Create + Creativity: Taking Bloom’s Taxonomy to the Next Level During Remote Learning
By Robert W. Maloy, Torrey Trust, and Sharon A. Edwards — University of Massachusetts Amherst
Last fall, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced his school to full-time remote learning, Erich, a middle school social studies teacher, pondered how to teach students about the “social contract.” Used by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other founders of the United States in conceptualizing the nation’s new government, the social contract holds that in a civil society, people voluntarily agree to give up some of their personal liberty to do whatever they want in exchange for the greater security and protection provided by a government.
How, Erich wondered, could he make this philosophical concept meaningful to middle schoolers? There was no face-to-face class in which to discuss the concept; asking students to read online notes would not likely make the concept and its connections to the American government clearer.
Erich needed ways for students to gain ideas and insights for themselves within the parameters provided by virtual learning.
Introducing Create + Creativity
Erich’s dilemma is hardly unique to those teaching social studies during remote schooling. Educators of every subject and grade level are struggling to find ways for students to experience deep and meaningful learning in virtual and hybrid instructional settings. Erich’s solution involved taking Bloom’s Taxonomy, a set of principles first proposed by the educational psychologist Benjamin S. Bloom and colleagues, to the next level in remote learning.
Beginning in a Zoom meeting, Erich asked students to define government and its role in modern society. Students concluded that government exists to serve the needs of the people and if it does, the people should fund and support it. If not, the people have the right to change the government. He then asked students to create their own social contract for his classroom (“Mr. L’s Social Contract”). Students wrote vision statements about their desired classroom government as well the responsibilities shared by students and teachers. Students then created podcasts or digital posters about the structures of their emerging classroom government.
“Create” + “Creativity” transformed online learning in Erich’s classroom. To create a social contract, students had to think and act creatively in applying and adapting a historical concept to a present-day school context and to communicate their ideas to others.
While widely valued as educational goals, “create” and “creativity” have been hard to achieve during virtual/remote/hyflex learning. In this post, we offer strategies for integrating create + creativity for deeper thinking and learning in remote and future in-person classrooms.
Creativity in Learning
Creativity can be defined as thinking and acting in ways that generate new approaches to people, situations, and problems. Naiman (2014) defines creativity as “the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. . . Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing” (para. 1). Being able to formulate new ideas and ways of thinking and express thoughts creatively is highly valued in career fields from the artistic to the commercial and is a core national educational technology standard for students. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), for example, urges the development of every youngster’s capabilities as a “creative communicator” and an “innovative designer” among its seven technology standards for students (ISTE Standards for Students).
Children and adolescents display their creativity in uniquely personal ways within family, school, and after-school environments. They draw, paint, and sculpt; build with blocks or clay; and explore outdoor landscapes or interior mindscapes. Others express themselves through physical movement on bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, and basketball courts or play musical instruments, perform in plays, or write stories and poetry.
In this view, to be creative, children do not need to design, compose, or develop something no one has done before; instead they only need to say or do things they have not thought or done before in quite the same way. The creative act is what is new to the individual, not new to the world.
Creativity in Bloom’s Taxonomy
The term “create” is a new part of Bloom’s Taxonomy — a seminal formulation of thinking skills first proposed in 1956. Seeking to distinguish between different forms of thinking, Bloom set forth a group of nouns (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) that ascended from lower-order to higher-order thinking — a framework typically presented in the shape of a pyramid. The taxonomy was revised in 2001, keeping the pyramid shape but substituting the static nouns with action-oriented verbs (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and, at the top of the structure, creating) (Learn more: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching’s Bloom’s Taxonomy Teaching Guide). More recently, educators have proposed using interactive digital technologies to support the different thinking skills within Bloom’s Taxonomy; for example, social bookmarking fosters remembering while podcasting is a form of creating (Sneed, 2016).
“Bloom’s Taxonomy” by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Create and creativity at the top of the taxonomy means that through creative expression a student “demonstrates full knowledge by applying what they’ve learned, analyzed and evaluated, and building something, either tangible or conceptual (Persaud, 2018, para. 39).
