Questions are the
key to unlocking knowledge; competence in questioning is at the
heart of information literacy. If children are naturally curious,
natural question askers, why is student questioning the aspect
of information literacy where teachers most frequently identify
the need to improve student skill levels?
Bloom's Taxonomy has
been around for a LONG time. It provided me with a useful framework
25 years ago for analysing the quality of student questioning
and thinking when they did library-based 'projects'. It has recently
been recognised as important here through the work here of USA
'gurus', Art Costa and Jamie McKenzie. Suddenly, Bloom has become
'the' answer to student questioning. But is it?
Bloom's Taxonomy is
one of several taxonomies which develop a hierarchy of cognitive
skills. There's no doubt that it is a useful guide for teachers
for analysing and developing their own questioning strategies,
and for analysing the quality of student questioning and thinking,
as I did 25 years ago. But is it a pedagogy? Does it provide a
way of teaching students to ask questions more effectively, to
improve the quality of the questioning they do within the information-finding
and information-analysing 'inquiry'/ 'research' processes now
integral to all curriculum areas? I'm not sure.
• how do you teach
Bloom to students?
• who is teaching
Bloom to students in New Zealand?
• if they are, what
pedagogy are they using?
• what concrete evidence
have they of its effectiveness?
Knowing about a hierarchical
taxonomy is one thing; transforming a taxonomy into a pedagogy
is something else again. It is not enough to say, "Questioning?
Aha... Bloom" when questioning has been a documented problem with
'projects' since the 1890's.
There are some simple
techniques to improve the quality of the questions students ask.
These techniques apply at all levels, from Year One to tertiary.
• Firstly, it is really
hard to ask questions when you don't know enough to know what
you need to know. At all levels students need more than a quick
'brainstorm' to develop quality questions. They need to be able
to break down a topic into subtopics, and to know enough about
each sub-topic to allow them to work out what they might need
to know and translate it into questions.
• Secondly, they need
to be able to do this last step, ie identify areas/ things/ aspects
they might need to know about before they develop questions. Just
being told to ask questions is a hellishly hard ask, even for
adults. If you don't believe me, introduce a group of teachers
to a new topic (try genetic engineering) by getting them to brainstorm
it for a few minutes, and then tell them to prepare a question
or several questions using the 'W' and 'H' prompts - who, what,
where, when, why and how.
• Thirdly, once you've
got some sub-topics, it helps to know the 'food in the belly theory',
ie that if you have some knowledge, it's easier to work out where
your gaps are and find the food to feed your hunger. If you have
inadequate food in your belly it just becomes a frustrating and
artificial exercise to take a swipe at a few questions in the
hope of getting 'relevant' information.
• Fourth, when you
are building your questions, it helps to know that you need to
ask factual questions first to build your 'food in belly'. Asking
large complex questions which require inferences based on comparing
and relating knowledge before you have adequate knowledge is silly.
Once you have a base of factual knowledge it is easier to use
higher level thinking skills to synthesise information and build
answers to 'thinking' questions.
Even Year 1 children
understand, or can be taught, the difference between factual and
thinking questions, and there are plenty of Form 7's who need
to understand that it is impossible to answer complex inferential
questions without first getting a good base of factual knowledge.
• Finally, all students
need to know that in applying questions they are like a detective
hunting for clues and building evidence. Answers don't leap out
of books. Even less do they leap out of the information jungle
called, appropriately, the Web. 'Answers' are constructed by mixing
and matching, synthesising evidence from different sources, applying
higher level thinking skills and constructing knowledge from information.
Complex questions must be broken down and the factual 'bits' asked
How will students
learn this? One way is for teachers to translate Bloom into a
pedagogy by modelling for students exactly how to do the above
- for Form 7's just as much as Year 1's and 2's. Information literacy
depends on our ability to question the information we retrieve
with critical discrimination. If the teacher doesn't model this
process, who will?