Bloom’s Taxonomy is without a doubt the most often used taxonomy for educational outcomes, but in many ways the SOLO taxonomy of Biggs & Collis (1982) represents a more useful tool for assessing the levels attained in students’ work. SOLO stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome.
The taxonomy enables teachers to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not in terms of what they got right and got wrong. There are five levels, rising in complexity and competence. At the lowest level, (pre-structural), students miss the point entirely. At the next level (unistructural), students are able to identify only one aspect of a topic, At the third level (multistructural) students are able to identify several aspects but they are unrelated. At the fourth level (relational) students can integrate different ideas into a whole. Finally, at the highest level (extended abstract), students are able to generalise and hypothesise.
What I find particularly useful about this approach is that it looks at the work students produce in ways which are intuitive and easy to understand. This makes it a usable framework. One of the problems with Bloom’s taxonomy is that it focuses on behaviours which are often hard to discern. How does one know when a response reflects analysis rather than knowledge, or synthesis rather than comprehension? Anyone who has ever tried to differentiate between elements of a student’s response will understand what I mean. This is compounded by the fact that few students ever attain any ability to display the higher order thinking skills. Perhaps this only really happens at post-graduate level. Many students are, however, capable of multi-structural or relational thought, and some of abstracting to new situations or contexts.
The taxonomy is more relevant for high school, and less tainted with the charge of being Behaviourist. SOLO was designed within a Constructivist framework. And this is where its usefulness really comes to the fore – as a tool for helping students think about their own thinking and how to make it more complex, using simple rubrics.
There’s a level at which everyone can understand the phrase, “You’ve used several ideas, but you haven’t made connections between them to make an argument” while telling a student that they have analysed but not synthesised is pretty meaningless for all concerned. Teacher and student can then focus on particular thinking skills to help progress to the next level. Pam Hook’s website is a fantastic resource, filled with ideas on how to go about this.