Longtime readers might know that in my day job–the one I go to when I’m not blogging or fighting crime in Gotham–I develop documentation and training. Lately, I’ve been creating classroom curriculum for technical trainers.
Something I’ve had to become somewhat familiar with is Bloom’s taxonomy. The taxonomy is so influential in educational circles that I’m surprised it hasn’t been more prominent in language learning. I’ve seen some mention of it from MFL teachers, but for the most part it’s not paid much attention.
You could literally write a dissertation on Bloom’s taxonomy’s relevance in second language learning. (You’re welcome, grad students.) So I’ll try to cover the topic in 500 words.
(UPDATE: When you’re done, please be sure to check out the follow-up article, which clarifies a couple things here and adds a few others.)
Who, What, Where, When? (I’ll cover “Why?” later.)
Bloom’s taxonomy was created in the 1940s by a group of United States educators, headed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom. In 2000, it was updated by cognitive psychologists.
The taxonomy separates educational goals into three general “domains”–cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling), and pscyhomotor (doing). The first, cognitive, is the domain that education generally deals with.
The cognitive domain is further broken down into different skills, going from least complex to most:
How does Bloom’s taxonomy apply to language learning?
So if you consider the skills I mentioned above, then you can determine what kind of language learning activities would go in each category.
I put some thoughts into the following graphic, which you can share on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. (Hint, hint.)
These categorizations aren’t set in stone. As the Big Lebowski would tell me, “That’s, like, just your opinion, man.” Maybe speaking belongs in the “Creating” category, vocab drills in “Understanding,” and so on. My goal here isn’t to be the definitive source, though, but to give you some food for thought.
Okay, so next question: Why do we care?
Three reasons. The taxonomy:
- Lets you know lower level skills–remembering and understanding–are prerequisites to higher-level ones. You know you have to learn words before you can argue politics.
- Gives you an idea of how complicated an activity is. You know what’s appropriate for your current level.
- Provides a progression track. If all you did was memorize lists of vocab words, you’d not be challenging yourself nearly enough to pick up higher-level skills.
Please consider the taxonomy as a very flexible model. I can think of two reasons why you shouldn’t obsess over it:
- It doesn’t account for differences among the four basic language skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. For instance, listening is generally much easier than speaking, even though both are in the “Applying” category.
- Acquisition doesn’t follow this model. Easy example: Many people learn to speak grammatically comprehensible sentences without ever learning a grammatical rule. In some ways, learning a language is like learning history or math, but in some ways it is way different.
But I still think Bloom’s taxonomy provides value to language enthusiasts, if for no other reason than to make you analyze why you’re doing what you’re doing.