Improve class discussions with Bloom’s Taxonomy

So many class discussions could become an improved learning experience for students with a little more guidance from the instructor.

That assessment is based on observing classes as a member of the University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee.

I’ve been listening to class discussions in a wide range of disciplines – psychology, educational technology, acting, kinesiology, history and microbiology to name just some.

Some instructors have led probing insightful discussions, but many discussions remained at a superficial level.

The instructor posed a good opening question that often results with a student providing a very concise “correct answer.” The instructor validates the student’s response but often moves on rather than digging deeper into that correct answer.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a good reference for designing questions to guide small-group or full-class discussions. The taxonomy originally was published in 1956 by a team of University of Chicago cognitive psychologists and named after Benjamin Bloom who was the committee’s chair.

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a framework for moving students from the basic levels of learning to higher levels:

Remember – Recall facts and basic concepts

Understand – Explain ideas or concepts

Apply – Use information in new situations

Analyze – Draw connections among ideas

Evaluate – Justify a stand or decision

Create – Produce new or original work

Many classroom discussions are more of a Q&A session that remains at the Remember and Understand levels.

Using the verbs associated with each level (see the chart) can enable instructors to develop questions to guide students to a more in-depth discussion.

For instructors, this change in the kind of questions posed may require developing questions prior to class rather than just going with the flow of the discussion.

Another challenge for instructors with promoting in-depth discussion is that guiding students through those probing questions takes more time. So instructors need to plan for that.

A strategy for the instructor can be to share questions with the students to consider prior to class. That way students have time to think through more probing questions.

The results of these more profound discussions will be worth the extra effort for the students and the instructor.

Discussion as a teaching tool — pros, cons and teaching tactics

pair-share in Multimedia Writing

Think-pair-share is one of the strategies to lead to an active class discussion.

As a member of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee, I have the opportunity to observe teaching assistants in a variety of different subject areas — from entomology to criminology. An important element of many of these classes is class discussion.  

I’ve found that even though the class size may be under 30 and the topic interesting, not every teaching assistant has structured their approach to discussion to get the class involved. I’m reposting Minch Minchin’s helpful specific strategies to promote effective discussion. – Julie Dodd

by Minch Minchin
Ph.D and J.D. student, University of Florida

Minch Minchin

Minch Minchin

Class discussions as a pedagogical tool are as old as teaching, itself.

Yet despite discussion’s rich and ancient lineage, some teachers may be wary of promoting discussions in their classrooms. Such fears are not without merit, as there are practical limitations to discussions as well as the potential for things simply to go wrong:

  • Students may not be prepared and have nothing to say (and silence is often perceived as awkward).
  • If students do all the talking, the teacher may not be able to cover the requisite material.
  • Students may ask questions for which the teacher is unprepared or doesn’t know the answer to.
  • The discussion may become controversial, off topic or out of hand.

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