Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Italian education system

If you are an educator, you are probably familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive skills. Whether you find it a useful tool or not, I think we can agree that teachers should take into account the variety and level of challenge of the cognitive skills they ask their learners to use when planning courses, lessons and activities.

Unfortunately, in the Italian educational context it seems to me that most educators (be they primary school teachers or university professors) are stuck in the first two layers of the taxonomy: remembering and understanding — with some brave and experimental enough to venture the ‘applying’ heights. This to me is disheartening, so I have often asked myself the reasons for such a common, well-established trend.

I don’t really have any data collected, so what I am about to write only comes from personal experience, both as a teacher entering Italian state schools as “language expert” and as university student. In both cases, it feels like the educator in question believes that helping learners remember notions, and possibly apply them to new (but similar) contexts is what their job is all about. But why is this?

My own private explanation goes something like: it’s about the “classical” educational tradition we have in Italy. Grammar-translation as a way of teaching language is still present in some form in many schools; most teachers will state that learning Latin is good because “it makes you think”; a good student is one who sits for the whole duration of the class and listens attentively, not asking too many annoying questions. Yet, I am not convinced that this is the real issue at stake here.

The fact is that the Italian teacher training system is completely based on theoretical notions. Most teachers I have spoken to are perfectly familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, but if you ask them to give a practical example on how they use it in class, things get more complicated. When in teacher training courses we discuss ‘creativity’, teachers tend to respond with: “let’s ask students to draw a poster.” The very concept of learners creating new knowledge from what they have previously learnt is quite hard for most of the people I spoke to to grasp — I suppose this is because they have seldom been asked to do so during their own education. There are no formal lesson plans in Italian schools (that I know of), nobody ever enters into your classroom to observe and give feedback. Actually, the very concept of being observed while teaching is abhorred and looked at with terror by most (if not all) teachers.

The end result? At my last year of a Master’s Degree course, I have to spend hours trying to memorise pages and pages of names and attached concepts — the lowest of Bloom’s lower order thinking skills. I have not even been asked to apply the concepts to new situations, but simply to repeat the examples given in class in an oral exam that will test my ability to keep in my short-term memory as much information as possible. I repeat, I find all this disheartening.

If a practical form of training for teachers — and university lecturers above all — doesn’t become integral part of our educational system, one that treats teaching for what it is, a practical skill, we will keep at the base of Bloom’s pyramid for many years to come. So who can blame the scores of children (and university students) who end up hating school, and who sit through a lecture just waiting to be somewhere else?

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