Learning Taxonomies: Why ‘creating’ is a cognitive skill

This post is a response to Doug Belshaw’s post: Learning Taxonomies: Why ‘creating’ is not a cognitive skill.

While I do agree that ‘creating’ does not belong above evaluation and that there is room for some revsion of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I do believe that ‘creating’ is a cognitive skill. In fact, I believe that it should be an integral part of all learning taxonomies; that you can’t be fully literate until you have created something.

You can’t create something without some prior knowledge. It is from this knowledge that you can make decisions and by it’s very nature ‘decision making’ is a cognitive skill. Moreover, all creation is a result of our experiences. Arguably, there is no originality in creation any way (Strinati, 1997). When we create we make both conscious decisions and unconscious decisions, based on our learned experiences.

To take Doug’s son creating his first piece of art as an example: Yes he can paint a picture without having learned to analyse, synthesise (consciously) or evaluate. However, his behaviour is not ‘original’, it is learned and is born out of memory, therefore he is replicating learned behaviour. The way he holds the brush, the choice of colours and so on, all represent decisions, some more conscious than others, but decisions none the less and therefore show a cognitive process in action.

I think that the SOLO Taxonomy that Doug referenced actually comes close to acknowledging ‘creating’ in its more rightful place. In this taxonomy the phrase ‘Do simple procedures’ is used right near the beginning and I would argue that ‘simple procedures’ can be interpreted as ‘creating’. If I were to adapt Bloom’s Taxonomy to incorporate creation, I would suggest something like this.

As you can see I also partly agree with Doug about the placement of Synthesis being wrong although I would see it as equal to evaluation. As cognitive processes the two directly effect each other. Your ability to synthesise something is often based on your judgement but your judgement can be altered as you synthesise something.

My initial involvement in this debate arose after Doug tweeted this:


Rather than this one that started the debate in the first place:

I include this as I think that it reveals a key feature of my thinking in this debate. I don’t believe that Media Literacy is neither ‘passive’ nor is it ‘consumption driven’. To be ‘Media-literate’ you need to have created your own Media.

I have had many conversations in my time with colleagues about the merits and drawbacks of coursework in the Media Studies syllabus. I always come back to this: Can students truly understand the Media if they don’t create it for themselves? They already do in their daily lives but I want them to create texts more critically. I want them to unpack that process of creation. This undoubtedly improves their skills of analysis and their ability to evaluate.

After all, you wouldn’t teach Maths by having students read the sums and then the answers; you make them work through the problems, learning how to solve them for themselves. You wouldn’t teach students to play football by doing nothing more than watching Manchester United on the TV. Without the doing (the ‘creating’) the learning is meaningless.

So perhaps Blooms should look  more like this with creation featuring alongside every stage of the taxonomy, after knowledge. As ‘creating’ as a cognitive skills is imperative on the path to becoming literate.

My thesis: You can’t be literate if you have never created. To be fully literate you need to create throughout your learning journey, only then will you be able to make meaningful judgements based upon fully informed analysis. Creation can help you piece it all together, what’s more cognitive than that?

Little and often

When I was training to become a teacher, I was encouraged to do tasks like marking, planning and self-reflection in short, manageable bursts. I found this advice to be easier said than done during the early stages of my career. However, I eventually reached a point where I found that I had fully subscribed to a ‘little and often’ philosophy. I have refined it over the last few years and thought that I would share ten of the most useful facets here.

  1. Keep a note book (or folder) of lesson ideas, activities and homework; keep it with you to jot down ideas on the fly.
  2. Mark and assess work in small batches avoiding the dreaded “marking pile”.
  3. Make feedback short and precise to make it meaningful and to keep it manageable for yourself.
  4. Take 15-20 minutes to reflect on your day: what went well, what didn’t, how can you do better tomorrow?
  5. Read blogs, articles and books every day – it’s important to keep learning. Save longer material to be read in short flurries once or twice a week.
  6. Collaborate with others but make meetings short and emails brief; instead get on with the doing, focussing on the outcomes instead, evaluating as you go.
  7. Share ideas, resources and useful links via email, Twitter or Facebook immediately; don’t wait, don’t stock pile.
  8. Once a week turn off email, Twitter and other distractions; focus on the work. (If you suffer from severe bouts of procrastination then once a week might not be enough)
  9. Don’t let things become untidy. Fix displays, put away resources, tidy your desk when you see that it needs doing.
  10. If you blog, write a bit every day. The previously mentioned note book comes in handy here for drafting posts and recording ideas.

Busting a hole in the wall (the purpose of education)

purposed-badgeWhen Sugata Mitra put a computer inside a hole in the wall of the NIIT building in New Delhi, he took the first step in proving beyond a shadow of a doubt, that education was a universal connector craved by people the world over; and that the traditional notion of classroom education was by no means the only way to do it. Now, more than ten years on from the beginning of the HITW experiment, the lessons remain unheeded by many of the people involved in mainstream education. In fact, concepts such as ‘self-directed learning’ and ‘the student voice’ are still scoffed at as Dawn Hallybone was reminded this past week, attending a debate on the National Curriculum review.

