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From Teaching to Learning: Faculty continue to find new ways to use Bloom’s Taxonomy


Many instructors find that Bloom’s Taxonomy is an excellent tool to help them write clear learning objectives that are useful for planning all phases of instruction.  Developed in the 1950s, the widely implemented taxonomy identifies six cognitive levels, increasingly more complex, and provides examples of verbs that communicate explicit ways that learners can demonstrate knowledge and thinking skills. However, in addition to using the taxonomy as a course design tool, two School of Health and Rehabilitation Science (SHRS) professors actually teach Bloom’s Taxonomy to their students to promote learning in diverse contexts.

Elaine Mormer, professor of audiology, finds that actually teaching Bloom’s Taxonomy to her lower level undergraduate students enables them to enhance their study skills.  Mormer begins by focusing students’ attention on lesson objectives printed in the syllabus for each class session.  Drawing their attention to each verb, she teaches them about the levels of thinking involved as they master new course content, raising their awareness of how new information is cognitively processed.  She encourages students to try to process new information in more efficient and effective ways.  Mormer’s students appreciate this information and tell her that “this is the first time anyone in college told me how to study.”

Outside the traditional classroom setting, both Mormer and a colleague, Cheryl Messick, a professor of speech and language pathology, use the taxonomy to help their clinical students focus on personal and professional goals for their clinical placements. Messick and Mormer find that using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a reference helps students to establish and communicate goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, and timely.  Their clinical students use Bloom’s Taxonomy to identify the level of learning they hope to accomplish during a clinical placement and track their progress across placements during their graduate education.  During the early clinical experiences, their objectives are focused on the lower levels of knowledge: knowledge, comprehension, and interpretation.  As they progress in their clinical education and experience new clinical challenges, they begin to write personal objectives focusing on the more advanced levels of knowledge: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Their clinical students also use Bloom’s Taxonomy to write objectives for their own patients.
Messick and Mormer explain that “teaching students is the same as doing therapy.  You have objectives, and then you have activities to get you to that objective and the objective gets you to this overall bigger goal.  That’s what treatment is.”  Messick explains that in the clinic using Bloom’s Taxonomy helps clinicians to clearly set and communicate the goals they set for their patients and the activities they prescribe.

Aside from teaching their students how to apply Bloom’s Taxonomy, Mormer and Messick find that the Taxonomy is indispensable for planning effective classes.  For example, in one of Mormer’s first class sessions for her Introduction to Clinical Processes course, before introducing students to Ethical Practice in the Clinic, she ascertains their prior knowledge and familiarity with the concept of ethics by asking them to complete a survey about their own ethical behaviors and thoughts.  Acknowledging the importance of setting a sound foundation of knowledge, she initially focuses on lower-level objectives by asking students to develop their own definitions of ethics.  She then asks them to modify that basic definition of ethics to fit a professional clinic situation, using the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) published Code of Ethics for the field.

When students have a solid understanding of the meaning of ethics, she then asks them to apply (a higher-level objective) the ASHA Code of Ethics to specific clinical ethical situations.  Students are placed into groups that resemble an ethics board, and they must make a decision (another higher-level objective) about a particular ethical situation by using the Code of Ethics as a guide.  This activity allows Mormer to assess the higher level of understanding she is hoping the students will have concerning ethics by the end of the course.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy may be second nature to both Messick and Mormer, but it takes practice and planning.  If you are looking for some guidance on how to write objectives and some information on what objectives can do to help your students succeed, contact the Teaching and Learning staff at CIDDE.  You can e-mail teaching@pitt.edu to talk more about objectives and how to use them effectively in your courses.

By Erin Kleinman, CIDDE