Bloom’s Taxonomy and Critical Thinking

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification system for learning objectives. The most famous diagram associated with the system is shaped rather like a pyramid, with six different levels.

At the wide bottom is ‘remember’, followed by ‘understand’, ‘apply’, ‘analyze’, ‘evaluate’, and finally ‘create’ at the rarefied, narrow top of the pyramid.

So, what does the diagram attempt to illustrate? Starting at the bottom, that being able to remember something is a low order skill that almost all humans possess. It doesn’t matter whether it is mathematics or a foreign language. For example, pretty much anyone can memorize the list of British Prime Ministers in order

But what use is remembrance alone, especially when machines can ‘memorize’ much quicker and more efficiently than human beings?

Evaluation and creation, however, are examples of high order skills and developing higher order skills is what critical thinking is concerned with.

The theory suggests quite convincingly that teaching content (e.g. facts that can be memorized for a test) is far less important that teaching a skill such as evaluation of an argument. These skills (or rather ‘meta skills’) are the important ones that are applicable across the board, whether in mathematics or language class and are the real decider of which students will get the A grades. For example, a student knows facts, but it is in their interpretation of the meaning and consequences of those facts that is the truly skillful part.

This philosophy applies not only in the elementary or secondary school classroom but in professional contexts, where certain skills of analysis and evaluation are requirements for managerial positions. How can we make a simple list of items in order of priority if we lack the necessary skills of analysis?

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