What's a Taxonomy?

Many teachers find writing objectives to be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be!  A helpful way to approach any challenge is to use a taxonomy as a guideline.  But what's a taxonomy?  A taxonomy is just a fancy term for the practice and science of classification.

We use taxonomies all the time - if you've ever used the Dewey Decimal System to find a book in the library or ever heard animals referred to by their scientific classification, also know as their binomial nomenclature classification (for instance, the domestic cat is referred to as the Felis Catus), you've used a taxonomy!

Educators can benefit from using a taxonomy to make sure they're not leaving important items out when designing instruction.  We'll walk you one of the more famous educational taxonomies below and show you hot to apply it.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Using the components of Bloom’s Taxonomy is a helpful tool when it comes to writing objectives and identifying how well your students comprehend a concept.

In 1956, Dr. Benjamin Bloom and several other educational psychologists published set of guidelines for developing educational objectives. Known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, this framework clarified the different stages of learning into three main domains: cognitive, affective and psychomotor.

The idea is to use Bloom's taxonomy to help educators focus on all three domains when teaching, thus creating a much more holistic form of education that can fit different learning styles and increase retention.

Within the cognitive domain Bloom identified six stages of learning:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation.

In 2001 his stages were reworked by educational researchers and cognitive psychologists and updated to be verbs. This revised taxonomy makes writing objectives much easier for teachers. The framework builds upon itself, with the first levels being the minimal level of understanding.

It is your job as a teacher to move your students through the cognitive levels, which is why it is helpful to think of them in terms of action words. You want your students to do something with their knowledge, which is why objectives should be written with verbs.

The Revised Taxonomy

1. Remember

Recalling and recognizing previously learned information. This is the most basic level of understanding as it is rote memory.

  • Action Verbs: describe, define, state, name, order, list, identify.
  • Examples: Quote prices. Identify locations of products in a store for a customer.

You should design your courses and instruction to include review of terms and demonstrate rote memorisation, but only focus on this when starting out.  Demonstrating command of definitions and terms is critical when starting out, but you should try to get your students moving forward as quickly as possible, or depending on the level of your class, require this kind of preparation and learning beforehand or

2. Understand

Once students remember facts, they need to demonstrate an understanding of them.

  • Action Verbs: explain, describe, summarize, defend, predict, give examples.
  • Examples: Explain the steps for performing a complex task. Summarise a report.

In terms of instructional design, check out our post on some of the great ways you can assess student performance without taking tons of time.  Building in time to measure true understanding can be extremely valuable prior to moving your students forward.

3. Apply

Understanding facts is not enough, now students should apply their knowledge to actual situations.

  • Action Verbs: change, choose, illustrate, interpret, show, solve, modify.
  • Examples: Interpret a speadsheet of data to determine cost.

4. Analyse

Breaking down ideas or concepts into smaller parts in order to understand the structure and organization. Students who analyze can distinguish between facts and inferences.

  • Action Verbs: calculate, examine, model, examine, gather, compare, distinguish.
  • Examples: Gathers information from employees and determines an appropriate training based on need. Recognises areas that need improvement in customer service.

5. Evaluate

Making judgements about the value of a system or idea.

  • Action Verbs: contrast, criticise, select, supports, defend, justify.
  • Examples: Hire the most qualified candidate. Selects the most cost effective solution.

6. Create

Putting parts together to form a whole, ideally an alternative solution.

  • Action Verbs: modify, compose, generate, revise, organise.
  • Examples: Revises a training manual. Designs a piece of software.

Conclusion and Application

Beyond writing objectives, use of Bloom's taxonomy is also extremely helpful in assessing students’ understanding of concepts. Knowing the different levels and looking for where students fall among them will enable you to move them from a basic level of understanding to a more complex level.  If you're not hitting every level, it might be time to take a step back and work on your curriculum a bit or restructure how your course is setup for delivery.

Using a taxonomy as a guide is essentially exactly why they've been created, so don't stress if you find a deficiency in your instructional approach - discovering problems and fixing them is the whole point!

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