Two Big Ideas: Flipping and Doubling Bloom?

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Two Big Ideas: Flipping and Doubling Bloom?

Shelley Wright’s essay, Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy is a must read, and a possible game changer.  She argues that if we want to embed Nth C (21C) skills in our curriculum we can and must start with the most important elements of creativity and work up to the derivations of knowledge.  In between she posits a process of student learning through the steps of evaluating, analyzing, applying, understanding, and finally remembering.  This flipping of Bloom is a truly provocative idea that deserves a great deal of consideration.

This idea immediately resonated deeply; I finally understand (I think) how “The Falconer” fits in with Bloom.  They are symbiotic halves. I agree with Shelley that we need to turn Bloom upside down.  I think we also may need to glue on the missing half.

When I think of Bloom’s Taxonomy I think of it as a model for how students learn. It says that students need to acquire lower-level skills, like how to access and apply knowledge, before they can use higher-order skills, like how to manage, synthesize and create with that knowledge.

Bloom would say that students need a series of learning steps to develop those higher-order capabilities.  Wright would agree, but says that the steps need to be inverted in order to promote or allow the creative spark to be at the heart and start of the process.  I agree with Wright in terms of order and I agree that the articulation is correct for the “how” of student learning.

My passion for 30 years has been about why students learn, why some students in some learning environments passionately embrace the process of lifetime learning while others do not.  I have always believed that getting this “why” right will lead to truly successful personal outcomes.  It started when I asked the question “what is the difference between a ho-hum learning experience and a WOW! learning experience?”  This one question forced me to backward engineer from a result that has a single defining characteristic: all of us are capable of creational thinking.

Below is my “Why” pyramid. I retain the pyramid shape since large doses of preparation, effort, skill, work, passion, and iteration following failure need to go in to this process before a student (of any age) will work their way through to actual creational thinking.  If we don’t know and embrace why we should expend this effort, we won’t go through and achieve the end state.  Schools have done a bad job of engaging students in why they should want to expend those resources.  My pyramid gives us that solution.

In very simple terms it is this (for the complete story, see my book, The Falconer; you can read the intro here):


  • Who do I want to be?  If we don’t have a personal stake in the outcome, a model to follow, how do we get engaged in the process?  We have to help students derive their own model for why they should care about what they need to learn in school.
  • How to ask questions.  Students need to develop their own questions.  None of us will put in a huge effort to pursue an end that does provide a challenge to our interests.
  • Who am I?  What is my worldview and what is my relationship to the world around me? If we don’t know that, it is hard to place systems thinking in a manageable context.
  • Systems thinking.  Learning to understand and analyze complex relationships. Without these skills, finding and solving problems is just guesswork.
  • Problem finding.  Students need to find problems that they really want to solve.  It is up to teachers to create environments of dissonance in which students will be eager to find problems.
  • Problem solving.  Synthesizing multiple inputs to solve those problems that we really want to solve. Without all that precedes this step, none of us have a personal stake in problem solving.
  • Dealing with failure because problem solving is hard and inexact, and we learn more from failure than we do from success.
  • Creational thinking.  Discovering those nuggets of elegant new knowledge once you have put in the hard work that makes it all worthwhile.

I have trialed this model in various forms with 4th graders, seniors in high school, and college students. I have stolen and learned big pieces of it from successful friends and heroes for most of my life.  Bo Adams and Jill Gough use it in their pioneering Synergy 8 middle school class. Design thinking is based on most of this pyramid. Unless we rely on pure serendipity, we cannot get true creativity without a foundation, a background, and a process. We can have learning when we address “how” to teach, but we can only have GREAT learning when we also address “why”.

What do you think??

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By | 2012-05-16T15:13:28+00:00 May 16th, 2012|21C Skills, Innovation in Education|11 Comments

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  1. Grant, I think your and Shelley’s pieces are perfect complements to reframe our understanding of engaging and authentic learning. My immediate thoughts–less for reasons than you or she intend, and more for reasons that are currently on my mind–are that your “Why Learning” and her “Blooms 21” could also provide a transformative framework for faculty PD in our PLC–redefining our roles in a 21c learning environment, inspiring our generation of new strategies, and more. Excited to stew on this and to try! Thank you!

