kitchen table math, the sequel: Bloom

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I need a good critique of Bloom's Taxonomy -- and, oddly, I'm not finding one. Neither Daniel Willingham nor E.D. Hirsch so much as mentions Bloom.

I find people like Tom Loveless pointing out that knowledge is the essential prerequisite of "deeper learning," but I'm pretty sure Loveless is fighting the last war.

In the new war, nobody's denying that students must acquire knowledge.

Instead, acquisition of knowledge is the taken-for-granted. Has to happen, but it's nothing to get excited about. 

In my district, administrators are now using Bloom's Taxonomy to justify flipped classrooms. Because "Knowledge" and "Understanding" are the lowest intellectual skills, they can be acquired at home (or on the bus) via 7-minute lectures on YouTube. Precious class time is thus preserved for  Application, Analysis, and Evaluation.

For anyone who thinks knowledge and understanding are the highest skills, not the lowest, Salman Khan's rationale for the flipped classroom is the problem now.


Anonymous said...

I don't have a criticism, but in mathematics, in particular in SBAC states (not NY, but half the country), Webb's Depth of Knowledge has largely replaced Bloom's Taxonomy in terms of thinking about problem design and assessment -- SBAC is explicit in their materials about what depth of knowledge different standards will be assessed at. Link with some more information here

Anonymous said...

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Kai Musing said...

I second the Sugrue paper. It's short, but it has some good criticism and a few reference to track back.

@Fivetwelvethirteen - Never heard of Webb, but after looking at your website it looks like a compression of Bloom's into four levels... specifically for math.

James Kimbell said...

On first impression, I agree with this.

But then, in another sense, all my toughest, most traditional classes in college were "flipped" - we'd read the book at home and then discuss it in class.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

My senior year French class, the single worst French class I had in high school, was flipped. Prior to that, we'd had a fair amount of direct grammar instruction in class, then been assigned practice exercises for homework. Senior year we were expected to cover the grammar on our own, at home. I was baffled by the textbook, had no idea what I was doing on the exercises, and didn't know enough to go to my teacher and tell him I didn't understand. (I also got the sense he didn't like teaching all that much and wanted to avoid doing so -- flipping the classroom gave him quite a good excuse not to). The entire year was a waste, and I didn't actually learn a lot of what I'd missed until what amounted to an *Italian* tutorial my sophomore year of college, when my professor sat down and explained to me all the (equivalent) grammar very, very clearly.

Flipping a lit class is one thing -- it makes sense for students to do the reading independently -- but a lot of what educators seem to be thinking of as "rote" skills are actually very challenging and require very careful monitoring and repetition. Things that seem very straightforward to adults can be extremely hard for a lot of kids (e.g. the past perfect -- adults don't think of it as particularly conceptually challenging, but I don't think I've ever worked with a kid who didn't need to go over it repeatedly, sometimes for months ands often they never mastered it at all.) I say this as someone who for years was paid, sometimes quite a lot, to do the sort of drill and kill that wasn't being done in class. Expecting that kids can master things on their own by watching a video is naive to the point of hilarity. The rich parents will just keep hiring tutors to do the jobs that the schools have decided they're above, and with the exception of a few hyper-motivated smart kids, the rest of the kids simply won't learn very much.

Hainish said...

I work in the assessment field and can tell you that Webb's is pretty standard across subjects. One of the purported benefits of Webb's DoK is that is does not discriminate amongst students based on how much they know about a topic. (In case you thought you mis-read: Webb's DoK does not reflect actual student knowledge. This is touted as a benefit.)

So, for example, a lower DoK test question might simply ask for factual information. A higher DoK question may ask the student to read a graph or design an experiment.

Allison said...

--But then, in another sense, all my toughest, most traditional classes in college were "flipped" - we'd read the book at home and then discuss it in class.

No No No

That is NOT flipped!

That is *doing the work*. Educators advocating flipping are *NOT* advocating for reading the book the night before the class. They are NOT OFFERING THE CLASS at all the next day.

