Ashman’s Taxonomy

The cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy was developed in the 1950s as a guide to assessment before many recent advances in cognitive science. It was then revised in 2001.

The intrinsic problems with the taxonomy are that it implies both a order to these different objectives and a commonality between, for example, analysing a graph and analysing a poem. The extrinsic problem is when others have tried to use the order of the taxonomy to imply that some objectives are superior to others:

This is rough because it leads to the kind of professional development sessions where teachers are told that they are asking too many lower order questions and they need to ask more higher order ones.

Let’s squish this down into something that perhaps better aligns with what we now know.

We know, for instance, that applications such as critical thinking and problem solving rest on a foundation of relevant domain knowledge. The schemas held in long-term memory probably do not distinguish between knowledge and its application in any meaningful way. However, it is possible to conceive of teaching approaches that would neglect either sufficient knowledge-building or sufficient application and so it is perhaps a meaningful distinction for teachers. Where knowledge is lacking, we need to cycle back from application and build the relevant knowledge base before returning to application. That’s what the curly arrow is intended to show.

However, this only deals with what David C. Geary would term ‘biologically secondary’ knowledge –  cultural knowledge created recently in our evolutionary history that we have not evolved to acquire such as reading, writing and doing mathematics. All biologically secondary knowledge co-opts what Geary terms ‘biologically primary’ knowledge – knowledge that we have evolved to acquire such as speaking and comprehending our mother tongue or following basic social norms. So let’s add that:

This shows the importance of biologically primary knowledge as a foundation for biologically secondary knowledge. It also implies that if biologically primary knowledge is lacking then we need to fix this.


15 thoughts on “Ashman’s Taxonomy

  1. Pingback: Ashman’s Taxonomy — Filling the pail | Desde mi Salón

  2. apologies for going on a tangent in advance but seeing as some of your posts base their thinking on Geary and his primary-secondary distinction thought it may be useful to put it out here – namely, have you come across the following objection to primary-secondary categories originally proposed by anthropologist Tim Ingold in the context of innate-acquired categories with respect to walking and cycling:

    If speaking is primary in the sense, and only in the sense, that given certain conditions it is bound to emerge in the course of development then the same applies to writing. And if writing is secondary in the sense that its emergence depends on a process of learning that is embedded in contexts of social interaction then the same applies to speaking. It just happens that the conditions to learn to write are more strict (not to mention a site of controversy!) than the conditions to learn to speak.

    • Tyrone says:

      Mira, does this take into account that the parts of the brain that handle speech appear to be specific and localised, whereas reading and writing appear to occur from parts cobbled together to handle the task. Therefore it is more likely that speech will occur without requiring instruction. Apologies for the broad general statements without referencing at this stage.

      • if you are talking about an adult brain then looking at the end state of such a brain does not entail that the beginning state was the same;

        note that Ingold’s objection only applies if you frame primary knowledge as primary because it occurs under certain conditions and primary knowledge is often framed as being “universal” e.g. everybody speaks their first language.

        but again this is only so under certain conditions similarly writing occurs under certain conditions so primary can be applied to writing as well.

        consider speech & writing to walking & carrying things on your head – is the fact that everyone can walk but most Westerners cannot carry things on their head mean walking is primary & carrying things on head secondary?

        note that Ingold favours a developmental systems point of view for the emergence of any skill such as speaking or writing

  3. Pingback: Using Ashman’s taxonomy – Filling the pail

  4. The Quirky Teacher says:

    Just a thought – you say biologically secondary knowledge builds on biologically primary knowledge such as language and social skills. How would you explain the ability of autists to learn biologically secondary knowledge (some of it really quite well) without such a foundation?

    • Tyrone says:

      My guess is certain knowledge can be explicitly taught but certain constructs like relational frames are harder to do without developed language skills. It’s a good question though.
      My query is how definitive is the evidence that biological primary skills exist.

