Flipping Blooms: A Case for Creativity
Bloom's Taxonomy has been a foundational model for the progression of learning since its publication in 1956. It is important to understand that this model is simply a taxonomy, ordering cognitive tasks from most basic to most complex. A typical visual that accompanies it is a pyramid with a wide base of “remembering” tasks, building through levels of analysis and synthesis, and culminating in a peak of evaluation.
The original taxonomy:
Knowledge→ Comprehension→ Application→ Analysis→ Synthesis→ Evaluation
Often in a traditional classroom model, most group time is spent working through tasks on the lower parts of the taxonomy as the visual model might suggest. Students learn concepts, analyze them together, then apply and evaluate those concepts to individualized tasks, often taking the form of independent practice such as homework and presentations.
Ever since its inception, the taxonomy received much critical debate. Many critics called it “too simplistic and blunt” to capture the essence of how and why people learn. One critical debate is over whether or not it is hierarchical as Bloom and his colleagues claimed, stating in the original 1956 paper, “...the objectives in one class are likely to make use of and be built on the behaviors found in the preceding classes.”
In 2001, the taxonomy received a revision:
Remember→ Understand→ Apply→ Analyze→ Evaluate→ Create
This important revision extended evaluation of schema into using critical thinking skills to create within them. If considering this hierarchy implies the most time in a large group is spent remembering and the least amount of time is spent creating, students might still receive very little time to use higher order thinking skills to create and to collaborate in a traditional classroom model. Over the next decades, a movement calling for a “flipped learning” experience grew in popularity and practice. This flips the pyramid visual over, implying that the most amount of group time in a class is spent doing tasks that are generally more complex, thus leaving students responsible for learning and remembering content independently.
In teaching practice, there is so much evidence now that there are innumerable starting points, modalities and strategies to benefit learners. Differentiation and Universal Design for Learning are key strategies in today’s classrooms. There is a rich fabric of potential that students bring into every classroom, and no matter how brilliant one strategy or modality is, it is dangerous to believe that there is “one surefire method” to teach today’s learners.
One thing we as educators can always return to, though, is creativity. It is what we as humans are naturally inclined to do as soon as we have cognitive inklings. We want to connect, and we want to create.
If we build classrooms that hold creativity as an anchor, no matter where we stand on implementing a taxonomy of learning, we will be ushering in 21st Century workplace skills. Creativity is at the core of problem solving. It sits atop Bloom’s Taxonomy (whether it is flipped or not) because it involves the flexibility to continually receive new data and investigate how it changes a problem in a dynamic way. Creative classrooms embrace inquiry and feedback. They invite new ideas that have to be evaluated and analyzed and applied. Most importantly, all learners are capable of being creative when they are in an environment that values inquiry and feedback.
So, here is an action step for your practice. It is a simple one:
Allow time for creativity.
This can come in many forms. Perhaps it comes at the beginning of a lesson cycle with students being introduced to parts of a new concept and then turned loose to hypothesize on how they fit together. Perhaps creativity can come in the form of a brain break, and students can be encouraged to draw some sketch notes on what they understand so far. Or, it can be the capstone to a unit in the form of project based learning that has a set of standards within a rubric.
The point is, if we allow students to take one tiny morsel of information and try to digest it, churn it, evaluate it, analyze and synthesize it, and eventually create a response, the students will own their learning trajectory. This will automatically build agency and collaboration in the classroom by championing a group of learners with authentic experiences and opinions. All we as teachers need to do is coach, guide, sometimes redirect, and give continual feedback.
Here is a very specific way to allow for creativity:
There are so many lesson plans that include writing lyrics to a song or rewriting lyrics to an existing song. Unfortunately, this is many times where the project ends, simply a lyric sheet that is not given the chance to breathe.
Encourage students to take the next step and try producing the song. In engaging with the music, they are inviting in so many neurological benefits. They are also building confidence and problem solving skills. Putting words to music and producing a song requires so many analytical skills. Even if they never perform it for anyone, the act of writing a song moves through Bloom’s Taxonomy in a dynamic way that defies any hierarchy implied.
Creativity is just time well spent.
Here are some resources to help students take that next step in producing a song:
Bandlab has a free version and a subscription version. Students can go a long way with the free version.
Soundtrap is a subscription online studio. One of the benefits is streamlined collaboration so students can create together.
These resources are completely free and really allow for a lot of creativity and accessibility.
Bloom, B.S. Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.
Kress, G.; Selander, S. (2012). "Multimodal design, learning and cultures of recognition". Internet and Higher Education. 15 (1): 265–268.
Paul, R. (1993). Critical thinking: what every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world (3rd ed.). Rohnert Park, California: Sonoma State University Press.
Paul, R.; Elder, L. (2004). Critical and creative thinking. Dillon Beach, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Newton, Philip M.; Da Silva, Ana; Peters, Lee George (10 July 2020). "A pragmatic master list of action verbs for Bloom's taxonomy". Frontiers in Education. 5. doi:10.3389/feduc.2020.00107.