apply what they’ve learned by returning to their own writing. They change elements based on the ideas they’ve encountered.

Students further their understanding by either listening to a podcast, or engaging in their own research of grammar rules. Finally, as the knowledge piece, students create a graphic organizer/infographic or a screencast that identifies the language rules they’ve learned.

I think the best flipped classrooms work because they spend most of their time creating, evaluating and analyzing. In a sense we’re creating the churn, the friction for the brain, rather than solely focusing on acquiring rote knowledge. The flipped classroom approach is not about watching videos. It’s about students being actively involved in their own learning and creating content in the structure that is most meaningful for them.

Blooms 21 actively places learning where it should be, in the hands of the learner.

This post originally appeared on Voices from the Learning Revolution. Shelley Wright is a teacher/education blogger living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in Canada. She teaches high school English, science and technology. Her passion in education is social justice, global education and helping her students make the world a better place. She blogs at Wright’s Room.

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  • Pbj813

    The original taxonomy had to do with assessment. The lowest level of assessment is assessing knowledge concepts ie What color is George Washington’s white horse?

    • http://twitter.com/wrightsroom Shelley Wright

      The unfortunate thing about our current schools is that they spend much of their time assessing and supporting the lowest levels of the taxonomy. We need to find ways to engage students in higher level thinking that promote problem solving and critical evaluation.

  • http://twitter.com/johncroftnorton John Norton

    Thanks so much for sharing Shelley’s provocative post with MindShift’s large audience. To see some of the early comment chat, follow the link above to the Voices from the Learning Revolution blog. (John, VFLR editor)

  • Mark Hurty

    I agree. I propose a revised graphical representation of the taxonomy that isn’t hierarchical at all.


  • Jessicagauci

    This is fantastic! I couldn’t agree more. Being creatively minded as an art, design, photography and (only recently) English teacher, I have also structured lessons similar. First having students explore and create then go back to evaluate, analyze and reflect etc. Thank you so much for this article. If only more teachers and educational institutions would take on this approach, so that education can be as amazing as it is capable to be.

  • M Yeates

    I would like to point out that without knowledge it is not possible to create! In order to have knowledge you first must remember, understand and be able to apply, analyze and evaluate this knowledge to create!
    It it not so much about what is first, but more the journey to make the perfect creation and this involves multiple rotations through all of these skills!!! 

    • http://twitter.com/wrightsroom Shelley Wright

      I agree that thinking isn’t really a linear process.  Yet I think we often underestimate how much our students know and how much they need us to tell them.  Kids are pretty good at figuring things out themselves if we give them the tools and the structure to do so.  That’s really the point of this post.

  • Mike Ritzius

    The pyramid still suggestions a progression regardless of direction. Maybe a graphic showing that creation encompasses all subsequent levels would be more appropriate?

    Something like this – http://creately.com/diagram/example/gv175xav1

    • Anonymous

      Very cool, Mike. I’ll share this with our Facebook fans.

  • Jennifer Fabrizi

    This is great thinking. I would actually reframe this “argument” to say that for SOME KIDS, flipping the taxonomy works really well. Maybe it’s a LOT of kids. But of my 3 daughters. 

  • jfuchs

    Please read this 2009 article about how this idea works for the social studies. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/10/07/06wineburg.h29.html

  • Artyfartyart

    What Ms. Wright is talking about was happening in classrooms decades ago. My teachers did exactly that: encouraged study, exploration, and reasoning not just for the right answers, but what made the wrong ones wrong. They allowed us opportunities to synthesize and take the new learning and apply it to entirely different applications. Sometimes the wrong answers were then right ones. Critical thinking about any topic creates critical thinkers, something we are sadly lacking today.  When you have national tests that are only testing for the one right answer, it doesn’t require much critical thought, just a good memory. Too bad her teachers found it so limiting. I am so glad she now can share her revelation.

