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Set the Stage for Active Learning

By Sandy Fleming

Find out how to write active learning objectives that cover higher thinking skills at the upper end of Bloom's Taxonomy.

Develop An Active Learning Vocabulary

Many educators have thought of those upper cognitive levels in Bloom's Taxonomy as being the province of the middle and high Vocabulary Class school classrooms, but in reality, the process begins early in elementary school or even before. The complexity of twenty-first century life demands that children move beyond those first three concrete levels of learning, though, and into the more abstract worlds of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Teachers can become more intentional about reaching toward them by changing the phrasing of their educational objectives. We elementary teachers need a new vocabulary!

It is possible to write learning objectives for all six of the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy for the same educational experience. In this way, children who are ready will benefit from objectives at their upper functioning level, and students who are operating at the lower levels of the taxonomy will be guided upwards. At all of the levels of learning, the verbs in the objectives must be active; that is, they must tell things the student will do to show he or she is engaged in learning. Phrases like “watch the movie” and “go on the fieldtrip” will disappear completely from objectives, to be replaced by verbs that tell what the student will do to demonstrate understanding.

An Example from the Primary Level

At the primary level, a science unit teaching about trees might suggest activities such as classifying and identifying local trees, making lists of wood products, creating a collage of tree scenes, reading about trees, discussing rainforest destruction and taking a walk in a local woods.Objectives for the unit could include

  • Identifying five types of trees (knowledge level)
  • Defining vocabulary such as lumber, boards, and sawmill (knowledge level)
  • Tracing the life cycle of a tree (comprehension level)
  • Classifying trees as deciduous or coniferous (comprehension level)
  • Collecting ten different types of leaves (application level)
  • Predicting the outcome of continued world-wide destruction of trees (application level)
  • Contrasting different types of trees (analysis level)
  • Diagramming parts of a tree (analysis level)
  • Designing a park to protect a forest (synthesis level)
  • Creating a plan to reduce use of wood products (synthesis level)
  • Giving reasons to protect the trees in our world (evaluation level)
  • Prioritize discussed uses of wood products in our society (evaluation level)

The same activities, like making a leaf collection, allow children to meet several different objectives at different levels of the taxonomy, and the verbs put the action of learning squarely onto the students’ shoulders, right where it belongs.

The main tool to use in developing active learning objectives that fit into Bloom’s Taxonomy is a list of verbs categorized by level. You can find an example of such a list at Penn State University’s web site. As you write objectives, look at the verb you choose and see where it fits into the verbs of the Taxonomy. If you see your objectives skewing out of balance, change your language. Choose a new verb from a different level of the Taxonomy. With practice, it will become second nature to write in this way, and your students will be engaged in active learning at all of the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy before you know it!