14 October 2009


In the beginning, there was Bloom's Taxonomy for categorizing types of thinking. And it was---and continues to be---good. It provides a framework for educators to consider the rigor of the work provided to students. Generally speaking, Bloom's tends to be all about the verbs: identify, describe, explain, state, choose, evaluate, and so on.

But the assignments we provide in classrooms are more than verbs. They are also about objects: either the tasks we assign or the items students produce. And this is where Norman Webb with his Depth of Knowledge framework offers an alternative to Bloom's arrangement. It is a more holistic look at a learning target before determining cognitive demand.

For example, "identify" doesn't have to be part of the slacker Knowledge group of Bloom's. It would be if I ask a kid to identify the location of Ireland on a map of Europe. But, if I ask a student to identify a strategy which might resolve the civil conflict in Ireland, I've asked for something far more involved...something beyond mere Knowledge.

I am thinking about using Webb with the new standards for Educational Technology. Some targets are simple to assign to a classification (Recall, Skill/Concept, Strategic Thinking, Extended Thinking)...but I am struggling with others. For example, "Participate in an online community to understand a local or global issue." Is this a Level One target---because "understand a local or global issue" is the only cognitive piece represented...or is there some amount of demand on the student implied by "Participat[ing] in an online community..."?

How does one classify those targets and tasks involving intangibles like participation? Should these be included? Participation is one of those classroom values which is nearly impossible to standardize. What it looks like from grade to grade, teacher to teacher, and content area to content area can be very different. And while we might come to some sort of consensus about qualities of "good" participation, I still have to ask if there is any cognitive demand involved in the process. Could you write a task for it?

I don't expect any sort of elegant resolution to these questions. I may have to set them aside for now and concentrate on other issues. But if you have some insight to share on how we determine the depth of thinking associated with participating, engaging, and or collaborating, I hope you'll share it in the comments.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

I have "concerns" about participation, as you can imagine, SG.

Arbitrary and capricious teacher requirements beyond standard-set requirements set me off.

But there are curriculum-required participations that bug me too...

For instance, in foreign language, a popular instructional method is to have kids act out, dance in the aisle, yada, yada. Sophomore boys are not generally willing to risk by engaging in such activity, and often earn poor "participation" grades.

I guess my bedrock thinking is this: unless one is teaching a skill that can't be evaluated in any other way than observing a performance, forget "participation" as part of the grade.

My two cents.

The Science Goddess said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you: Participation should not be included with a grade. I have no problem with that.

My problem is that if "participation" or "collaboration" is a classroom value, then we can at least provide feedback on these things---and I am looking for the format and qualities for that.

In other words, it's all well and good to note that a child "Plays well with others," but how does one evaluate that?

Dr Pezz said...

Participation, to me, seems to be a yes or no item. If it is recorded as a grade or otherwise, either the student did or did not participate.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Jeez, I don't know. Another rubric?

But, yeah, what's on the matrix?

I feel your pain.

The Science Goddess said...


In some ways, this blog is an invitation to participate. By choosing to read and/or comment---you're engaging with the content.

What's the cognitive demand placed on you to do so? (This is the answer I'm most interested in.)

Scott said...

Wow. I had never heard of Webb. It is awesome stuff.

With regards to the standard you suggested, I think participation is simply the method. Because of that, understanding a local or global issue is much more involved when you are using an online community to do it, I think this could be a DOK 3 or 4.

Now, the level of participation I think is whatever is needed. It could be possible for this to be done by reading, like you said. Others may need to be more active. The task assigned could determine the level of participation. I imagine that a DOK 4 task would be written so one would have to actively participate (post a comment, or ask a question in a forum) in order to really extend the thinking.

So, I don't think there is a direct cognitive demand in participating, but the level of participating may be determined by the level of demand you want from the task assigned.

Does that make any sense?

Unknown said...

Thanks for introducing me to Webb. I've always liked Bloom's Taxonomy, though I remember him writing about how his theories should never be seen on a pyramid, but rather a continuum and that a teacher shouldn't work progressively from "bottom to top." He also worked on the psychomotor and affective domains and suggested that those are interconnected to the cognitive domain. Not bad for a guy who researched at the height of behaviorism and modernism.

My concern with Webb is that they'll do to his theories exactly what they did with Bloom - make them into pyramids, standardize them into consumable teacher material - and the truth will be lost.