I am in the process of fine-tuning a workshop I am giving next weekend and I am thinking about a recent piece of CPD I have had. I always think a good sign of a good piece of CPD is the amount of thinking that takes place after the session. For years, I have sat in numerous sessions in various schools. I have led, participated, listened and watched. I have written on post-it notes, sugar paper and flipcharts. They can be usually categorised into three categories: ‘I know that’ category; ‘made me think’ category; and ‘it won’t work’ category. It is not that I am being cruel or arrogant, but some CPD works and some doesn’t work. It is not a criticism of the person leading it, but the ideas that are being propagated.
Ofsted are struggling now with the concept of teaching styles and preferable ways of education. As they hold so much power, it is not hard to see why their judgements are seen as indicators of what is right and what is wrong. CPD too is a minefield. In its use by schools, it can be suggested that some CPD ideas are the right ideas and your failure to use these ideas is failure of your teaching. The best CPD is CPD that makes me think. It makes me look at my current model/s of teaching and consider this additional question. This idea. It becomes a mirror to my own practice. Look at myself and consider what I could do to be better.Education is like a greengrocer. It is full of vegetables. They are all good for you. They provide minerals and vitamins, and other stuff. You can cook the vegetables in lots of different ways. You still, however, get the same minerals, vitamins and other stuff. There are so many different ways to cook and prepare that no one person cooks in the same way. The end results are fairly the same: energy. Yet, the preparation, the cooking and the meal all look different. Education is like that. Full of vegetables – not in that sense of the word! CPD should be like cooking. It should be like watching Nigella or Delia. They both cook. They both make nice meals. They just do it in a different way. Nigella might have a better recipe for my Year 7s, but Delia’s recipe for tripe and onions works a treat with Year 11s. One thing: I just know that Jamie Oliver’s ideas will never work with the class. For a start, it is so difficult to do that in English.
Anyway, I had a CPD session that fell in to that category of ‘made me think’ CPD. It had already generated one blog post. See it here: Frankenstein’s Essay. But, it also made me think of another question:
Does Bloom’s Taxonomy really work in English?
It is a simple question. Most might say yes. It is assumed that it will. Bloom has become a mantra for some teachers. A lull in a discussion or meeting on planning or curriculum could eventually lead to Bloom’s Taxonomy. How does this fit in with Bloom? It is as if Bloom is an extra student you have to consider in every lesson you teach?
So, what is my ‘beef’ with Bloom’s Taxonomy? Let’s just remind ourselves of the structure of learning according to Bloom.
We are led to believe that 'remembering' is less complex skills than 'creating' and therefore it is one of the first things that students do in the learning process. I would say that I am a good little teacher and I get students to do a lot of these skills in lessons.
Problem 1: Creating
We have the impression that creating is a high-level skill. The verbs used in association with this aspect of the taxonomy are:
categorizes, combines, compiles, composes, creates, devises, designs, explains, generates, modifies, organizes, plans, rearranges, reconstructs, relates, reorganizes, revises, rewrites, summarizes, tells, writes
The problem I have is that in English we are constantly creating. Like Art, Drama and Music, we spend most of our time creating something. We are the subjects that create. A story. A poem. An article. For us, creating is articulating. It is how students communicate in our subject. We compose all the time. Composition is our game. Creating is more complex than being a high or low-level skill. In fact, a lot of my lessons are inversions of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I start them creating something. Then, they evaluate it and analyse what they have done. I teach them something to help their understanding. Finally, I get them to remember what they have learnt. To be honest, I start complex and things become simple.
Furthermore, the notion of creating things is a problem for me. In English, we could easily get students to write a missing chapter or write in the style of, but is it as complex as evaluating and analysing? There have been numerous sequels of well-known texts and yet we don’t hold these writers in esteem for their cleverness. In fact, they are forgotten. Surely, someone who can write in the style of Dickens is really clever. No, the people we think are clever are the people how have analysed his life and explored the motivations behind his choices.
Sadly, the writers of - yuk- the sequels to ‘The Woman in Black’ have shown that they are far from clever. If you understood the novel, you would understand that there really can’t be a sequel because the cat is out of the bag. A key feature of the ghost story is mystery. Therefore, the sequel cannot work. Unless, ‘The Woman in Black’ had a distant cousin, who just so happened had a tragic past and as a result affected her so much she wanted to kill the offspring of people.
In fact, creating an extra chapter of a book can be a far simpler process than we are led to believe:
· Use some of the words the writer has used.
· Use some of the techniques the writer has used.
· Use some of the characters / settings and ideas that the writer has presented to you.
We do this kind of task because it is fun. But, I question the level it gets on the taxonomy. Is it really better than analysing? Now, parodying or satirising a text is being high-level. Why? Because in that creation of something they demonstrate a higher level of understanding. Oh, and they use humour!
Problem 2: Remembering
Bloom’s Taxonomy having remembering at the bottom almost suggests that if your lessons concentrate on remembering you are doing some bad teaching. Yet, I teach novels. Long novels. Novels with more than a hundred pages. Novels with big words. In English, remembering is a skill that differs across the sets. Students in Set 5 struggle to remember to use full stops and students in Set 1 remember than three months ago you promised to show them the film version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
When writing an essay about a novel, students getting the top bands will be students that:
· Remember other examples in the text
· Remember other texts that link to the idea
· Remember other ways of saying a similar point
· Remember precise words
The top students spot connections and patterns in work but key to doing this is remembering. You cannot make a connection if you can’t remember a thing in the opening. The students with the best memories make the best students.
My new version of Bloom’s Taxonomy
I am sure you will disagree with me; I am happy for you to disagree. I just struggle with a rigid model of learning. We all learn in different ways. Maybe, the creative ones learn things differently. I know I do.
Thanks for reading,
Thanks for reading,