Yesterday, I suggested a slightly frivolous replacement for Bloom’s taxonomy. Today, I am going to take it a little more seriously. Does such a taxonomy have anything to say about how we should approach teaching or the curriculum? Possibly.
The taxonomy is based on Geary’s distinction between biologically primary and biologically secondary knowledge. It makes clear that biologically secondary knowledge rests upon and co-opts biologically primary knowledge. In addition, I have tried to incorporate ideas from cognitive science popularised by Dan Willingham and others that suggest that capacities such as critical thinking and problem solving are domain specific and rest upon both domain general primary knowledge and domain specific secondary knowledge.
So what does this mean for teaching? I would suggest that most of the time it means this:
We can typically assume that students have the required biologically primary knowledge because they will usually pick this up as part of normal development. The available evidence suggests that models that start with applications of knowledge and then only cycle back to discovering, looking-up or having mini-lectures on the required knowledge as and when required – models such as inquiry learning, problem-based learning and so on – are less effective than those that explicitly teach required knowledge from the outset. That’s why I suggest that we should usually start with knowledge building.
One exception would be training relative experts to apply knowledge they already possess in slightly different ways. In this case, the knowledge-building is already done. This is equivalent to the later stages of a teaching sequence that starts with knowledge-building.
Another exception would be students who do not reach mastery through initial teaching. I have been keen to promote the Response to Intervention model as an alternative to popular conceptions of differentiation. Response to Intervention involves screens that will identify students who have not mastered the content and a tiered approach that starts with whole-class teaching at Tier 1, proceeds to intensive, small group teaching and Tier 2 and then individual intervention at Tier 3.
There are some aspects of biologically primary knowledge that probably cannot be directly taught, such as means-ends-analysis for problem-solving. However, specialists such as speech pathologists often work on improving skills that bridge the primary/secondary divide and that most young people acquire through typical development.
I am not an expert on such interventions, but I did learn a little about Developmental Language Disorder when I co-authored a piece for American Educator with Pam Snow. Young people with Developmental Language Disorder often misunderstand certain cues or say things that are inappropriate. We give an example:
“Imagine the child who, on being introduced to a distant relative for the first time, asks, “Why have you got hair growing out of your nose?” Most families have amusing, if sometimes excruciating, stories to tell of toddlers whose still coarse pragmatic language abilities meant that an alarming level of candor was used in a social situation. Such blunt honesty can often be laughed off when it comes from a 3-year-old, but it can cause serious social consequences if the speaker is 9 or even only 6 years old.”
Although understanding the social context around speech is a primary ability, presumably it can be explicitly taught to students who lack this understanding. Usually, such an intervention is likely to take place at Tier 3 of the Response to Intervention model, but it could conceivably happen at Tier 2 in a sufficiently disadvantaged school where a significant minority of students present with such difficulties.
The model below attempts to map Response to Intervention to the taxonomy. It assumes that Tier 2 includes more intensive knowledge-building and less application than Tier 1 and that biologically primary deficits are addressed at Tier 3:
Clearly, any attempt to impose a generic model on different subject domains is always going to oversimplify, but is it still useful? I would be interested in your thoughts.