Applying Bloom’s taxonomy in teaching composition

Written by: Gergana Vasileva Kusheva,
St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Turnovo
e-mail: geri_vg@yahoo.com

Bloom’s taxonomy, which presents a classification of the aims of the educational process, can successfully be applied in composition classes taught to students learning English at university level.

Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain contains six major classes: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  The latter arrangement presents a hierarchy of the different classes of objectives. “The objectives in one class are likely to make use of and be built on the behaviors found in the preceding classes in this list” (Bloom: 18).

Knowledge, as defined by Bloom includes „those behaviours and test situations which emphasize the remembering, either by recognition or recall, of ideas, material, or phenomena” (p.62). The knowledge of conventions which is part of the first class of the taxonomy may be applied in the process of teaching writing in several ways. The educational objectives relating to this major class may focus on exercises based on recognizing forms and conventions of major types of works: verse, plays, and scientific papers. Correct form and usage in writing is another objective referring to the above mentioned class of the taxonomy. Exercises based on style and register also fall in this first category.

Knowledge of terminology includes knowledge of “the referents for specific verbal and non-verbal symbols” (Bloom: 63). Test questions based on explaining main composition terms may be used at different levels as a useful revision strategy. Consider the following revision test questions which may be used for the composition classes for first year students learning English in different degree courses at university level:

  1. Enumerate five patterns of expository writing:
  2. Reflected and descriptive essays are subdivided into:
  3. What are the main citation formats?
  4. Ways of organizing compare and contrast essays:
  5. Point out the main rhetorical modes of writing:

Comprehension includes students’ abilities to understand what is being communicated and analyze its content (p.89). The exercises which aim at improving students skills to understand and analyze a text may be grouped around: making paragraphs shorter; writing topic sentences for different paragraphs; distinguishing between sentences which are facts and sentences which present opinions; finding statements in a text which support the main idea as well as exercises based on writing effective links between and within sentences.

The next exercise retrieved from here may be used in teaching paragraph structure:

The final sentence of a paragraph is shown below. Choose which sentence from the choice below makes the BEST TRANSITION to the next paragraph.

As the Mediterranean region is close to the tropics, the temperature is always high with the result that the seas and rivers are never frozen.

  • The vegetation is quite sparse but has been fertile agriculturally.
  • Given the climatic conditions of this region, certain vegetation has developed.
  • Olive trees are abundant as this style of vegetation revels in the climate of the region.

Bloom discusses three types of comprehension behavior: translation, interpretation, and extrapolation. According to him, translation means that “an individual can put a communication into other language, into other terms or into another form of communication” (p.89). Interpretation includes “thinking about the relative importance of the ideas, their interrelationships, and their relevance to generalizations implied or described in the original communication” (p.90). Extrapolation deals with the “making of estimates or predictions based on understanding of the trends, tendencies, or conditions described in the communication” (p.90).

Sample exercises developed by Bloom include interpretation of a lengthy quotation which may be connected with the preparing of a summary or outline. Graphs, tables or cartoons with essay questions may require the student to interpret the data thus presented and to draw inferences from them (p.106).

The next exercises are taken from Matthew Allen’s book Smart Thinking and they aim at developing critical thinking skills through different forms of argumentation:

Decide which of these statements are claims and which are not. Then write three examples of your own of statements that are claims and three examples of statements that are not (p.13).

  1. Why did you do that?
  2. There is a yellow marble on the table.
  3. Get out of here!
  4. Somewhere over the rainbow…
  5. We should always pay our taxes on time.
  6. Cheese is made from milk.

Decide which of these four claims are explicit value claims and which are implicit value claims that appear to be descriptive claims. You may also decide that some of the claims are purely descriptive and contain no value judgments. Then write three claims of your own , one of which is explicitly a value claim, one of which has a clear implied value judgment , and one of which is, in your opinion , clearly descriptive (p.18).

  1. Fatty foods are bad for you.
  2. Regular cows’ milk contains fat.
  3. You should drink milk every day.
  4. Regular cows’ milk is a white liquid.

Applying what has been learned to new situations is the next category of Bloom’s taxonomy. Exercises which are developed to integrate this objective in composition classes may include: writing inductive or deductive paragraphs at students’ choice or explaining the use of a particular mode of writing in different texts. This level of cognitive activity may be used in all the other levels presented in the taxonomy.

In Bloom’s words, “analysis emphasizes the breakdown of the material into its constituent parts and detection of the relationships of the parts and of the way they are organized” (p.144). Exercises in analyzing should aim at developing students’ abilities in identifying different paragraph patterns (expository, descriptive, argumentative, narrative), finding the premise(s) and the conclusion in texts; identifying types of claims (according to Toulmin’s model of argumentation); analyzing of texts in terms of stylistic differences and making article analysis.

The following exercise may be used to develop students’ abilities to analyze texts.

