Sunday, January 19, 2014

Creating Understanding - Beyond Bloom

This weekend I was leading a Making the PYP Happen workshop at my school for our new staff.  In designing the engagements for this workshop I drew heavily on the Visible Thinking routines of Harvard Project Zero.  A number of years ago, when I was working at the International School of Amsterdam, I was lucky enough not only to attend the PZ summer institute, but also to be part of a year long cohort working with Mark Church (who was at that time a middle school teacher at ISA) about teaching for understanding.  Following this ISA embraced the visible thinking routines and Ron Ritchhart visited the school many times to help get this started.  Ron and Mark, along with Karin Morrison, have now brought out a book called Making Thinking Visible which I have been reading.

I'm really interested in the section entitled Beyond Bloom in Chapter 1 as it discusses Bloom's Taxonomy, both the original and the revised one, and whether understanding is really lower-order thinking.  Last year when we did the Tech Audit at ASB we categorized the student artifacts that teachers provided using Bloom's Digital Taxonomy and looked at the ratio of lower to higher order thinking that each artifact contained.  Having read, and discussed and now re-read the chapter in Making Thinking Visible, it has started to change the way I think about Bloom's Taxonomy and whether these learning objectives are sequential or hierarchical.

The example given is that a child painting may actually come to a knowledge and understanding of painting through working in application mode (actually painting - creating something, trying things out, analyzing what happens when paints mix to make new colours, evaluating the results of such mixing and so on).  The authors also point out that "looking carefully to notice and fully describe what one sees can be an extremely complex and engaging task.  Such close observation is at the heart of both science and art."

If we wish to hang onto a hierarchy of thinking, maybe this has to be done within the thinking itself - for example you can describe at a superficial level or a deep one, you can test something to see if it will fail, or you can test the limits of something and work out what will lead to failure.  Thinking often isn't sequential - it's messier, complex, dynamic and interconnected.  The question asked is that if understanding is put forward as a goal of teaching (eg: Understanding by Design) then that understanding can be created using high level thinking in an active and constructive process.  The research at Project Zero indicates that understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating and creating - but is the result of it.  It is "not a type of thinking at all but an outcome of thinking."

The same can be true of creating:
It is not necessarily a single direct act but a compilation of activities and associated thinking.  Decisions are made and problems are solved as part of this process.  Ideas are tested, results analyzed, prior learning brought to bear, and ideas synthesized into something that is nobel, at least for the creator.  This creation can be simplistic in nature, as with a child creating a new color; useful, as in the invention of a new iPhone app; or profound, such as new methods for producing energy from never before used materials.
As we collect artifacts and analyse them during this year's Tech Audit, I want to keep these ideas in mind.  Perhaps we shouldn't be looking at the final product or artifact as an example of higher order thinking, but should look more at the process that has happened along the way.

Photo Credit: ssri via Compfight cc

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