in Education

Learning taxonomies: why ‘creating’ is not a cognitive skill.

A new version of Bloom's Taxonomy

Earlier today on Twitter I retweeted psuedo-academic blog post, commenting that (in my opinion) ‘creating’ is not a higher-order skill than, say, ‘evaluating’. This was the article, and to the right is the modification of Bloom’s Taxonomy in question.

The problem with Twitter is that it’s extremely difficult to have any kind of in-depth debate, especially as more and more people enter the fray.

The important tweets in the conversation went a little something like this:

[View the story "Learning taxonomies: why 'creating' is not a cognitive skill." on Storify]

If someone asks you for ‘evidence’ your first response should be “What type of evidence would cause you to change your mind?” Often people use this as a defensive move when they’ve got an entrenched belief (or don’t want to think too hard about things). As a trained philosopher, I’m very happy to change my mind and find thought experiments much helpful in teasing out rational thinking.

Let’s come up with a thought experiment about this taxonomy. If ‘creating’ is at the top of a taxonomy then then it is, ipso facto, a higher-order skill than the cognitive skills below it. If that is the case, then it should be impossible to achieve that highest-order cognitive skill without some reference to those that are lower in it in the taxonomy.

The arguments that came back about ‘creating’ being a cognitive skill seemed to be predicated upon the idea of something being a ‘good’ example of a created thing. But nowhere in the taxonomy do value judgements come into it. Nor should they. Creating something is making something that wasn’t there before, no matter how ‘good’ or otherwise it may be. My son’s first attempts at art are ‘creating’ something just as much the expert woodworker turning a lathe to make beautiful hand-crafted furniture.

Let’s say that the woodworker in the example above was idly chipping away at a piece of wood whilst engaged in conversation with you. He doesn’t look down once at what he was doing, but by the end of the conversation he’s fashioned that piece of wood to look exactly like an acorn. In this case we’d say that his training and experience had enabled him to do that. But the act of creation and the act of creating something good are two different things.

Continuing the thought experiment, the woodworker passes the knife over to me. As someone with very little manual skills, I concentrate hard and chip away at another piece of wood, trying to create a little bird. The intention is there, but after half an hour I stop and it looks… like a smaller piece of wood. Despite this, my four year-old son takes one look at it and decides it looks like a monster! He takes it and goes and plays with it along with his other toys.

Creating something is on a different continuum than that of cognitive skills. Although cognitive skills are usually involved in the creation of something, they are not a necessary nor a sufficient condition for creation to take place. Instead, ‘creating’ is on a procedural continuum. You take X and Y and do this, then this, then this, then you have Z. At each of those points cognitive skills may be used, but not in every case.

Bloom's taxonomy

To conclude, I believe Bloom’s taxonomy does need revising, just not by adding to it. Instead, I’d suggest that instead of ‘Evaluating’ being at the top of Bloom’s original pyramid and ‘Synthesis’ second-top, that these two are swapped around. This, I believe, fits in with the SOLO Taxonomy, an organizational schema which seems to be more relevant in 2011 than Bloom’s increasingly-dated attempt.

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13 Comments

  1. Hi Doug,

    I think there is a fundamental problem with your argument, here. First, I trust you are aware that Bloom’s taxonomy is designed for categorizing test questions. So it’s clear to see how one can climb the taxonomy when authoring test questions. One begins with regurgitation questions and then proceeds up the ladder. The more difficult questions will likely be ones that require creation. It would be nearly impossible to successfully answer that question without a decent level of cognitive effort.

    Also, you use the word “creating” in many different situations in this post, and I fear they are conflated.

    First, you use it in terms of a physical skill (procedural) as in the wood carving example. Then you use it in terms of creating in terms of higher order thinking (declarative). Also note that the HOTTS chart you link has no basis being compared to Bloom’s.

    For what it’s worth, I am not defending the HOTTS chart. I think that’s an ill-fated attempt to qualify thinking, which is simply difficult to do.

    The bigger problem is that folks tend to use Bloom’s in ways it was never intended. Bloom’s is absolutely appropriate for categorizing test questions, the goal of which is to ensure a balance between the categories.

    For the sake of this answer, we’ll set aside the debate over whether those types of assessments (ones where the questions can be categorized) are worthwhile.

    Lastly, you seem to dismiss the nature of expertise. The woodcarver in your example is an expert because he is skilled in the procedure. Therefore, carving the acorn likely does not provide any real cognitive load, hence his ability to have a conversation with you and carve at the same time.

    For me and you, carving a little monster would require a high level of intrinsic cognitive load since I think we would both agree that we are not experts (again, expert being defined as someone able to perform a task with minimal impact on working memory).