Analyze the two texts in terms of coherence:

A. Truancy in public education is due to a failure of parental control. Children are likely to truant if they are too tired to come to school because they have been up late watching too much television or out with their friends. School principals and teachers need to address this issue as part of their peer mentoring systems. The long- term advantages of attending school every day need to be stressed. Playgrounds need to be made more friendly and canteens improved so that there is no desire to truant.

B. Truancy in public education is due to a failure of parental control. One aspect of parental control is making sure that your children are not too tired to come to school because they have been up late watching television or out with their friends. Friends, however, can easily be used as part of the peer mentoring system to stress the long-term advantages of attending school every day. Other advantageous improvements might include improvements to playgrounds and canteens so that there is no desire to truant because the school environment appears a more pleasant and welcoming place.

retrieved from:  http://writesite.elearn.usyd.edu.au/m3/m3u5/m3u5s3/m3u5s3_13.htm

Both texts may be analyzed by students using Topical Structure Analysis, developed by Liisa Lautamatti or thematic progression analysis.

The following exercise may be used in composition classes taught to second-year students studying English.

Identify the type of claim (claim of policy, claim of value, claim of definition) in the following sentences, using Toulmin’s model of argumentation:

  1. An acronym is a word which is composed of the first letters of the words it refers to.
  2. We should increase the protection of the environment.
  3. Alcohol is an ineffective way to deal with stress.

Article analysis exercise is a useful way of implementing analysis in teaching writing. Students have to determine the purpose, the audience and the subject of the article. They should be able to tell the thesis statement of the article, to be able to find the evidence that the author uses to support his/her thesis statement and to express in their own words the author’s point of view. The personal reaction of the student to the article chosen is part of the evaluation of the article.

Synthesis is defined as the “putting together of elements and parts so as to form a whole (p.162)”. Bloom considers this category as the one which most clearly provides for creative behavior on part of the learner. There is a great variety of writing exercises whose aim is to develop this level of cognition.  Exercises may be based on arranging jumbled sentences or paragraphs into normal order; paraphrasing thesis statements, eliminating wordiness, writing summaries, avoiding plagiarism, etc. Consider the following exercise connected with developing students’ deductive reasoning skills:

Which of the following claims would be best expressed by deductive reasoning?

  1. California’s population growth rate slowed last year.
  2. California residents appreciate good weather.
  3. California residents are residents of the United States.
  4. More cars are registered in California than in any other state.

retrieved from:  http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/itl/graphics/induc/ind-ded.html

Evaluation is defined as the making of judgments about the value of ideas, works, solutions (p.185). Although it appears last in the cognitive domain it is not necessarily the last step in the process of problem solving. A written work for example may be evaluated in terms of very different criteria. Does one idea follow from another, are there any logical fallacies in the arguments used, does the conclusion follow logically from the material presented? Exercises based on evaluation may include: compare and contrast analysis of two web sites; finding errors in a text and correcting them; given an essay determining criteria of evaluation; choosing the best conclusion for a sample essay; writing an essay, describing and evaluating a poem; revising a text. A different kind of exercise may focus on discussing types of texts in terms of their appropriateness for academic discourse. The next exercise is retrieved from http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/studyskills/writtenassignments/page_06.htm and is based on developing critical ability skills through analysis of a given text.

Does the passage contain a level of rigorous critical thinking appropriate for an academic essay? What, if anything, seems problematic? What are its academic strengths?

In Italo Calvino’s mesmeric novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo describes the enchanting, illogical and sometimes dire cities he claims to have visited during his travels through Kublai Khan’s huge empire. The Khan is unfazed when Polo reveals that he has really been describing his own city, Venice. For in Venice, every permutation of every element of high games of architecture and urban planning has been played, in countless fashions and styles, over many centuries. Nowhere, not even in the mighty Khan’s immeasurable empire, could offer such architectural riches.

In decline since the 18th century, Venice retains its magnetic draw. It is a truly fantastic place that – even in its dotage, and swamped by tourists – demonstrates how a city of real bricks and stones can be more than a challenge for the best storyteller in the world.

From ‘Lovely sauna, guys – but where’s the architecture?’ by Jonathan Glancey in the the GuardianG2, 18.09.06, p. 20.

Integrating peer review exercises in the process of teaching composition is another way of developing students’ skills to evaluate. According to Colleen Soares “from a Vygotskian perspective, peer review helps students become more aware of their writing needs and it helps them assume more responsibility for their writing improvement”. Peer review may be based on the following questions retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/20424310/Pers-Narr-Peer-Review:  “Did you enjoy the paper? Why, or why not? Please be specific? Is the thesis statement clear? If not how can it be clarified? … Is there any place in the paper where you were confused? If so, draw wavy lines under the confusing parts, and explain why you were confused. What are the strong points of the paper? How can the paper be improved?”

Students  ought to be encouraged to practice the full array of higher-order thinking skills in composition classes. Applying Bloom’s taxonomy in composition classes helps students develop their abilities to understand different patterns of writing, respect different points of view and take a personal stand.

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