Let Benjamin Bloom Help You Evaluate Schools

[chart of Bloom's Taxonomy

If you’re trying to evaluate schools — whether you’re looking for a school for your child or wondering about the quality of your child’s current school — you need to know about Benjamin Bloom and his famous idea.

An educational psychologist who lived in the 20th century, Bloom played a vital role in helping people understand what learning is and how it happens. In the 1950s, he and some colleagues developed a pyramid with six layers that illustrates how people use their brains to learn and perform.1 Bloom’s Taxonomy, as the pyramid is known, is a valuable tool that can help you evaluate schools.

The six layers of Bloom’s Taxonomy

At the bottom of the pyramid, Remembering involves recognizing or remembering facts or concepts without necessarily understanding what they mean. Example: Name three common varieties of apple.2

Level 2, Understanding, asks a little more of us. To demonstrate understanding, we need to be able to do things such as organize, compare, or interpret information. Example: Compare the characteristics of a Golden Delicious apple with those of a Granny Smith apple.

Level 3 of the pyramid, Applying, involves solving problems by applying knowledge, techniques, or rules. You’re using prior knowledge and skills to solve problems in new situations. Example: Would eating apples help prevent scurvy, a disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency?

Level 4, Analyzing, involves examining and breaking information into parts, determining how the parts relate to one another, identifying motives or causes, making inferences, and finding evidence to support generalizations. Example: List four ways of serving foods made with apples and explain which ones have the highest health benefits.

Level 5, Evaluating, involves presenting and defending opinions by making judgments about information, the validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria. Example: Which kinds of apples are best for baking a pie, and why?

The sixth and final layer, Creating, involves putting parts together to form a whole. This is what we need to do when we write, construct a mathematical proof, or perform as a programmer, athlete or artist. Example: Create a recipe for a tasty and nutritious apple pie using what you know about apples and cooking in general.

Now back to that school you’re looking at for your child. This model is useful for understanding what goes on in schools, and how schools differ from each other.

With a little sleuthing on a school visit, you can usually get some insight into what the school believes and does in relation to these six levels of learning. To simplify the question, you might consider the levels in pairs: remembering and understanding, applying and analyzing, and evaluating and creating. On a school visit, what can you learn about how much time students and teachers are spending at each level?

The importance of balance

There is no definitive “right” answer to this question. Different educators and schools believe different things about the best way to develop children’s capabilities. If you’re looking for a school for your child, the key questions are: What do I believe about learning and what’s the right mix for my child? Then, ask yourself: How good a match is this school?

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a new school or reflecting on your current one, you might consider these additional questions:

  • If the school emphasizes the lower levels of the pyramid, can you see signs that the school cares about understanding and applying as well as remembering? This is critical, because you don’t want your child to be crammed full of facts without regard to whether they understand the facts and can apply them. That’s not useful.
  • If the school emphasizes the higher levels of the pyramid, can you see that they also care about the lower levels? This is essential. Your child will not be well served by a school that has students do lots of evaluating or creating, without the benefit of knowing or understanding important information or concepts.

Whether you’re looking for a new school or reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of your own, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a valuable model to help you understand and evaluate schools.

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Let Benjamin Bloom Help You Evaluate Schools
  1. See Wikipedia for an introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy. The version I’m sharing here, introduced in 2001, is a modified version of the original.
  2. Thank you to the authors of the Bloom’s Taxonomy Wikipedia entry for most of the apple-related examples.