The Fundamental Challenge for Didactic Innovation

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“The fine distinction between the conceptual and the procedural help us to define the type of project, evaluation criteria, the evidence, and the rubrics we will be using.”

How can we innovate our teaching practices without having to invest in a costly and complex technological infrastructure? This article aims to strengthen pedagogy through the design of teaching practices that have more precise learning activities. The idea is to align the teaching techniques we use every day with the basic cognitive principles and the dimensions of knowledge proposed by Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence and Learning (CELT) (2001) in their "Revised Model of Bloom's Taxonomy."

There are diverse proposals for teaching innovations, including gamification, flipped learning, blended learning, flexible learning, active learning, and many others. Of course, all provide educators with a broad pedagogical panorama for the enrichment of teaching practices, but these should complement teaching principles rather than a substitute for them. I believe that, as teachers, we face a vital challenge, which is to comprehend the cognitive skills that students need to achieve the objectives set for each subject or course.

A clear model for understanding cognitive skills was proposed in the 1950s by Bloom with his taxonomy, which was revised by CELT (Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching), Iowa State University, at the start of the 21st-century.

Figure 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy presented by CELT. Adapted from ( Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, 2019 ) at Iowa State University.

Figure 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy presented by CELT. Adapted from (Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, 2019) at Iowa State University.

The current adaptation of Bloom’s well-known taxonomy is a natural response to the demands placed upon today’s students; the revised taxonomy seeks to develop the cognitive skills and complex knowledge processes that students must use on a daily basis. These complex cognitive challenges arise, for example, when students participate in academic projects related to social problems, analyze situations related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or try to resolve glocal issues, such as gender inequality expressed in Latin American art or working conditions in fast-fashion companies. This complexity is addressed in the Model in a double-entry taxonomy which specifies the cognitive processes and thinking skills required to achieve the course objectives, viewed from the dimension of knowledge rather than from attitudinal or educational competencies.

For example, should the application of knowledge to a social problem be proposed didactically from a conceptual or a procedural perspective (regardless of the discipline)? Knowing how to make a fine distinction between the conceptual and the procedural helps us to define the types of projects students should be undertaking, as well as the evaluation criteria, the evidence to demonstrate expected skills or competencies, and the rubrics needed.

The following diagram displays the “Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy” created by CELT, which shows the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in two dimensions; namely, the cognitive process and knowledge dimensions. Please note that this table indicates learning objectives and not activities.

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Figure 2. Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Model. (Adapted from  Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, 2019 )

Figure 2. Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Model. (Adapted from Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, 2019)

Figure 2 illustrates twenty-four learning objectives that involve cognitive processes within six broad categories that comprise the cognitive process dimension; namely, a) Remember, b) Understand, c) Apply (these the three lower-order skills), and d) Analyze, e) Evaluate, and f) Create (the latter three being the higher-order skills of complex cognitive demand). Figure 2 also breaks down the knowledge dimension into the four categories of Factual, Conceptual, Procedural, and Metacognitive.

The knowledge dimension provides greater details about the consolidation of knowledge. For example, Factual indicates knowledge of terminology, facts, specific data, details, and elements; Conceptual involves knowledge of classifications, categories, principles, generalizations, theories, models, and structures; Procedural refers to techniques, criteria, methods, and processes; and Metacognitive relates to strategic knowledge, thinking tasks, contextual knowledge, self-knowledge, and self-regulation of knowledge acquisition.

The model makes it possible to visualize examples of general learning objectives for any subject and the complexity and cognitive demands of each specific objective. I have used this model not for specific topics but for complete courses where I can progressively map the learning objectives and design sequential, developmental, and reinforcement activities for the students.

This model also shows that even though there is a hierarchical order in skills development, the accomplishment of these cognitive skills is not necessarily sequential, meaning that a higher-order skill can be achieved without having completely grasped a lower-order skill. This is vital when considering students' cognitive skills in our courses. To illustrate, a student may have achieved expertise or proficiency in higher-order skills, such as “evaluating” or “makes complex, critical judgments,” even if not having mastered the skills, “remembering” or “interpreting a specific fact in a particular activity.”

Being able to visualize clearly the skills that students will need enables teachers to propose practice strategies and design appropriate evaluation systems that precisely measure student achievement. The underlying challenge of educators is to understand the cognitive skills that should be encouraged and fostered in students for them to be able to evaluate, judge, and interpret particular facts. Teaching strategies (T) must be configured with learning activities (L) linked to evaluation systems (E) through an intentional, unified alignment (TLE).

This TLE intentional alignment, or the T-L-E cyclic triad, is my proposal for academic research on educational programs. It has enabled me to innovate with strategies such as “Differentiated instruction,” “Metacognitive reflection,” “Visual thinking,” “Scaffolding,” and “Conceptual teaching,” among others. Differentiated education, in particular, has allowed me to design activities with greater detail and precision to achieve specific objectives for each student’s needs, abilities, and levels of thinking.

At first glance, this premise of the educator's challenge seems simplistic and obvious. But however obvious it may seem, it is, in fact, one of the most common omissions when implementing courses. The most significant word to highlight in this model is “intention”; learning activities must be designed with careful forethought to be fully linked to each other and measured by planned assessment tools.

I believe that the overall rethinking and mapping of the cognitive skills required in our courses and the deliberate design of strategies to achieve these is our primary teaching responsibility and the starting point for any didactic innovation.

About the author

Jessica Jasso (jessicajasso@tec.mx) holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Aesthetics. She teaches Literature and Research in the Tec High School (PrepaTec) International Baccalaureate Program. Her areas of interest are Literature, Cinema, Metacognition, and Research. 

References

Anderson, L. W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D. R. (2001), et al. A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: an overview. Theory into practice. Volume 41. College of Education. The Ohio State University. (Complete edition). New York: Longman.  http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy