Planning for Remote Learning: A Tried & True Tool
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Educators realize that they’ll be teaching remote in some capacity when the school year commences. Good teaching starts with good planning. And good planning starts with learning theory. It can be overwhelming to sort through the ocean of literature, especially when panic is the only hindsight and the pedagogy is as new as the coronavirus. Going old school might be the best choice. #remotelearning #onlinelearning #distancelearning #technology #theresacapra #teachingtips #Covid19
What's Bloom's Taxonomy?
Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) is a widely-used learning theory applicable to any learning environment and discipline. It's a tried and true tool that can support remote teaching. Benjamin Bloom was an educational psychologist who led a committee of researchers through the development of domains to evaluate learning and assessment. The cognitive domain was found to be the most useful for educators and it was articulated in a pyramid with complexity increasing towards the apex.
The original pyramid consisted of nouns. I can recall being required to apply the original taxonomy to all of my lessons and units during my K-8 undergraduate program many moons ago. Sometimes it was tricky --what does synthesis look like in a science lesson for 4th graders?
In 2001, the hierarchy was revised from nouns to verbs and the top levels were reversed with “create” becoming the most challenging task. These changes made it a much more user-friendly tool because the learning associated with each level is now embodied in actions.
The lower levels are easy --knowledge and comprehension are implemented without much thought at all. Asking students to tell, identify, and explain the material happens daily whether the learning is online or face-to-face. Those levels are also routinely attended to during exams, quizzes, and homework assignments.
It’s the higher levels that generally elude instructors--it has been noted that most teachers do not move their students beyond comprehension or application. Furthermore, apply and create are misunderstood. Application is more than rote practice, it entails opportunities for students to apply content to their own lives--a progressive philosophy postulated by John Dewey who believed all learning needs merit in the real world.
An example of common misuse would be having students work on practice problems after a new formula or skill has been demonstrated believing it is cognitive application. Unless the nature of the problem requires higher cognition, it’s not more than knowledge or comprehension.
Similarly, asking students to write an essay, create a display of the solar system, or another task that does not involve the creation of something original is really knowledge, or perhaps comprehension at best.
So how does it work?
As you plan lessons and assignments pause at each stage and think, how can I get my students to reach this level? What questions, assignments, activities, projects, will tap into each domain? And now that we are remote, ponder this additional question, which technology, tool, or method can best support these activities?
Knowledge is foundational information--who, what, when, where. Can students recall the planets in the solar system? My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles (used to be Nine Pizzas until Pluto was demoted).
Comprehension moves beyond memory and asks students to explain--what is a planet, what criteria do astronomers use to classify them (why was Pluto demoted).
Application is not merely asking students to role-play how the planets revolve around the sun (that’s not much higher than comprehension), instead application should call upon students to consider how we are part of the solar system--the atmosphere, weather, the night sky--direct links to everyday life.
Analysis is best implemented by asking students to see the content from multiple perspectives--compare and contrast. So continuing with this example, students could dig deeper comparing and contrasting what astronomers know about solar systems through light years, and what they don’t.
When it comes to evaluation students should be encouraged to take a stand, form an opinion, arrive at a rationale. The key is that evaluation must be meaningful and thoughtful. So you wouldn’t ask students, in your opinion, do you think we could live on Mars? Instead ask them to evaluate what would be necessary for humans to colonize a planet such as Mars and whether that is feasible.
Finally, for create, it has to be original --so a simple diorama of the planets is not higher level. A research project won’t necessarily hit it either if students only summarize articles. Instead they could evaluate the impact humans have had on Earth (through research) and devise a community plan to mitigate the damage.
What are some issues?
Critics of the taxonomy contend that learning does not follow a compartmentalized trajectory and that the levels, particularly the upper ones, overlap. This is evident to experienced instructors who realize students can manifest all of the levels in a single activity. But that type of planning is harder than it seems, so I guide my education students through developing questions and activities independently until they become comfortable with the tool.
Another reason educators struggle with implementing higher level learning is that it is time consuming--teachers are typically under pressure to cover material, plow through topics, and prepare students for some external objective unrelated to the course whether it’s a standardized exam or next sequence in the discipline. Knowledge and comprehension are sufficient to lead to proficiency.
Bloom and remote, perfect together!
Bloom's Taxonomy complements remote design because there’s increased flexibility with delivery and accessible technology. So as you set out to design your remote course, consider infusing projects that span longer periods of time and tap the higher levels. Utilize different strategies: questions during whole group and small group synchronous instruction, independent projects, the creation of learning communities to collaborate on higher level work.
Here’s an example of how I am using Bloom's Taxonomy to help me teach Bloom's Taxonomy in my remote Introduction to Education course!
Topic: Bloom’s Taxonomy
Knowledge: Define each level of Bloom (during a synchronous review session).
Comprehension: Explain how students may manifest each domain (question on open-ended exam).
Application: Apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to a topic of your choice and share with classmates. Select two from classmates and provide feedback (on a discussion board).
Analysis: Design an activity that fits at least two levels simultaneously (independent work during a synchronous session, or as a homework assignment).
Evaluate: Evaluate this example (which I'll create) of the application of Bloom’s to a unit/topic and determine which activities fit appropriately, which ones need revision, and justify your rationale (group project during a synchronous session via breakout rooms).
Create: Create a project from a topic of your choice that satisfies analysis, evaluation, and create. Design rubrics to assess student learning (independent summative assessment).
Of course there are many ways to go about planning and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But Bloom’s Taxonomy can help instructors organize planning in a practical way.