Whether in middle school or college, a competent student studies. Too many students learn too late that good studying means familiarizing yourself with the material BEFORE the teacher talks about it, but that is all it is--that is studying, NOT flipping. Familiarizing yourself allows you to get the most out of lecture or discussion because you understand what you do and don't understand, and are prepared to ask questions when the teacher goes through that material.

In flipped classrooms, there is No Teacher going through the material. The student is expected to move on to doing problems, with some suggestions here and there, not hearing the Sage on the Stage.

James Kimbell said...


Yes, I was just floating that idea out there, but I know what you mean. The idea of reading at home before a lit class is not exactly "flipped," because in that context, reading something once is not really reading it at all. With anything worthy and difficult you have to read it, think about it, discuss it, read it again, etc. before you could ever say you're "done" with that first step.

But when people talk about "flipped" classes, they imply that that first step is the easiest step.

And also it really depends on the clientele:

I teach a high school mythology class. One semester the class happened to be filled with kids who had taken AP classes, who had read difficult books, who were familiar with the idea of what I described above. So I could assign some reading for homework and then discuss it in class the next day. But another semester I mostly had students who were unfamiliar with this. We had to read the chapter together, in class, in order to make sure everyone understood the words and facts before we could begin attempting to understand the ideas.

SteveH said...

I just can't help coming up with simple sayings.

Never attribute to intelligence that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Evaluate the speaker.

Justification follows beliefs.

It's not flipping, it's doing anything they can to avoid direct instruction. It's not that they don't like direct (video) instruction, they just don't want to do it themselves.

Blah, blah, woof, woof.

If they can get you to argue on an intellectual basis, you will be distracted from incompetence and their unwillingness to accept any responsibility at all.

Brain research misdirection. They are defining the discussion, not you. Attack, don't react.

What is 6 * 7? Send notes home to parents telling them to do the work.

Balance means that teachers do fun stuff and the students and parents are responsible for the rest. That's the basis of all educational pedagogy, not Bloom or Webb or Cognitive Rigor.

It reminds me of music in the schools. Do all of the fun stuff and expect that the hard skill work will be done by private lesson teachers. Our state music teachers' Solo & Ensemble Honors Recital gave in to list the names of the private lesson teachers.

Educational pedagogy is the art of making less seem more.

PARCC says that their top level 5 "distinguished" means that a student will probably be able to pass a college algebra course.

If you can't beat it, redefine it. Redefine it anyway every few years just to make it seem fresh.

Critical thinking and understanding are paramount; just don't expect them to prove it with tests.

If they can only lead the horse to water, then they have no way to evaluate whether anything they do works or not. Thank goodness they have some parents and tutors who cover their asses. It must be all of those museums we visited and how we "modeled" a love of learning.

Catherine Johnson said...

most traditional classes in college were "flipped" - we'd read the book at home and then discuss it in class

That's not what my district is doing.

My district is replacing reading with listening -- and this in the midst of a seriously botched Common Core roll-out. (The one aspect of CC ELA standards I actually like is the requirement that students do more serious reading in the disciplines. Our students are now doing less.)

Kids are listening to a canned version of a teacher's lesson, then doing group work in class, with the kids who understood the tape explaining it to the kids who didn't.

In one board meeting - and this is on tape - our curriculum director, when asked by board members to explain what a flipped classroom is, said that students listen to the lecture at home, then do homework in class "which is when they really need help."

Every aspect of my district's flipped classroom venture is wrong, start to finish.

Less reading

Less live instruction

Videos many or perhaps even most kids need help understanding

Most advanced kids drafted as re-teachers of less advanced kids -- & not just from time to time but on a daily basis

Homework students are unable to complete without "help"

Wrong in every conceivable way

And Bloom used to justify the assumption that "knowledge" and "comprehension" are something that can be achieved via 5- to 7-minute narrated Powerpoints on YouTube.

Catherine Johnson said...

The rich parents will just keep hiring tutors to do the jobs that the schools have decided they're above, and with the exception of a few hyper-motivated smart kids, the rest of the kids simply won't learn very much.


Chris said...

I agree with a lot of what I read on this site about the value of direct instruction and share a lot of the skepticism about "guide on the side" teaching and "students learning from each other."

