Taxonomies and Student Learning

There are a variety of value-adding reasons to utilize taxonomies in creating student learning objectives.

First, taxonomies provide students the opportunity to make connections from previous knowledge to form new ideas, questions, and stimulate new learning. Even though vocabulary acquisition is lower-level knowledge, it is essential to understand the meaning of terms before they can be applied to new learning to solve problems. In my unit on water quality, the first lesson will be designed to guide an understanding of water as a resource with limited availability. This is foundational understanding for the next lesson, which will examine the ways humans contribute to water shortages and diminished water quality along a catchment. These two activities form the schema for the third lesson in which students consider choices and behaviors made in their home and school that 1. waste water and 2. contribute to pollution. Students need foundational information about water on earth to be able to explain and interpret how humans actions can impact water availability and quality. All activities are designed, organized, and orchestrated to build up to the final activity that addresses the guiding question. Envision and plan specific behaviors that an individual or community do to improve water quality in local watersheds.

Next, applying taxonomies to learning objectives require teachers to create a scaffolded blue print of what they want students to accomplish/learn and a logical progression of how to get there. This point is particularly relevant to me as I worked through this week’s assignments. As stated, this idea has been bouncing around my head for quite some time. I think the main resistance is that the topic was too overwhelmingly large in my head. The process of creating a concept map was really helpful. I ended up creating two maps. The first one was an exercise in purging all the background noise from my head. I just started listing terms and ideas in no particular sequence or level of priority. This lead to a pretty chaotic map, but really cleared my head and let me hone in on the ideas that would create a cohesive and intentional unit. I then made a second map that just focused on water quality. From there, I was able to scaffold learning objectives in a sequential and logical order to make content meaningful, understandable, relevant, and more importantly, construct knowledge.

Lastly, taxonomies such as Bloom’s, Fink or UBD lead to increased student cognitive abilities. Taxonomies provide teachers a guideline to assess the level of thinking students have accomplished. Forming learning objectives that follow cognitive levels forces teachers to create assessments and culminating activities that match the learning objectives. In order for objectives to provide a useful basis for creating test questions, they must contain verbs that describe observable, measurable, achievable actions and specific levels of thinking, because these are things that can be tested. Creating quality learning objectives forces the teacher to consider assessment and evaluation. Asking “what do I really want students to get from this unit?” causes teachers to be intentional in selecting the activities and delivering the message. This advanced planning with an eye toward the final outcome helps cut the fluff out of a unit and focus on the activities that will lead to the desired outcome. This entire process creates a lesson or set of lessons that caters to higher-level thinking.

Using Taxonomies to develop learning outcomes is a valuable way to articulate the degree to which we want students to grasp and apply concepts, to demonstrate skills, and to have their values, attitudes, and interests affected. Describing the level of expertise we are expecting from students is important because assessments and evaluations will be based on these expectations. This leads to intentional teaching, where teachers have a roadmap of where they want to get and a list of activities to get there.

P.S. I was inspired by the succinct writing of Nicholas last week. This is my attempt at brevity.

Learning Objectives for Water Quality Unit

Activity 1, Pre — “The Availability of water”
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Describe the different sources of water on our planet,
Identify where drinking/bathing water comes from,
Compare freshwater availability to the total amount of water on Earth.

Activity 2, Pre — “There is no Away”
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Identify specific types of source pollution between headwater and sea.
Explain the cumulative effect on watersheds from individual contributions of pollution/contamination along a catchment (river/stream).
Predict quality of water based on coloring/sedimentation.

Activity 3, Pre — “Home environment checklist”
Examine the choices and behaviors in your home
Assess the impact your home may be having on the environment.
Create a plan to modify your family’s behavior to help reduce pollution.

Activity 4, At Store — “Water quality testing”
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Compare and contrast water quality of Aquarium and local stream water.
Explain how pollutants lead to diminished water quality along watershed.
Measure toxicity of water using test kits and predict the health of aquarium fish if they lived in the watershed.

Activity 5, Post — “Conservation in action” or “Visioning and Action Planning”
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Create a public service announcement or graphic representation synthesizing the water quality issues in their catchment, that integrates suggestions to improve the situation.

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3 thoughts on “Taxonomies and Student Learning

  1. May I just say….wow! It looks like you’ve come a long way in sorting out the jumble of ideas to a well structured thought out series of lessons. I like what you did with the three pre-lessons in preparation for the store visit ,and think the final lesson is brilliant. I think I can really see your vision. The final lesson seems like it will be over an extended period of time, is that right? It also seems like defining your learning objectives may have narrowed down the grade level from your original intent. If not, will you end up needing a modified version for the lower grades or will they each approach these from their own level?

  2. Hi Craig,

    Nice work! I applaud your attempt at brevity – and I thank you for your reflections on the mind-mapping exercise. Ming mapping, in particular, I think, is one of those activities that bears fruit in proportion to how much thought is invested. Well done.

    I appreciate, as well, your summary of your thoughts regarding learning taxonomies. Every kind of knowledge or understanding is important and we can’t proceed to higher levels of cognition without simply “remembering” basic vocabulary and system dynamics – but they are a useful schema for challenging us to push for deeper understandings and not be satisfied with or stop at simple memorization.

    Well done, Sir!

  3. Wow! Very much enjoyed reading through the process of creating your map, getting it jumbled, thinking about taxonomies, making a new one – very similar to the process I went through.

    Your objectives and your map are very detailed and you have obviously put a lot of thought into this course. Very excellent! My question is similar to Kim’s…these “activities” – are they multi-day affairs? There seems to be a lot of information and learning implied over the course of a single activity. Your topic is very large (as you said) and your learning map is very detailed…maybe it would be better to conceptualize your objectives over the course of multiple units and not multiple activities?

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