Subject:  Thinking/Learning – Bloom’s Taxonomy 

Event:  Birthday of Benjamin Bloom, 1913

Creativity follows mastery, so mastery of skills is the first priority for young talent. -Benjamin Bloom

Today is the birthday of American psychologist Benjamin Bloom.  In 1956, Bloom created what has become the most influential model of how people learn and how people think.  Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which was created over sixty years ago, remains one of the most useful tools for teachers and students to articulate the ways in which the brain processes learning, beginning with foundational learning and moving to higher levels of critical thinking.

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Bloom’s Taxonomy (Wikimedia Commons)

The idea behind Bloom’s Taxonomy is to help teachers and students advance their thinking and learning beyond superficial levels.  By classifying thinking into six categories, the model makes the thinking and learning process less abstract, showing how students can process their learning in different ways and at different levels.  

Knowledge – Remember/Define/Memorize: This is the most fundamental level of learning something.  It is the recall level where students memorize a fact, a definition, or a concept.  If, for example, you were studying the concept of cognitive dissonance, you might write down and memorize the definition.

Comprehension – Understand/Explain/Paraphrase:  This is where students move beyond just memorization by explaining what they know in their own words, by summarizing main ideas, and by illustrating what they know with examples.  This also involves comparing, contrasting, classifying, inferring, and predicting.  Engaging with the learning in this way, moves the learning from short-term memory to long-term memory, making it more likely that the learner will be able to master what they are learning.  If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might demonstrate your understanding of the term by explaining what cognitive dissonance is in your own words and by giving a specific example to illustrate it.

Application – Use/Demonstrate/Sketch: This where students use what they have learned by applying it to a new situation or context.  Using the knowledge takes it from the theoretical level to the practical application level, making the learning both more meaningful and more practical.  If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might apply your knowledge of it by explaining how cognitive dissonance might relate to a situation in which a person buys a new car.

Analysis – Examine/Classify/Dissect: This is where students examine and break information into parts or classifications.  It involves looking at causes and effects, making inferences, and supporting generalizations with evidence.   If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might analyze it by identifying the specific causes and effects that make it happen.

Evaluation – Appraise/Argue/Judge: This is where students form and defend opinions about what they are learning.  It involves making judgments based on criteria and supporting those judgments with valid evidence.   If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might evaluate it by discussing whether or not the overall effects of cognitive dissonance on individuals are positive or negative.

Synthesis – Create/Design/Compose:  This is where students use their knowledge and learning to create something new and original.  It involves combining elements into new patterns or generating alternative ideas or solutions.  For example, if you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might write a research report on the term where you use evidence from two or three different sources to explain your position on why it is an important concept.  You might also develop your own graphic to illustrate the cause and effect relationships related to the idea.

Notice that each of the six different levels of the taxonomy requires the learner to engage at deeper and deeper levels with the learning, integrating that knowledge in different ways, ways that are successively more challenging, ways that require more and more cognitive engagement, which then leads to higher-order thinking and higher levels of mastery.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What are six different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and how does the Taxonomy make learning less abstract and help push students to higher-order thinking?

Challenge – Learning in Bloom:  How might you create a lesson that teaches a basic abstract concept in a way that students truly learn it?  Take an abstract concept that you know well, such as capitalism, photosynthesis, or rhetoric, and write a lesson plan that involves six different activities that students will do — at each of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The goal is to help students move from basic understanding to higher-order thinking. 

ALSO ON THIS DAY:  February 21, 1962:  American author David Foster Wallis was born on this day. In 2005, Wallis presented the commencement address entitled “This Is Water”  to the graduating class at Kenyon College, a liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio.

Wallace began his address with an anecdote:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

As Wallis continued his address, he challenged the graduates to approach their lives philosophically by thinking and reflecting consciously, paying attention to the obvious realities that, though seemingly obvious, are — like water to the fish — often the hardest to see.  The freedom provided by education, according to Wallace, is the ability to choose to pay attention and see what is hidden in plain sight.


1-Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc, 1956.