Teaching Taxonomies on Prezi
That being said, I’m not always a fan of Prezi. Like any technology it is itself neither good or bad–it’s all in how it is designed and used. In this context I liked it because we could move “through” a theory, pop over to the discussion portion, and then move back to another theory to discuss. It also gave me the chance to talk a little bit about strengths and weaknesses of different presentation tools.
But we’re not here to discuss tools, we’re here for taxonomies! So here we go!
If you are a teacher, you’ve probably heard about Bloom’s Taxonomy before (probably many times). I like to start there to get us all on the same page. It also allows me to talk about how Bloom’s work was awesome even beyond his taxonomy. Check it out:
“A large part of what we call ‘good teaching’ is the teacher’s ability to attain affective objectives through challenging the students’ fixed beliefs and getting them to discuss issues.” –Benjamin Bloom (1964) in Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
Now that’s someone who understands the situation and experience of a learner! Bloom’s Taxonomy is almost always presented as a pyramid, building from the bottom: Knowledge -> Understanding -> Application -> Analysis -> Synthesis -> Evaluation. The higher up the pyramid, the more a student has actually internalized the information. This is very helpful when thinking about what you’re teaching. Perhaps you only actually want students to know how to use the databases but not understand how they work, for example.
And because we often like to update thing, there’s a revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy that goes Remembering -> Understanding -> Applying -> Analyzing -> Evaluating -> Creating. Just like Bloom’s original, this is a useful way to frame higher levels of learning and fits in well with many of the active, project-based learning environments many of our students are learning in today.
So Bloom’s is very useful to us when thinking about the one-shot. Frankly, in a one-shot it’s hard to get very high up the pyramid, but you can do some of it. It’s a nice framework for separating out the more skills based work of library research from the critical thinking abilities students need for research and can help a librarian teacher craft learning objectives that get to both.
Further, understanding Blooms gives any librarian a tool to use when working with faculty about what they would like covered in their classes. Are they focused on literally finding three articles just to give students the experience of navigating library systems? Are they most interested in having students decide which of three articles are most useful? Do they want students to be able to track down an article mentioned in the news and determine if it’s saying with the reporter says it’s saying? Understanding the “levels” of learning a student might have at various points in their college career allows librarians to integrate our information in the most meaningful way.
Perry’s Model of Intellectual and Ethical Development
I first came across Perry’s Model in my residence life days. This work is based on students at Harvard in the 1950s-60s. It’s hard to say it applies to everyone everywhere, but generally I have found the framework very useful in both my student affairs and library work.
The idea is that through college students move through several phases: Dualism to Multiplicity to Contextual Relativism, to Commitment within Contextual Relativism. And, at least in theory, this roughly maps out to the four years a typical student spends in college.
- Things are black/white, right/wrong
- Questions have objective and true answers
- Authorities have valuable wisdom and know eternal truth
- Knowledge is certain an unambiguous
You might have seen this in students who want to know the right answer to a search, who get frustrated at open ended subjective grading, or who just want the information from the professor/librarian without having to struggle with active learning exercises. This should give way to uncertainty and ambiguity.
- Students believe that in uncertain situations, knowledge and truth are subjective and personal
In some ways, this is a reaction to finding out that authorities don’t know everything. It’s the pendulum swinging the opposite direction. This might be witnessed in the case of a complex political issue where a student (or adult!) decides it’s not worth discussing because they have made up their mind and no one would have a truth or fact that could change it.
If you’re into Threshold Concepts, I think there’s a connection here. For a while I’ve been thinking that one of our Threshold Concepts is that you really can’t use Google to do all your research. If you’ve ever talked with a student who you can tell isn’t buying that argument, even after showing some of the unique resources you can offer through the library, you’re dealing with a student in this phase.
Luckily, if all goes according to plan, the student eventually recognizes their opinion is insufficient because insufficient information (such as methodology, evidence, logic, predictive power, etc) was used in knowledge claims, and they level up to the next phase.
- Students believe that in uncertain situations people choose to apply premises, frameworks, hypotheses, and theories. They believe policy conclusions are not self-evident.
Coming from a place where they realized that they’ve been misleading themselves, it’s easy to see how a student might then think that everyone else is choosing to believe what they want. In our current political environment, you can see this at play. A student might think that so much is uncertain that you just have to pick a side, and apply that consistent rational to the world to find a policy or truth you can live with.
Academic timing wise, if it happens during the junior year, it’s around the time that a student is figuring out that there is a specific world-view within their discipline and that others view the world differently. This could easily be a contributing factor. You can imagine: ” the world is uncertain, I’m learning in Women’s and Gender Studies to apply a feminist lens to the world, therefore everyone just picks a framework that works for them and applies it.”
As a teacher this is challenging because it’s hard to make the case that there really is truth to anything in such a relativist perspective. As a librarian, it might feel as though we’re fueling the issue by providing access to materials for all kinds of perspectives. However, this eventually gives way when students recognize that even though the world is uncertain, they must make choices, and that choices require methods of critical thinking.
Senior/Commitment Within Contextual Relativism
Students may come to accept:
- That choices require BOTH knowledge AND values
- Knowledge, theories, and methods are imperfect and uncertain
- Personal choice requires acknowledging personal responsibility that follows from personal values
In other words, that there are times there are facts and there are uncertain times. In uncertain times one applies critical thinking to determine the best value and belief system to use when evaluating information and combines this with knowledge to come to a conclusion. Oh, don’t we wish everyone was there!
So despite flaws in research design, Bloom’s sounds like a useful framework or taxonomy, no? Obviously, anyone working with students knows that not everyone gets to all of the phases, but we all know some who do. Understanding Bloom’s can help us understand what students think of us as teachers: as freshmen they will probably believe anything we have to say, as juniors they might need a little more contextualization for information to believe it, for example. Knowing about the intellectual development of a student, particularly when paired with curricular knowledge and where they are in their program, can help us think a lot about how they will incorporate what we have to say or challenge it. It can help us frame appropriate learning activities for each group as well. A group that is likely to trust anything an instructor says will probably do better with a lecture based session than a group that’s critical and will need to wrestle with the information themselves to believe it. All good stuff!
My hope is that at this point you can see how knowledge of the learning process in Bloom’s, or knowledge of the development of students in Perry’s will help you think about your own teaching and the experience of the learner. The next post will address the Kolb Model and Kohlberg’s Stages. Stay tuned!