Are there still that many people connected to education that truly believe, we, the adults know what’s best for the next generation and the one after that? Nick Dennis spoke of the need for us to focus on principals in this debate and at first I disagreed, as principals like ‘purposes’ are rarely universally shared. However, I now see where he was going, and while I appreciated Doug’s question about whose “better” was Nick referring to, I think Nick’s conviction was what was most important. He asked the big questions about what we want education to be and what we are doing for each other as a community, not as definable roles but as human beings.

It is make or break time for humanity and we have a responsibility to draw a line in the sand, admit our mistakes and create a system of education that can begin to undo the harm that we have done to the world. For all the talk over the last twenty years of the ‘global village’, it has not stopped us continuing to destroy our planet, to wage wars and to continue to ignore the inequalities in society. What is the purpose of education? Surely, it is to create unity by helping future generation to recognise the values that humanity share.

Fred Garnett grapsed this when he argued that new (social) media can foster “collaborative, discursive learning, the kind of learning that creates a healthy, open and participative society.” Is this the extension of Mitra’s experiment? Is social media the natural evolution bringing learners to the stream rather than the well? Some of us embrace change, recognising the merits of experimentation and creativity; others fear it, seeing new as dangerous. I’m not suggesting that we should plunge head first into wildly unstructured models of learning but if it were not for people who dared to be creative, who dared to experiment, we would not be able to stare into the vast ocean that is our solar system, or be able to listen to Mozart on a device, so small, it can fit into the palms of our hands.

When Mitra began his experiment he was giving education back to the people and his observations of the children showed happy, creative, collaborative learnings, the sort of learning Tom Barrett hopes his son will continue to experience. I’d intended to say that education is about more than opening doors; it’s about what you do once the door is open. Now I’m asking who needs doors? Why not work together and bust a hole in the wall instead?

In the Vital Hotseat

VitalMy colleague, Greg Hodgson, and I are currently hosting a Vital Hotseat adding our knowledge, experitse and opinions to a two week discussion titled: ‘Enhancing Creativity Through Digital Media‘.

Topics under discussion so far include: ‘Getting in the creative habit‘ and ‘Collaborative work with external partners‘.

You need a Vital account to join the discussion but it is free and takes little time to set up. Along with hosting forum based events such as this, Vital also support TeachMeets and provide a wide range of resources for educators on their website.

So please, sign up and join the discussion.

3 things I do every weekend that make me a better teacher

1. Get out and about

What I enjoy most about the weekend is the chance to get out and about in to a non-school environment. This could be as trivial as walking down the road to the local Costa Coffee for a flat white or to the local supermarket to get the groceries. Or it could be something more meaningful such as a short train journey into London to visit a museum or see a play. Whatever it is, I enjoy being able to spend time with my wife; to eat, drink, interact and enjoy myself – free from the day-to-day experience that is my working week. This does not mean that I am completely switched off though. On the contrary, It is out there, in the real world that many of the ideas I have for teaching exercises reveal themselves. You see, if all you walk and talk all week is education with other educators, eventually the conversation becomes stagnant and new ideas dry up. My best ideas come to me usually when I’m nowhere near school; out there, in the real world.

2. Read the newspaper

During the week I am essentially locked in an education bubble. Sunday morning is catch up time. I need to know what is going on in the world, as both an English and Media Studies teacher, news has a significant impact on my teaching. I prefer to read the news on a Sunday as not only are the “really” important stories reflected on and pulled apart but being the weekend I feel I have the time to truly immerse myself into reading the news. I don’t buy a newspaper however. Instead, I read the Observer online via http://guardian.gyford.com. If you have not experienced either the Guardian or Observer newspaper in this way then I suggest that you give it a go. I feel that it offers the perfect balance between an online and paper based reading experience. And, while I don’t own one I am certain that it would work really well on the iPad.

3. Tidy up loose ends

On a Sunday evening I look through my work inbox and todo list and spend 60 minutes clearing as much as possible before Monday. I try to do something similar on a Friday afternoon before I leave work but there are often bits and pieces that just don’t get done. It could be the case that an email needs to be replied to; a handful of assignments need to be marked; a request for some data or other information needs to be submitted. Or it could be the case that the last few days may have simply been very busy and I have a backlog of emails that either need to be archived or deleted. Once the 60 minutes is up, anything that remains in my inbox or todo list is usually too large a task to be completed on a Sunday evening; requires input from a colleague; or I don’t have all the information to hand. This process has become a ritual and helps to ensure that I return to work on Monday morning free of clutter and ready for the challenges ahead.