Conventional wisdom in education once held that only some children could be genuinely helped by their educators. The others were pretty much doomed by their circumstances. But then along came Benjamin Bloom, who in 1956 published his widely influential, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Bloom’s work helped lead an educational renaissance over the next several decades resulting in such things as Head Start and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Starting in the 1950s, research exploded exploring the hows and whys of using structure, individualized attention, and feedback, to give educators the tools to help all children maximize their potential. Bloom contributed his list of cognitive processes that organized thinking and learning from the simplest (recall) to the most complex (judging or evaluating). The point was to use the understanding of exactly where a person’s specific knowledge of a topic is to guide further teaching on that topic. After acquiring recall knowledge of an objective, learning proceeded hierarchically from comprehension, to application, to analysis and synthesis, before ending up at the top step – evaluation.
Of course the taxonomy wasn’t perfect. Since that time, educational researchers and cognitive psychologists have learned a great deal more about learning, especially concerning the impact of feelings and beliefs, as well as social and cultural influences. Bloom’s hierarchy came to be seen as too rigidly denying these external factors, while oversimplifying the progression from one step to another, and too strictly separating specific areas of knowledge. Other researchers, such as Marzano and Anderson have since made their own contributions, helping increase the taxonomy’s relevance and accuracy. In particular, the skill of creativity has been added to the top level. Creating specifically involves combining skills needed to generate, plan, and produce things, which are hopefully useful.
Other useful classifications often accompanying the taxonomy include procedural and declarative knowledge, and meta-cognitive knowledge. Procedural knowledge can be thought of as “know how” knowledge. An example would be knowing how to tie shoes. This kind of knowledge, which is greatly helped by actually doing the task, is often seen as the most difficult to teach. Declarative, or conceptual knowledge, is the “know what” type of knowledge. This usually involves facts and/or linguistic representations. This would involve, for example, the verbal instructions of what you do when you tie shoes (First you grab one lace in each hand, then…). Meta-cognitive knowledge is the “know why,” of knowledge. Why do we need to learn to tie shoes? “Meta” knowledge can also be very difficult to teach and to learn.