Create + Creativity for Deeper Thinking
Developing remote learning activities for teachers and students made us rethink activities we previously regarded as “create” within Bloom’s Taxonomy. For instance, we assumed that having students create a digital poster or record a podcast about the United States Constitution was a creative activity at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. But, this is not the same as creating for deeper thinking. A student-made poster or podcast is essentially a display of information from other sources. Students need opportunities to design for deeper learning where they generate new knowledge, synthesize ideas, make predictions, evaluate data, and draw connections between academic material and current life.
Creating for Deeper Learning in Social Studies
Using Create + Creativity as a guide for supporting deeper thinking in social studies, students could co-write a constitution for a classroom government or construct digital representations of what life would be like today without the Constitution and the consent of the governed. The bullet points below offer several examples from our own experience. Our initial drafts featured Creative Communication — creativity added to lower-to-middle-of-Bloom’s Taxonomy type activities. The revisions stress students creating for deeper learning by engaging in higher-order thinking and design tasks.
- Initial Draft: Develop a sketchnote on the checks and balances and powers of the president.
- Revision: Select a social issue (e.g., COVID-19, transgender rights, Climate Change) and create a sketchnote that indicates what role each branch of the government should play in making decisions about this topic.
- Initial Draft: Build a timeline of the war powers of the president.
- Revision: Write a story or movie script about life in 2020 if Lincoln, Madison, Johnson and the other presidents who entered conflicts had instead chosen not to go to war.
- Initial Draft: View Norman Rockwell’s 1943 Freedom of Speech painting and explain how you would make your voice heard in the community.
- Revision: After viewing Norman Rockwell’s 1943 Freedom of Speech painting, create a social media campaign to make your voice heard in the community.
- Initial Draft: Write a history of women who ran for president.
- Revision: Write and draw a children’s book about what life would be like if one of the women who ran for President had been elected.
- Initial Draft: Discuss whether local or state governments could require people to wear masks and/or get a vaccine.
- Revision: Evaluate the mask/vaccine mandates of a local or state official and then design a PRAISE or PROTEST video based on their stance. Send the video to the elected official via social media.
Digital Choice Boards and Creative Thinking
Digital choice boards are one way to increase students’ opportunities for Create + Creativity in remote and online classrooms. A choice board “is a graphic organizer that allows students to choose different ways to learn about a particular concept” (Reinken, 2012, para. 1). Note how the following The Presidency in US History & Politics choice board (featured below) offers students multiple ways to interact creatively with academic material.
Each box on the board contains hyperlinks and public domain images. Hyperlinks take learners to online resources; images captivate learners’ attention and establish a broader context for thinking and creating. Students can choose which boxes to complete, or follow a tic-tac-toe structure of any three boxes in-a-row. Students can be given specific directions or they can go on a design-your-own learning pathway adventure. There are higher order/create + creative learning activities in every box: Remix text for an Inaugural Address; write and record a song about the Presidency; propose Presidential actions to address environmental issues; design a game to teach younger students about the roles of the President. In each activity, students start their learning with create + creativity by designing, inventing, composing, remixing, predicting, and investigating.
We have found that in the midst of a pandemic, students are yearning for opportunities to develop meaningful skills, knowledge, and mindsets that prepare them for an ever-changing society. We believe that combining opportunities to create (e.g., “produce new or original works”) with opportunities to creatively communicate will propel student engagement and interest, not only in history/social studies classes, but across the curriculum. Starting instructional activities with create + creativity opens multiple opportunities for students to design, invent, compose, remix, predict, and investigate curriculum topics, taking Bloom’s Taxonomy to a new level in this time of remote learning and beyond.
About the Authors
Robert W. Maloy is a senior lecturer in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he coordinates the history teacher education program.
Torrey Trust, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Learning Technology in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is the coordinator of the Learning, Media, and Technology master’s degree program and the Digital Media Design and Making in Education online graduate certificate program.
Sharon A. Edwards, Ed.D, is a clinical faculty member in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Before joining the University, she taught primary grades for 32 years at a public elementary school in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was the 1989 recipient of the national Good Neighbor Award for Innovation and Excellence in Education given by the State Farm Insurance Companies and the National Council of Teachers of English.
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