I also agree with Catherine's take on the flipped classroom. Taped lectures are not the same as live lectures, and most of the time in-class direct instruction is not "lecturing" but involves both asking and taking questions.

But it's also true that I'm in the classroom with any one group of my students for only two hours a week. Their total time in the classroom is about thirteen or fourteen hours a week.

In K-12, my kids are in school six-and-a-half hours a day. I wouldn't want to sit through six-and-a-half hours (or whatever it comes out to be when you subtract the measly lunch and recess periods) of direct instruction every day.

Isn't it possible that some of the attraction to less teacher-centric classroom activities is just an excuse to give the kids a break and let them get up out of their crappy chairs for a while?

We've all heard the homeschoolers talk about how much more efficient it is and how their kids learn the material in a fraction of the time spent on it in school. I don't think those stories are mythical. Of course, there will naturally be some efficiencies if you're teaching one or two kids instead of thirty. But it's also true that homeschoolers are free to recognize that a little direct instruction can go a long way, and that it isn't necessary to program six and a half hours (or more, with homework) of a kid's time every day.

I'd be a big fan of direct instruction if the schools would use it to teach more efficiently and then give the kids more free or unstructured time. But the sight of kids with a lot of unstructured time seems to drive most adults nuts, so I doubt it will ever happen. In that case, I'm not against some recess disguised as "group projects" or whatever.

Allison said...

What elementary schools have you been in?

here in the twin cities, the general outline is:
8:45- 11 literacy block
1 hour of math block
1 hour of specialists
1 hour of something else--history, science, etc.

except not on days with:
fine arts festivals, music festivals, book parade day, thanksgiving play day, christmas festival, kids-at-work-career day, science fair day, math fair day, track and field day, 3rd grade buddy day, valentine's party day, see sixth grade musical day, read to preschoolers day, pet day, etc......

in that literacy block, there's Read to self (somewhere in room, not at desk), read to others, floor time during read aloud, there's "get up to word wall" time, journal writing, and very very occasionally, some direct instruction.

math is seldom direct instruction either. even when it is supposed to be, it is about 16 unstructured minutes of it in 60 minutes.

Allison said...

--Isn't it possible that some of the attraction to less teacher-centric classroom activities is just an excuse to give the kids a break and let them get up out of their crappy chairs for a while?

But only in their minds. Students haven't been stuck sitting in chairs in over 10 years, if not 15. The teachers may remember that horror, but the majority of students have never known it

So yes, they saved them from that, and saved them from learning to read and write too, and division with remainder, and fractions, and multiplication facts, and...

Chris said...

Allison -- I can't tell whether you're agreeing or disagreeing that there's a limit to how much direct instruction a kid can be expected to take every day. You may think we're not at that limit, and I don't claim to know one way or the other. But reading this site it sometimes seems like the advocates of direct instruction don't acknowledge any limit at all. I can't get any sense of how much would satisfy them -- for example, with an 8-year-old.

palisadesk said...

" Students haven't been stuck sitting in chairs in over 10 years, if not 15. The teachers may remember that horror, but the majority of students have never known it."

This just goes to show how different things can be in different places. In every school I've worked in, students are indeed sitting in chairs (at desks) pretty well all of the time they aren't in gym or at lunch. The exception is first and second graders who do a lot of sitting at the carpet while the teacher teaches lessons, practices math facts, reads a story, etc. By the time kids are in third and fourth grades there is no room for a carpet, and by the time they are in sixth to eighth, there is room for practically nothing except desks.

Back in the day (90's) when elementary teachers were encouraged to have "centers" in their classrooms and a lot of projects going on, this crowded classroom setup posed a problem, but around the end of the 90's the emphasis started swinging away towards more instructionally-focused classrooms.

I suspect though that Allison's scenario may be found in the new, modern suburban schools with their open-plan layouts with atria, skylights, and modules galore - but I haven't been to one of these to investigate. In the city schools, which are older buildings where classrooms are not designed for a lot of flexibility, just fitting in the desks and chairs for 28-38 children can be a challenge. Eighth graders particularly take up a lot of room.