      • The Quirky Teacher says:

        I’m not a fan of biologically primary knowledge. It seems to write off the concerted effort of the child’s first teacher: his mother. Also I really fail to see how social niceties are supposed to develop ‘naturally’, like they’re in built in our DNA, or acquired easily from peers of the same age.

  5. Some thoughts about both ‘Ashman’s Taxonomy’ blogs.
    1. In the first sentence it is said that the goal for the taxonomy is a ‘guide to assessment’. In
    fact, the goals were wider than that as summarised on the top right of page 1 of the linked
    revised Bloom taxonomy.
    2. Bloom never intended a hierarchy and the authors of the revised Bloom specifically address
    this aspect, for example by putting cognitive domains horizontally and knowledge domains
    vertically (four instead of Bloom’s original three: factual, conceptual, procedural and
    metacognitive knowledge). It is true that many have misrepresented (revised) Bloom with a
    hierarchy, but it seems strange to first misrepresent as such and then retain a hierarchy in
    the proposed Ashman model.
    3. The original Bloom already distinguished types of knowledge but especially the revised
    Bloom has a knowledge dimension that cuts through the cognitive dimension. It can be
    argued that these different types of knowledge conform more to what cognitive science tells
    us than just one label ‘knowledge’ in the Ashman model. Note that it also is important to be
    aware of what a taxonomy is.
    4. In sum, (revised) Bloom is misrepresented.
    5. The new Ashman model combines qualitatively different elements. ‘Application’ is not an
    entity but more a process. Knowledge is a very broad ‘container term’ for….well everything.
    In addition to using under-specified terms, they also already are in revised Bloom (or
    perhaps, because it is not completely clear what is meant): combine the cognitive dimension
    ‘applying’ with any of the four types of knowledge and done.
    6. The addition of Geary adds another qualitatively different element, and suddenly deems
    ‘application’ and ‘knowledge’ as being ‘biologically secondary knowledge’. But is
    ‘application’ solely secondary knowledge? Surely not. In fact, upon reading it might not be
    the best choice of words to say secondary knowledge ‘co-opts’ primary knowledge; rather
    they are related.
    7. Certainly, pretending that there is a hierarchy is not useful; that has been the issue with the
    interpretations of the original taxonomy. But in this new suggestion it’s even worse, as it
    might imply you only can get to secondary knowledge if primary knowledge is sorted. We
    can certainly teach primary knowledge and can even use it to the benefit of secondary
    knowledge (collaboration, embodied cognition), but the distinction is not clear-cut. Ashman,
    especially in the second blog, seems to see the teaching of primary knowledge as a specialist
    thing for just a few (behind?) students and posits that most students will just pick up primary
    knowledge automatically. I think evidence shows that all students can benefit from explicitly
    teaching them.
    8. I don’t think the new diagram adds much and would just confuse. A rediscovery of revised
    Bloom would be most useful.

    • I did not claim that the original taxonomy had a hierarchy. I said it had an order. I linked to Krathwohl as a source on the revised taxonomy because the original Anderson source is a book that is unavailable. However, this is helpful because Krathwohl was also on the original committee that produced the 1956 version. In the Krathwohl piece, he writes, “The original Taxonomy provided carefully developed definitions for each of the six major categories in the cognitive domain. The categories were Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. With the exception of Application, each of these was broken into subcategories. The complete structure of the original Taxonomy is shown in Table 1. The categories were ordered from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Further, it was assumed that the original Taxonomy represented a cumulative hierarchy; that is, mastery of each simpler category was prerequisite to mastery of the next more complex one.”

      Of the revised taxonomy, Krathwohl comments that, “Synthesis changed places with Evaluation and was renamed Create.” This would be a very odd thing to point out if there is no order to the taxonomy.

      • My use of the word ‘hierarchy’ refers to ‘pecking order’ ie one being more *superior* than others.
        ‘hierarchy’ could best be specified, because I should have added that in revised Bloom a hierarchy (but with overlap) is only there re cognitive complexity.

  6. Pingback: Scientific research on how to teach critical thinking contradicts education trends and more in this week's news roundup! — Psych Learning Curve

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