    • glichtman May 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm - Reply

      Chris, I agree and really thank Shelley from afar for jogging my thinking in one of those moments of clarity. That pyramid I offered is a summary of The Falconer. When the faculty at Westminster Schools in Atlanta read and discussed it, it helped create things like the Synergy 8 class, which is a flagship success for them. You should talk to Bo Adams or Jill Gough about that transition.

      For a new school this could be a flag on the hill sort of imagery around which a group could really coalesce and make their mark. I think these two pyramids combined may be that sort of marker in how we get to where we want to go in NthC (21C) learning. Would love to contribute however I can in that conversation!

  2. plerudulier May 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm - Reply
  3. Jamie Feild Baker May 21, 2012 at 11:18 am - Reply

    I really appreciate the thinking and revision that both Shelley and Grant offer about Bloom’s. Both expanded ideas improve the taxonomy by squarely centering the learner in the learning process. However, what bothers me about Bloom’s is the whole idea of a pyramid and an hierarchy. Benjamin Bloom never ranked or ordered learning operations in a pyramid and continuing to do so now continues to keep us stuck in this idea that learning has those separate stages. To really open things up, how can we think of learning and visually portray it in a more recursive, integrated, mutually informing process that is spiral, that branches and weaves?

    • glichtman May 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Jamie. This is good feedback. I think I absolutely agree in terms of the “how” students learn, ergo the learning pond, a mixed and mixing process. IN terms of the “why” students learn, I think I may have to argue for something that has some degree of linearity. If any of us do not first understand why we are going to put in the hard work, many or most will not do it. If we do not learn effective questioning in ways that generate self-interest in the problems, we are not going to be as interested in finding answers.

      Need to put this into the discussion mix and see what comes out!

  4. […] Shelley Wright’s essay, Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy is a must read, and a possible game changer.  She argues that if we want to embed Nth C (21C) skills in our curriculum we can and must start w… …  […]

  5. […] Shelley Wright’s essay, Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy is a must read, and a possible game changer.  She argues that if we want to embed Nth C (21C) skills in our curriculum we can and must start w… …  […]

    • glichtman November 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks for picking up this important thread started by Shelly Wright past spring. I had a 5th grade student tell me that Bloom was wrong, that at first he mapped it as a circle, and then as a spiral…guess that kid knew something powerful about the fact that you don’t need to first teach facts in order to get to higher levels of thinking!

  6. kidscandoitwecanhelp May 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Grant, what an excellent post! Your focus on the “why” as primary made me think about how teachers view their students’ motivations. Frequently I hear, “Kids only care about grades! We need to help them focus on the learning” which I believe is true, but hard to do when the content to be covered is not of particular interest to a student. I don’t know any teachers who don’t put every effort into making their material interesting, but still, students are (on the whole) being asked to learn certain ideas at certain times, regardless of their natural curiosities.

    It actually brings to mind for me a scene from “The Breakup” when Jennifer Aniston asks Vince Vaughn to do the dishes and he begrudgingly obliges. She then says, “Well don’t do them if you don’t want to. I want you to WANT to do the dishes!” And he responds, “Why would I want to do the dishes?!” If you bear with my somewhat convoluted analogy, many students will learn what teachers want them to because they’re supposed to and because they need the grade. Teachers, however, want students to WANT to learn all of the organelles in a cell. But many students are just as befuddled by this as Vince Vaughn was – why would they WANT to spend their free time studying flashcards about ideas that they haven’t found meaning in?

    I love your “Why of Learning” pyramid. I think the challenge will be finding ways to allow more student choice about what they learn, when they learn it, how they learn it, and how they share it so that they have the space and support to really explore, deeply and continuously, “Who do I want to be?”

    • glichtman May 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Bree. Think I will grab part of this comment and post in a re-post of that blog from last year!

  7. […] Shelley Wright’s essay, Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy is a must read, and a possible game changer. She argues that if we want to embed Nth C (21C) skills in our curriculum we can and must start w……  […]

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