  • http://twitter.com/debiash64 Deborah Ash, PhD

    I know! What if we take it out of the pyramid all together and make it cyclical.  A constant evolution to hit all areas.  Strive to create lessons that hit all levels of Bloom’s in a manner that is constantly evolving!

  • Jeffostrowick

    Ever watched a young child paint, as they experiment they create, and gain knowledge about the paint; mixing colours makes new colours etc. I teach my 8 and 9th graders Blooms to help them with exams and tests, since it is an assestment tool. To help them understand it, I point out that pyramids are a firm structure, the wider the base the higher the contruction. To be really creative requires a wide knowledge base. That is to say while it is possible to be creative, the depth of the creativity is based on the breadth of the knowledge and understanding. Teachers need to be mindful that left to discover kids are far more effective learners, we just need to be there to point them in the right direction.

  • Robyn

    I have run a  lot of workshops based on Blooms and have developed a comprehensive matrix adapted from a number of others. I agree that children should be spending a lot more time in those ‘higher’ levels but we need to remember that Blooms is a taxonomy not a hierarchy. I have seen many teachers planning activities at the creativity level that are actually low level thinking. I ask teachers at my workshops to level activities they have done in their classrooms, then, not matter what level of Blooms it is at. they rewrite it to add extra challenge. My model of Blooms is a Greek temple – the foundation is ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’, because without that foundation the temple will fall over. The pillars are ‘applying’, ‘analysing’ and ‘evaluating’ because the pillars support the whole building and the beautiful roof is ‘creating’. You can’t have that beautiful roof without everything that supports it. I have been a huge fan of Blooms for many years. So many educational fads and bandwagons come and go and I think it says so much about the quality of Blooms that it has endured for so long.

    • Monica

      I agree!

  • Anonymous

    I believe youre on to something! The reason i never emphasize conventions in my English
    class is the creative prrocess gets buried by debates about where commas go. Writing makes us better thinkers and impeding thst with rules is misguided . Ive found most students pick the rules up by reading after they become writers. Some of posts below argue againt this, but our very maturation seems to follow your hypothesis. Honestly its probably paradoxically both.

  • Robinson Ric

    I’ve used Bloom’s taxonomy for years to help classify objectives based on need.  So if a needs analysis indicates an instructional goal of creativity, then I start instructional design process (i.e., Gagne’s 9 instructional events) at the creative level.  The value of the hierarchy is that it exposes possible enabling objectives that “may” be needed by a particular group of learners before achieving mastery of the terminal creative objective.  So in a way, this has always been a top down approach from an instructional design perspective.  

  • lcb

     Where are these teaching programs that are teaching Blooms as a step by step ladder? I’m a recent graduate of a masters in education program (and have been teaching for 3 years).  Never once have I interpreted Blooms as a path to be followed; instead, I’ve used it as a tool to ensure I was staying OUT of the bottom rungs and sticking to the higher-order thinking skills.

  • http://kathyschrock.net/ Kathy Schrock

    I thought about this overnight, and blogged my thoughts here.

  • Kiwi

    This is a very interesting post and a good set of ideas!  I studied with Ben Bloom in the mid 70’s, receiving my PhD in his programme, and have taught students about the taxonomy ever since.  It isn’t a pyramid — Bloom didn’t present it that way — although subsequent folks have.  If you know much about biology, you’ll realize it isn’t really a taxonomy either, but that’s neither here nor there.  What it is is a hierarchical listing of cognitive behaviors that Bloom and his colleagues developed to encourage university faculty to think about educational objectives that go beyond knowledge and comprehension of that knowledge.  The first three levels:  knowledge, comprehension, and application are pretty solid.  Easy to see how they work, and application level objectives are great in almost any class.  The higher three levels get a bit iffy in terms of distinctiveness from one another and also whether they are really what we strive after in higher order thinking skills.  To that end, I like the efforts at revision, and my guess is that Ben would, too.  He was very dedicated to improving the lives of children.  The taxonomy, however, was really geared to university students, and you have to remember that the folks that put it together were working with University of Chicago students, some of the wonkiest you’ll ever find.  Bloom’s whole purpose was really well-aligned with what you are trying to accomplish.  He didn’t see the taxonomy as any kind of ladder or progression to be followed.  He wanted people to realize that there were higher order thinking skills out there, and that our courses should encourage the development of those skills.  Now, for the most part, one needs to build off of a knowledge and comprehension base in most subjects, but usually you can find that students often have the basics needed to push their thinking. 

