Bloom’s Taxonomy: Adaptations for Home Use

Last week, I talked about the importance of background knowledge and introduced Bloom’s Taxonomy as a way of thinking about skill development.  Now I’ll take a closer look at Bloom’s taxonomy, and how it can be a useful tool to a home educator.

Bloom’s Taxonomy was originally created by a committee aiming to identify the fundamental questions within the education system, and published in 1956 in Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals.  (1)

Committee? Education system?

Aren’t we trying to avoid those things by homeschooling?

Absolutely!  But in this case, Bloom’s Taxonomy may be the baby in the bathwater, so let’s not throw it out just yet.

Blooms Taxonomy
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The classical model, as mentioned last week, moves a student through three phases of learning: grammar to logic to rhetoric.  These stages roughly correspond with Bloom’s:

  • Grammar: Remembering and Understanding
  • Logic: Applying and Analyzing
  • Rhetoric: Evaluating and Creating.

This classical  model moves a child through each stage of the hierarchy, asking for the most advanced skills as students near adulthood.

I would argue that this glacial upward movement does not correspond to the reality of how children learn when allowed some degree of self-direction in their studies.

Instead, children attack Bloom’s Taxonomy like climbers summit Everest.  A lot of time is spent in base camp (gathering knowledge), then attempts are made toward high level skills.  When the higher level skill is not reachable, the student descends back to a lower-level base, supplements his knowledge or processing skills, then attempts the summit again.

Climbers begin at base camp, spending the time necessary to acclimate to the physical demands of high altitude. Then they gradually move through the higher camps, staying at a camp for a few days to acclimate, moving back down to a lower camp to recover, and so on, until ready to attempt the summit.

The timeline for summit attempts may be years, but it may just as well be weeks or days or hours.  Because of the nature of learning, especially of hooks, one can never “climb the same mountain twice” so to speak.  Attempting the same summit may yield significantly different results, as each new attempt will start from a new base camp, with new knowledge both related and seemingly unrelated, and new connections formed and explored at every stage through to the peak.

We have probably all experienced this by re-reading a book we haven’t read in a few months or years.  As the poet John Barton said,

“You can never step into the same book twice, because you are different each time you read it.”
It’s true on a visceral, emotional level, and it’s true on a cognitive level.  New hooks and new knowledge create a whole new book in our minds each time we read it.  In the same way, retouching a subject over and over throughout an education can lead to deeper and deeper understanding, with more and more processing in the higher levels of the taxonomy as our directly and indirectly related knowledge deepens.
As Willingham elaborates on this topic,
“Some educational thinkers have suggested that a limited number of ideas should be taught in great depth, beginning in the early grades and carrying through the curriculum for years as different topics are taken up and viewed through the lens of one or more of these ideas.  From the cognitive perspective, this makes sense.” (2)
Application in the Homeschool
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a tool that a home educator can use to evaluate where students are in their learning on a certain subject.  A student does not simply move through levels as he becomes older, rather he moves up and down the pyramid in each topic he studies.  This increases transferable skills over time- the student becomes more capable of analysis in general as he practices, more capable of evaluation in general, and so on.  But in each case, the skill can only be transferred to a domain where the lower levels of the hierarchy have been reached.
For example, a student has studied the evolution of writing throughout ancient times.  He has gathered  lots of information, and has now demonstrated knowledge across many levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  He can summarize some of the main reasons writing came about, classify written language as pictorial, symbolic or somewhere in between, judge whether or not a particular writing style fits with the tools and implements a population had available for the physical act of writing, and even create a sound-based alphabet for an imaginary society with access to chisels and clay tablets.
The same student may then work on a project related to food chains.  While there is no knowledge transfer from one “summit” to the other, the ability to move through the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy become easier with time and practice.  In this way, there is skill transfer and growth.

The chart above lists “action words” that can help a teacher evaluate where in the hierarchy a student is.  It can also help with creating assignments that push a student upwards towards higher level processing skills.    One suggestion I found particularly interesting from the te@chthought article where I got this graphic is this:

“While we’ve shared Bloom’s Taxonomy posters before, the simplicity and clean design of the chart format make it a bit more functional–even useful to hand to the students themselves as a hole-punch-and-keep-it-in-your-journal-for-the-year kind of resource. It also makes a powerful self-directed learning tool. Start at the left, and, roughly, move right.”
As homeschoolers, we can serve not only as primary educators, but also as coaches for self-directed learning.  Helping a student to notice how he moves left and right through the chart can give him a tool to deepen his own understanding of topics and projects of interest.


(1) “Bloom’s Taxonomy”. Wikipedia

(2) Willingham, Daniel. Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom.


One thought on “Bloom’s Taxonomy: Adaptations for Home Use”

  1. I’ve never researched Bloom’s Taxonomy before, though I’ve heard of it. Your summary here is so helpful! Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

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