(District officials will insist we have class sizes of 26, max, but they are disingenuous -- the average class size may be 26, but there is no cap, and my first year at this school we had several upper elementary classes of 40, and 4th-6th grade classrooms of 34-36)

Allison's description of primary literacy also sounds like her district is using the "Daily 5: Literacy Cafe" approach (see Daily 5 Reading andLiteracy Cafe which I have heard about but not seen -- it seems to be the latest Balanced literacy organizational model (after a few decades of Four Blocks).

Ours is a bit less formal. Teachers have to have certain components in their literacy program but they can organize them as they wish, provided they are getting results. The inclusive classroom does not (alas) lend itself to Engelmann's Direct Instruction but I have seen teachers do some amazing multi-leveled teaching to the whole group followed by differentiated seatwork and individual teaching and descriptive feedback. I don't think this is scalable however. We can't have a school system that relies on every player to be a Jascha Heifetz.

Allison said...

I have seen the Daily 5 at expensive private schools, much cheaper parochial schools, charter schools, and public schools. The Twin Cities metro is in love with the Daily 5. It is here at most schools, whether low performing or high. Mpls public does the daily 5, so does St. Paul, and so do most other major districts. So do most privates.

To the issue of space and facilities, some of the lowest performing schools here have the most modern, giant, expensive buildings. Brand new schools are being built in our inner ring and urban centers even as old schools lie vacant. Most suburbs here are no longer growing.

But whether beautiful and large or small and cramped, the daily 5 is here in grades 1-5. The schools without skylights and without atria have kids sitting under their desks or jumping around on bouncy balls.

I can number less than a handful of sitting-in-rows schools here. 2 are basically the lowest performing parochials (and with hig ses kids) and the others are classical charter schools. These parochials have tiny facilities but with ever shrinking populations, while the classical charters are giant, getting brand new facilities, and have hundreds (per school, sometimes per grade) on the waiting lists.

Chris, yes, there are miserable schools using direct instruction; I've tried to help a few. Is there a limit to how much direct instruction "works"? It depends on the quality of instruction and the institution, and it depends on the kids.

Some kids need a great deal of direct instruction to make adequate yearly progress. Many schools don't want to talk about this. Some kids would thrive on it, and don't get it, and languish.

But the notion that schools are choosing this because they have seen students suffer from too much direct instruction is incorrect. They haven't seen it. And parents are voting with their feet for direct instruction, to the tune of 800+ kids on the waiting list of one such direct instruction classical charter.

Personally, I wouldn't send my kids to a DI school--they don't need it, and they would be bored to tears. The classical charter in town would not have anything to offer my kids in terms of reach and depth--the school is too rigid to adapt to my kids. But my kids are unique. Many parents are thankful to be there rather than where their kids spend time sitting on bean bags.

Allison said...


you are in FL, yes?

I wonder how much of these choices in instruction are due to demography and space.

Here in the twin cities, we are collapsing demographically, in terms of kids from the baby boom and their next gen boomlet. The first and second ring suburbs have too many schools and parks, not enough kids. Even in the cities themselves, there is massive demand only in a few neighborhoods where they are desperate for more school space, but most neighborhoods have multiple vacant school buildings and still have schools every few blocks.

Our privates are fighting hard against the zillion charters, and few privates are growing in enrollment. The 2008 collapse was big here for privates--several went from 3 classes per grade to 2 or even 1. A few are fighting for life. The archdiocese recommended closing dozens of parochials, but lacked the backbone to follow through, so they are instead in a death spiral, with class sizes of 17, 15, 14, 11 kids.

With those kinds of teacher ratios, and extra space, the ability to have "centers" or "stations" is great.

froggiemama said...

Allison said "Personally, I wouldn't send my kids to a DI school--they don't need it, and they would be bored to tears. The classical charter in town would not have anything to offer my kids in terms of reach and depth"
This is precisely what 99% of parents in my upper middle class, aspirational suburb in Westchester County would say. Which is why we don't see DI charters, or indeed, charters at all, in this area. And you know what? I would say the same thing too. My kids would die of boredom in that kind of school. But it doesn't mean they should be spending all their time on project-based learning, either! Unfortunately, I think most of the parents in this burb like the silly projects. They are all up in arms because some of the projects are being removed from the elementary school curriculum to make way for CC.