    Yours,

    Chris Craft

  2. I suspect the chart you show with creating at the top has been quoted totally out of context (as is usual in far too many ‘educator’ blogs) from the work that Anderson and Krathwohl did on updating Bloom’s taxonomy. The second dimension and the change from noun to verb which they suggested have also been lost in that particular representation… I presented on this to 200+ trainee teachers in the Philippines back in 2008 (slides: http://www.slideshare.net/ColinGraham/bloom-materials-aligning-learning-teaching-and-assessment-goals-by-the-application-of-blooms-taxonomy). Both authors were part of Bloom’s original team, and I think we can give them some credit towards knowing what they were doing! 140 characters is definitely not enough to discuss this, neither was the 2 hours I had for my plenary session!

  3. Dave – great! :-)

    Colin and Chris, thanks for your comments. I suspect that your expertise and knowledge of Bloom’s taxonomy and subsequent work have perhaps caused you to assume I’m saying something that I’m not. I should imagine that we’re agreeing more than we’re differing here.

    Chris, Bloom’s taxonomy may have been *created* for categorizing test questions, but it’s used in everyday practice in multiple ways. That was the problem with Socrates – he thought everything had only one meaning and that the world isn’t fundamentally ambiguous. I fully intended to use the word ‘creating’ in many different situations but doing so doesn’t necessarily involve conflation. My argument is that ‘creating’ is on a different continuum to cognitive skills. As a result, I’d suggest the notion of ‘expertise’ that you bring in is a mixture of the procedural (i.e. ‘creating’) and the cognitive. :-)

  4. Dave – great! :-) Colin and Chris, thanks for your comments. I suspect that your expertise and knowledge of Bloom’s taxonomy and subsequent work have perhaps caused you to assume I’m saying something that I’m not. I should imagine that we’re agreeing more than we’re differing here. Chris, Bloom’s taxonomy may have been *created* for categorizing test questions, but it’s used in everyday practice in multiple ways. That was the problem with Socrates – he thought everything had only one meaning and that the world isn’t fundamentally ambiguous. I fully intended to use the word ‘creating’ in many different situations but doing so doesn’t necessarily involve conflation. My argument is that ‘creating’ is on a different continuum to cognitive skills. As a result, I’d suggest the notion of ‘expertise’ that you bring in is a mixture of the procedural (i.e. ‘creating’) and the cognitive. :-)

  5. Perhaps it should be “innovating” rather than creating? Uhm, isn’t carving in th psycho-motor and perhaps affective (art is always affective in my mind) domain rather than cognitive? Sorry, I’m fascinated by the discussion but clearly not awake enough to fully participate. Will be back to read posts with more rigor.

  6. Perhaps it should be “innovating” rather than creating? Uhm, isn’t carving in th psycho-motor and perhaps affective (art is always affective in my mind) domain rather than cognitive? Sorry, I’m fascinated by the discussion but clearly not awake enough to fully participate. Will be back to read posts with more rigor.

  7. I found this when WordPress recommended it as relevant to my latest post, but aren’t there already several incarnations of a revised Bloom’s Taxonomy? I’ve been using this version http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm with my students so they can assess their own questions (asked of each other while revising). I also liked the version on the Wikipedia page (my project for this week is to do some research into ‘proper’ sources) which suggests that the first three levels (Recall/Understand/Apply) are hierarchical, while the next three (Analyse/Evaluate/Create) are best considered as running in parallel. Hmmm. Lots to think about…

  8. @jamiebillingham Absolutely – and that ‘different domains’ point is what I’m trying to get at here. Thanks for the comment, Jamie! :-)

  9. @teachingofsci Indeed, but my point here is simply that ‘creating’ shouldn’t be included in *any* version as it’s not a cognitive skill. :-)

  10. @dajbelshaw @teachingofsci My use of it is probably closer to the original ‘synthesize’ – as in to create something that demonstrates/uses/is based on understanding from more than one source. This will, if done well, have to include some evaluation and comparison. Perhaps the ‘create’ label got used as lazy shorthand?

    I seem to have set myself HW – to read up on different versions of Blooms and compare it to SOLO, as flagged up by your post. Thanks… :)

  11. Glad I stumbled across this. Two thoughts: Sir Ken describes creativity as the process of having “original ideas which have worth”. if this definition were to be accepted wouldn’t that make creation a higher order cognitive skill? Secondly, the SOLO taxonomy is a theory of learning rather than a theory of knowledge. Although the levels of SOLO imply progression it is possible to slot creativity in anywhere rather than at the apex of a hierarchy. It’s taken me some time to wrap my head arond how SOLO works and have distilled my thoughts here:¬†http://learningspy.co.uk/solo-taxonomy/

    Thanks, David