    So, good on ya, Shelley, and keep pushing the envelope!

    • http://twitter.com/atsc Andrew Chambers

      Agree on everything you say Kiwi. I use Blooms all the time for building of post grad business courses. It is very applicable. (and I agree with lcb below).
      I think the error though relates to where applying is. Perhaps it should be at the top of the “pyramid”. When you are being creative aren’t you “applying” what you know? Can’t analyzing and evaluating also come after application (especially the latter). Personally I’m not sure how the revised taxonomy works. I prefer the old. Perhaps it is seen working better at K-12. I’m also not sure about the ideas presented above by Shelley Wright. Taken to the extreme starting with the creating can be misused. Just because you start with a creation exercise doesn’t mean the students don’t come with prior knowledge. Of course they do otherwise you couldn’t do your activity… As others have said it isn’t a strict hierachy…

  • J_e_french

    This is excellent, but I don’t think all teachers assume you start at the bottom. You can start anywhere as a come-on, as well as working laboriously upward. Also, many schools–in fact, I’m afraid, more and more as budgets crunch–don’t WANT to get to the creative part, because the ones with the bucks want tangible results, and they don’t see the long-term benefit of the higher stuff soon enough. But I do like your approach. Why not work it up further??

  • Glichtman

    Like others, I had my comments on Ms. Wright’s provocative post: http://wp.me/p2gT3m-4H. My addition that she stimulated concerns “why” we learn, in addition to “how” we learn.  Have had a lot of views, so this conversation clearly hit a chord.  As one of my readers commented, we should get away from the linearity implied by the pyramid.  I agree that this is the case for “how”, but my teaching indicates that students do far better when they first find their passions, and this does require a method of exposure and self-discovery.

  • Sunrisesoup

    My students start with the standard elements of an advertisement (product photo, copy, logo etc.)”- that would be remembering or memorizing… step one. One must have something with which to create new things and combinations. In order to build on the work of those before us, we must know the work of those before us. I do use exploration as the first step in most projects and lessons, as this get the students interested and provides the introduction to the parts and concepts, but that familiarization, which includes some rearranging of things or simple creation, results mainly in low level knowledge and increased curiosity, not creation of any thing of value aside from the experience.

  • Ivylinsley

    A quick comment…I like the inverted taxonomy as it relates to technology. The lesson for studying writing skills is very interesting, something I would like to try in my own classroom. My current approach is to use Consume, Critique, Produce as a process to improve student writing. The inverted taxonomy concept would need tweaking, in my humble opinion, because the students need at the very least a knowledge base from which to work from in their writing. But, then maybe not for some children. I guess it depends on the person.

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  • DavidBCohen

    When I interviewed Bernie Trilling about his book on “21st Century Skills” he raised similar concerns and suggestions about the misapplication of Bloom’s taxonomy. This article captures the essence of his views as well. (Though the article/review didn’t touch on Bloom, here it is: http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2010/10/12/01cohen.h04.html )

  • Suki Wessling

    I came to this same conclusion when I started homeschooling my children. In school, kids go along with Bloom’s-based learning because of herd behavior – everybody else is doing it so they do, too. But at home, my kids are utterly uninterested in starting with the boring stuff, so we start with creating. We have always learned through doing something first, then deriving what we can learn afterwards. It makes the learning more real, more active, and deeper. Kids remember things they learned from being creative; they don’t necessarily remember something they learned by rote for a test. Every time I see a homeschooler recommending Bloom’s to other homeschoolers, I cringe and then gently remind them that this simply isn’t the best way for homeschoolers, or any children, to learn. It would be nice if mainstream educators would pay attention…

