When I first came to China in the 1990s, I met some students who endeavored to memorize the dictionary. Yes, the entire English dictionary. I recently asked a colleague, who was one of those students, how far she got. “I finished it in three months. I reviewed the following term,” she replied.
Our awe at such grit is tempered by questions about its point. Yet, I wonder how often our students feel like dictionaries in the making. I wonder if we appear to assume that with enough input they’ll eventually spew out the desired information. Input IS important, even foundational. But learning is much deeper than simply ingesting a steady diet of facts, concepts, or rules.
My favorite tool for the deeper dimensions is Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s old (1956 and then revised about 50 years later) but still applicable. I keep a copy by my computer as a reference and reminder to delve into the deeper dimensions of output and critical thinking. (You can see a chart here: Bloom’s Taxonomy.) Currently, I’m using it in two ways:
- designing lessons: My Teaching Methodology sessions follow a similar pattern. After a lesson demonstration, we discuss background knowledge (remembering and understanding) and figure out techniques by deconstructing the demonstration (analyzing). Then, students critique ideas (evaluating) and synthesize all they’ve learned into a lesson plan (creating).
- asking questions: In a Teachers English Corner, whether we’re talking about teaching or life, I guide our conversations with questions that go below the surface of personal experiences. We make decisions about what works and why (analyzing and evaluating) and what steps we’ll take toward change (creating).
Some teachers get stuck at the surface because their students never seem to have enough mastery to move on. However, one of the benefits of moving on is that remembering and understanding are then maximized. In a series of health-related oral English activities, groups of students analyzed the nutrition of common snack foods, gave each other advice, and evaluated their health habits. Throughout, learned vocabulary was reinforced, and new was added, and then all was further processed when they created posters showing how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Processing continued the following week. I had jokingly reprimanded a student for speaking too much Chinese by telling her she owed me some chocolate. The next week, there she stood with a greenish-colored offering in her hands. “Teacher,” she said, “chocolate is high in fat and has a lot of calories, so I brought you this bread instead.”
Another benefit of working at the deeper dimensions is that students participate in a learning process that trajects from classroom to the world. Output and critical thinking involve them. Involvement can pique interest and heighten motivation. These, in turn, feed into more and deeper learning and in the end help learners navigate not just our subject but also the world.
In the meantime, students learn, for school and life, from each other’s ideas. As do we teachers. In last week’s Teaching Methodology class, at the end of a demonstration using “The Lost Son,” students chose one word to express the meaning of the story. Their answers gave me food for thought: love, understanding, cherish, tolerance, decision, and forgiveness.
Teaching at the deeper dimensions calls for some analyzing and evaluating, reflection on what might stand in our way and why. Are we overwhelmed by how to go there or afraid learners won’t respond? Are we accustomed to being on stage or too comfortable with the sound of our own voice? Do we need to surrender beliefs and humbly attempt something new? The resources below might help. Then, we can turn to the Master Teacher for wisdom. He’s skilled at moving students from a diet of milk to the deeper dimensions of judging good from evil and producing the fruit of a righteous life.
Now, it’s time to create.
(This is a two-part post. Read part 2 here: Bloom’s Taxonomy Plus the Moral Dimension.)
- Hebrews 5:11-14
- Bloom’s Taxonomy chart
- Teaching with the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Bloom et al.’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain
- A Model of Learning Objectives