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Taxonomies of learning and thinking - hierarchies, classifications & lists?

I received this email from Tracey Riley (Massey University) via the gifted@lists.tki.org.nz (it's worth joining) Smile

Subject: [gifted] The Diffentiator

 A student just alerted me to this website, which, while not perfect by any means, is good for reminding us of some of the key ideas around differentiating our planning - for all learners, but certainly with applicability for gifted and talented students. Have a play!


As Tracy says, the resource isn't perfect, but it's an interesting e-approach to using Bloom's Taxonomy. There are several other wonderful resources in the VLN: A sample -
John Creighton:     /file/view/691563/blooms
Allanah King:         https://sites.google.com/site/bloomsapps/home
Simon Evans:         /blog/view/690451/supporting-the-key-competencies-thinking
Chrissie Butler:      /blog/view/474730/making-presentations-udl-strategies-to-increase-engagement

.... or lists?

I'm a long-time proponent of using Bloom's Taxonomy (and others) as a prompt and/or framework for planning for differentiation but I think there's a real danger in regarding these taxonomies as being inherentily hierarchical. It's true that people who develop taxonomies often assign values to the different levels of classification but thinking and disposition taxonomies such as those listed in Simon's post (Blooms, SOLO, Williams, de Bono's Six Hats, Thinkers Keys, Habits of Mind) are better regarded as lists rather than hierarchies that classify according to value or worth.


I don't find the use of terms such as 'higher order thinking' all that helpful; I've used them myself but I've also questioned this use because all types of thinking have their place and value - they do not operate in isolation from each other but overlap and interact continuously as we wonder, consider, challenge, apply, ponder and investigate, usually moving so quickly from one to the other that it seems as though we're applying them all concurrently. The question of applying thinking taxonomy theory in teaching is not whether students should move through (or up) the various stages of classifications in the taxonomy, but rather, how do we ensure that students have a repertoire of strategies that they can call on as and when required for effective learning and creating?

Differentiation - it's choice!

Used appropriately, taxonomies provide a framework for planning for the wide range of abilities, learning preferences and interests of students. Using taxonomies to aid planning forces us to consider those students who understand, remember and apply new learning very quickly, who may need little or no repetition in order to comprehend and apply their new learning. Planning for differentiation in this way ensures that these students are not compelled to engage in learning opportunities that dwell too long on one aspect of thinking but, rather, they are able to engage in different types of thinking at a pace that works for them- questioning, changing, creating, wondering, applying in an authentic and/or new context (a strategy encouraged by Edward de Bono and Tony Ryan). Using taxonomies in this way also caters for those students who require an increased number of opportunities to practise a skill or strategy in order to absorb it into their repertoire and for students who learn best if they start with the 'applying' or 'creating' aspect of the taxomony and develop deep understanding, not from being told by the teacher, but by engaging in the learning, perhaps adopting a 'trial and error' approach that is meaningful and effective for them.

The image below reflects a concern that students spend the majority of their time engaging in activities focused on recall and shallow understanding when they should be spending more time engaging in authentic application and inquiry that requires them to analyse, question, investigate, evaluate, review, reframe, create and synthesise.

Screen shot 2012-06-21 at 11.27.54 PM.png


Your thoughts, ideas, resources, differentiated learning plans?


  • Diane Mills

    I enjoyed reading through your post Anne.  In the past when working with teachers, I have always used Bloom's taxonomy to encourage discussion about planning and questioning techniques used, to see whether there has been a range of thinking opportunities given to all students.  I would not like to see it as a 'step by step' process that teachers move through to ensure coverage of all aspects, I see it as more fluid than that, as you point out.  I also believe that as the way we teach changes into more of a faciliatory role, and with increasing use of technology in the classroom, awareness of digital citizenship and key competencies, the shift will occur naturally to the top part of Bloom's taxonomy.  Teachers will be less likely to be the expert in the classroom providing all of the content that the student must comprehend and recall.  Students will be more likely to consider information, make a judgement call about what is important and why, from their point of view, reshape the information into new formats and share their learning persuasively with others.  They will quite naturally range up and down the taxonomy as they work with interesting and challenging tasks.