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  • Constantine Andoniou

    I agree. Learning is not necessarily hierarchical. I always have argued that this model is wrong. Instead a dynamic, 4dimensional model (incl. time) can represent how learning occurs with digital technologies (fractalfetishes.blogspot.com)

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  • Philip Mabbutt

    Interesting, creative or obvious? I won’t bang on about the how’s, why’s and or accademic accuracy suffice to say this article touches on some sensitive areas of actual teaching vs cognitive/metacognative learning and therefore, the application of blooms on its merit and occasion. The replys are all equally meritorious and at first glance I am in no position to question them. When I say obvious, what I mean is, as follows: it’s all about the known knows and unknown unknowns. As Kiwi rightly states the first parts of Blooms hold strong, how can one be creative without knowledge et al. (unknown unknown) but to move on we need a known therefore, at each stage of Blooms can this inverse pyramid (or whatever shape) be inserted as a check mechanism or to enable metacognative learning (making a known unknown into a known known). I was always taught that every new action was addressed as a situation, an execution, to ask questions and check of understanding (SEAC) and any deviation required a new SEAC. The clever part was the receiver Checking understanding, Asking questions, clarifying the Execution and Situation (the reverse). This flipping ‘created’ understanding between all parties, as far as was known!
    So to conclude, does the teacher teach Blooms and the student reciprocates with this new creative cycle or, as some have observed, assessment and assessed. Or merely, at each stage of Blooms, all these new stages are taught/learnt/assessed prior to the next Blooms step?

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  • Elizabeth Rubenstein

    I think I may try this in the art room: Give out supplies, let students make what they want, then conclude with the “demonstration” and let them compare what they did with each others’ ideas… hmmmmm

  • Lady Ibis

    Thank you for this awesome response Kiwi, I was thinking similar things but don’t have the background or experience to say any of it with authority.

  • Mark Walker

    Thanks Shelley and Kiwi for the discussion you sent me on to read an article about Bloom by Elliot Eisner. I think for me the idea of flipping a classroom means the student actually does the work of learning – its an active process.

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  • Tim Brook

    Just to add another version to the mix: http://www.digitalglue.org/2012/06/blooms-reimagined.html

  • Steven Delpome

    Kiwi you are brilliant! Thanks for that comment.

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  • Monica

    lcb, I have degrees in both Psychology and Education, and I agree with you — the author of the article does not understand the purpose of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The purpose, as I have always learned and understood it, is that the bottom rungs are not where we start, but are the lower-order thinking skills. It’s important to use ALL of the thinking skills including knowledge, but we should make sure to also use the higher-order thinking skills such as creativity.
    This article is very misguided!

  • Monica

    However, this article shows how important knowledge is also — if you wanted to talk about Bloom’s Taxonomy, you needed to have knowledge and an understanding about what this is.
    If the point of the article was just to say that creativity is more important than knowledge, and you didn’t have enough knowledge about Bloom’s Taxonomy to write about this, you should have either left that alone or done proper research.
    Skipping this step about gaining knowledge, and just deciding to be creative and write an article, is misinforming the readers about what Bloom’s Taxonomy is about.
    And for those of us who do know what Bloom’s Taxonomy is about, it’s upsetting to see an article like this.
    ALL of the thinking skills in the Bloom’s Taxonomy model — both lower- and higher-order thinking skills — are very important!

  • The Mind Molder

    What I like about this flip is it starts with the practical. Create. Make. Produce. Too often, we lose learners with what should come as a natural a-Ha. If a thing is properly analyzed and those parts analyzed and applied to either make the same thing or a new thing (even incorrectly), one gets the basic understandings.

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