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When we begin to decide what to teach our students, it’s easy to think in terms of “what I want them to learn.” Of course, learning is the goal! However, we can’t know whether they’ve learned what we want them to learn unless they express that learning somehow, usually through some form of assessment.
Because of this, when we write objectives, we don’t focus on what the student will learn, but how they will demonstrate that they have learned it. In other words, the basic purpose of an objective is not to tell us what students will learn, but to tell us what students will be able to think, do, or say as a result of their learning. If our objective does not tell us what the students will be able to do, we say that the objective is not measurable.
Look at the following objectives as examples:
- Students will understand the scientific method.
On the surface this may look like a decent objective. The scientific method is basic to the study of science. However, the problem is that there is no way to tell whether students “understand it” or how much they understand it. It’s not measurable.
So, assuming the object of the lesson is the scientific method, here is the objective with measurable language.
- Students will define the scientific method.
- Students will conduct a simple experiment using the scientific method.
In these two objectives, the scientific method is still what the students are learning. However, the objectives focus on how the students will show they have learned it as well. In one they are just defining it, in the other, they are applying it.
In 1956 a team of educators led by Benjamin Bloom published the first of a set of three hierarchical models that teachers could use to write measurable learning objectives, The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. Of these domains (the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor domain), the latter two focus on emotion-based learning and action-based (physical development), respectively. In higher education, typically, the cognitive domain is used and has become a “standard tool for developing educational objectives, assessments, and activities.”
Functionally speaking, Bloom’s Cognitive domain Taxonomy is a list of verbs organized by “categories” which allow you to write objectives that you can measure. These categories, which are sometimes understood to move from lower order to higher order thinking skills, were revised in 2001 to from descriptions of the type of knowledge to descriptions of the type of actions. Those categories are:
- Remember: This category focuses remembering facts, basic concepts, etc.—retrieval of information. Examples are: choose, identify, recite, etc.
- Understand: Verbs in this category focus on constructing meaning, by organizing, translating, etc. Examples are: classify, demonstrate, describe, etc.
- Apply: From understand, students move to application. These verbs demonstrate the ability to apply concepts that have been remembered and understood. Examples are: assess, construct, implement, solve, etc.
- Analyze: This category focuses on breaking down information, using what has been learned to learn more. Examples are: break down, differentiate, test for, etc.
- Evaluate: As students learn, they should begin to be able to make judgments based on criteria and standards. Examples are: argue, conclude, critique, etc.
- Create: Finally, students should be able to create new patterns or structures, or create new ideas and defend them. Examples are: compose, create, integrate, produce, etc.
The cognitive domain can also be understood according to two dimensions: the cognitive and knowledge dimensions. This document from the CELT at Iowa State University offers a 3D model of the revised taxonomy of the cognitive domain according to both dimensions. A dynamic, interactive model is also available.
Again, the goal of an objective is to state what students will be able to do with the learning they gain in your course! The first step in using the taxonomy is to determine which category of Bloom’s to use. For instance, is this objective going to be used to describe new information or new skills the students have just been introduced to? If so, you should probably consider using language from the Remember or Understand categories. Or, is the objective going to describe more advanced use of the information or skills? If that is the case, you might consider using higher order language from the Apply, Analyze, or even Evaluate categories.
Below we’ve embedded a resource that allows you to write a simple objective using Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can practice using it here or come back anytime you need help writing new objectives!
To use it, first choose which category or level of Bloom’s Taxonomy you’d like to use. Base it on the level of mastery you think your students in your course should be demonstrating. Then, choose an action verb from the list. After that, describe the specific knowledge or skill they’ll be demonstrating and hit “My Objective.”
Of course, after writing the objective, the next step is to create your assessment. The sign of a well-written objective is that it makes writing the assessment that much easier, because the way you’ll measure the objective is stated within it.
From there, it should be easy to demonstrate that your course is properly mapped. Each assessment should identify which objectives it measures, and your instructional content should state which assessments it prepares the students for—that way there is a clear connection between objectives, assessment, and instruction.
History and Development of Bloom's Taxonomy: U-M LSA LSA Technology Services. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://lsa.umich.edu/technology-services/services/learning-teaching-consulting/teaching-strategies/active-learning/bloom_s-taxonomy-history-and-development/history-and-development.html
Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXX, no. 3, September 2000. ©UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, 2000.
Revised Bloom's Taxonomy. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy/