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Climbing the Pyramid of Bloom's Taxonomy Through the Writing Process

I had the privilege of co-writing this post with an amazing team of educators. Shaelynn Farnsworth (@shfarnsworth), serves as a Literacy Consultant at Area Education Agency 267 in Iowa. Phillip Loomis (@TeachLoomis) currently teaches 7th grade English in Bellevue, Nebraska and is a member of #iPadAcademy. Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher), serves as an Instructional Technology Consultant at the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Northwest Iowa.

"How do educators design tasks in which students construct their own knowledge; conceptually demonstrate their understanding through application, analyzation, or interpretations; and elaborately communicate this through the use of coherent language, explicit evidence, while aligned to the initial learning objective?"

This common problem of practice is often discovered through collegial collaboration in which educators reflect on and collaborate to increase student achievement through careful lesson design. Believe it or not, but the simple answer could be "through writing."

Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing and debating this question - as well as related ones - within the context of examining the writing process through the lens of Bloom's Taxonomy. Though our conversation began as a result of an article by Granello in 2001, that presented a case for using Bloom's Taxonomy as a framework to improve the writing of doctoral literature reviews, we questioned what this might look like both in terms of the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002) as well as in a K-12 environment.

"If we are not asking students to make connections, to synthesize ideas, to draw conclusions...if we are not giving them an opportunity for this, or even examining this through process to creation, why would we think it would magically happen when instructed to write?"

While Granello (2001) considered writing only through the lenses of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, the revised Bloom's Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002), puts "Create" at the top of the pyramid and distinguishes between factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive knowledge. In both multimedia production as well as formalized writing, we often challenge our students to consider the rhetorical triangle of audience, speaker, and message or purpose. Is there evidence in writing that these considerations are made? Do we see the writer intentionally plan their rhetorical choices and then leverage language to accomplish purpose? Do we see the writer experiment with mode to reach the desired audience? Perhaps it is not the writing in isolation that reveals cognitive complexity, but rather the writer's ability to explain all that they did and why they did what they did. When this occurs, we then have to ask if "writing" might take on a different form than just words on a page.

"... The end product should not need to be a piece of writing. The demonstration of the writing process can be completed along the way to the creation of the final product. "

When we examine the process of writing through the revised Bloom's Taxonomy, the end product should not need to be in paragraph form. The demonstration of the process can be completed along the way to the creation of the final product. Several students have done this for all of us during the creation of videos, blog posts, eBooks, and presentations. By establishing "checkpoints" within the project, teachers have the ability to see students demonstrating their degree of understanding as described by Granello in the early stages of the writing process, but then have the opportunity to go deeper and also tap into their true passions and interests. Checkpoints, when used as formative assessment to inform instruction, provide educators specific insights along a trajectory of writing behaviors. This identification of needs further allows the teacher to intervene early and help guide the students.

However, using Bloom's as a model implies that a natural progression through the writing framework and critical thinking actually exists - which may not be not the case. This line of thinking does not take into account task design or instruction received. While there are agreed upon stages that most writers go through from prewriting to publishing, they are neither a continuum nor a hierarchy of skills. In other words, brainstorming is not seen as less cognitively demanding than editing. Just as there is no one way to approach writing or the writing process, there will be no definite truths for the writing ability of students as a whole. Typically, teachers find a blending of problems from voice to structure to coherently linked arguments that build off of each other. Mostly, students will straddle the line, if not multiple lines, according to Bloom's which wreaks havoc in broadly based writing assessments. Even within the revised Bloom's taxonomy, students may produce a piece of writing but may not create "a novel, coherent whole" (Krathwohl, 2002, p. 215).

One pathway that we agreed upon is the workshop framework: to teach the writer, not the writing. In a workshop model, educators and students identify natural progressions and design writing checklists. This allows for clear learning objectives to be shared by the teacher and understood by all students, for the adoption of mentor examples, for students to practice their craft, and for teachers to gain vital pieces of formative assessment on which to base instruction and student goals.

When we began this conversation several weeks ago, it started with a premise that using the revised Bloom's taxonomy would encourage students to create something other than writing in order to obtain complete cognitive capacity. However, the creation and the process would be different if the goal was Synthesis versus Evaluation versus Analysis. When we think of the final writing product, we envision and include the process to the end because that is often where we invest brain power. After engaging in this conversation, we now see that the end - the product or creation - truly seems less important than the journey as the significance lies in developing an idea into something more than a fleeting thought.

References

Granello, D. H. (2001). Promoting cognitive complexity in graduate written work: Using Bloom's Taxonomy as a pedagogical tool to improve literature reviews. Counselor Education and Supervision, 40(4), 292-307. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6978.2001.tb01261.x

Krathwohl, D. R.. (2002). A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy: An Overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212-218. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1477405

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