One of the most sophisticated things a teacher can do is to offer appropriate challenge in the content area; curricula must be both standards driven and allow students to develop their competencies using multiple skill areas (e.g. reading, writing, oral communication, and technology).
Teaching social studies in the sixth grade breaks down into two central categories: ancient civilizations and academic writing. Both are based on state or national standards. Every unit, organized around one or both of these pillars, combines all the skills of Blooms Taxonomy.
The application of Blooms Taxonomy into lesson planning, along side learning standards, follows a natural progression that assists in the development of the student (P3); the use of different question types to provoke learning and assess progress is highly effective. When it comes to the end of the unit, students should be able to demonstrate their mastery across all of Blooms six categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, Evaluation, and Synthesis.
Students often start with a hook into the knowledge. For the unit on Mesopotamia we may watch a quick introduction video, in this case Bugs Bunny on Mesopotamia.
In doing so, we ask the knowledge-based question, “what is or was Mesopotamia?” We continue the class with lecture, discussion, “think/pair/share,” and other knowledge and comprehension (Blooms first and second categories) based inquiry. Students must comprehend the content by asking and answering questions such as, “what are the similarities and differences between life in Mesopotamia and modern civilization.”
The unit will progress with primary source investigation, engaging in an application (Blooms third category) of content knowledge. One example of this is a representation of cuneiform. I use a variety of prepared placards to provoke an analysis and discovery of the past.
Students will examine the artifact, analyze (Blooms fourth category) their findings alongside the findings of the archeologists, and then apply their knowledge through writing assignments, projects, and presentations. In doing so they must answer questions such as, “what information is most valuable to people today” and “what aspects of life in Mesopotamia brought about the development of civilization.”
The most fruitful components of the unit come to light with an application of evaluation and synthesis. Students are asked to apply the lessons from Mesopotamia to their life today. Through a variety of writing assignments and presentations, students get to search out and find the answers that are most significant to their learning. They are asked to answer questions such as:
- If you were to live in Mesopotamia, what choices would you make to stay alive and build a society?
- What lessons from and aspects of Mesopotamia can tell us about our future?
These projects and essay capture what a unit test does not easily capture.
The conclusion of the unit is nearly always a unit test. It would be possible to limit the test to the questions provided by the textbook company. In doing so only the first two categories of Blooms Taxonomy (knowledge and comprehension) would be tested.
However, I endeavor to include short essay questions that draw out a more complete evaluation of student learning by assessing through Blooms Taxonomy. The chapter test will include knowledge and comprehension questions (provided by the textbook). For example, I may provide an artifact that the class did not see in the unit. The test would ask the student to apply their understanding of Mesopotamia and analyze their findings. They must apply that knowledge and synthesis into a cohesive piece of writing.
Ultimately, Chapter Tests are a good tool for assessing student progress and knowledge. However, this is not the only tool for assessments. Students must be challenged to extend their thinking beyond multiple choice and short answer statements. Students must learn to develop and defend their opinions in essay writing and presentations. Both skills allow students to integrate technology (often a power point presentation or simply word processing) and provide an opportunity to communicate in both oral and written form.
It is for this last point, that I enjoy teaching. When students can integrate their skills, develop their own opinions, and defend the choices the made with academic reasoning, I know I am a successful teacher.
In future tests, I want to give more choice and self-determination to the students. There is no reason they cannot help to build the test and study guide. They can design multiple-choice questions to prepare for the assessment. They can discuss possible short answer ideas that could be on the test. They can help to shape the test by front-loading the content. I can continue to use previous test questions, integrate new questions based on their preparations, and develop questions for the test that apply directly to their areas of interest from class work.