Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy in the French Classroom

This essay was written as part of an assignment in my Reflective Teaching class at Moravian College. My professor asked permission to share this essay with future classes as he explains Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy. The essay was written in response to the following question: Explain how your knowledge of Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy helps you to plan a variety of meaningful activities at appropriate levels for diverse learners within your classroom.

Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy of questions is a rich and invaluable resource for any teacher of foreign language. Over the course of foreign language study, from beginning to advanced, every one of Bloom’s six types of questions will come into play and enhance student learning.

Vocabulary, verb conjugations, and gender articles are essential elements of every language. What is the French word for blue? Is mer (the sea) a masculine or feminine word? What are the verb endings for each group of subjects? These are questions at the most basic level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, Knowledge. They ask for factual information for which there is only one right answer. While students will naturally learn these over the course of time in an “immersion” classroom, memorization and some measure of rote learning are unavoidable when learning a foreign language, especially at the introductory levels. Memorization can be a tedious process but there are ways to make it more enjoyable and make learning last. Songs, poems, chants and raps are a great way to learn basic French facts such as the numbers, months, and colors. Games, such as Jeopardy, Scrabble, and Boggle are another way to learn these essential facts. In my early field experience, I had the students run a relay race to see which team could correctly conjugate verbs the quickest on the blackboard. Methods such as these are welcome alternatives to the worksheets and flashcards that most students find boring and quickly forget. I also think that one effective way to teach tedious facts is to ask the students themselves to lead the drills, giving extra credit to those who can do so in an engaging manner. If I can videotape these drills, all the better, as students love to see themselves on film!

In foreign language, comprehension often means “translation,” i.e., what does a particular word mean? If a student can successfully translate or define a French word, it will indicate comprehension, the second level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Again, games such as Password, are great exercises in comprehension. Games like these also allow the students to work together and learn from each other, an effective strategy for diverse students. As students become more advanced in French, translation activities will continue to reflect this “understanding” level of the taxonomy.

Authentic lesson questions present wonderful opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and understanding. Application is the third level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Role-playing activities, such as writing and performing a skit for ordering a meal or asking for directions (or a date!) ask students to not only apply their knowledge but to synthesize what they’ve learned. A fashion show in which students present and describe a classmate’s outfit is another fun and effective application of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Analysis questions, the fourth level of the taxonomy, will help my students understand some of the structural differences between French and English. For instance, asking students to compare and contrast typical placement of adjectives and objects will reveal some fundamental differences in each language’s structure. They will learn that in English the adjective usually precedes the noun – “a pretty dress” – whereas in French the adjective generally follows the noun – une robe jolie – literally “a dress pretty.” Analysis questions are also excellent when teaching students about culture. For example, in one lesson I asked the students to describe and analyze the culture in the story, “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin. Teenage students would also enjoy analyzing the similarities and differences between American and French pop music or teen magazines.

Synthesis questions, the fifth level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, will increasingly be used as students advance in French. Having students write a poem in French for a literary arts magazine demands that they synthesize vocabulary, grammatical rules, their personal interests, and their experiences. Asking a group to plan a three-day trip to Paris is another example of an engaging synthesis question at the higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Evaluation questions are the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Upper level French courses allow ample opportunities for engagement in these highest order thinking questions. As students consider the plight of minority populations in the Parisian suburbs or “l’affaire du voile,” i.e., the controversial ban on headscarves among Muslim schoolgirls, students might ask themselves, “Which country, the U.S. or France, best lives up to its respective motto of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and “liberté, égalité, et fraternité ” (Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity)? They might compare and contrast the vastly different presidential election processes and determine which they feel works best. Or, they could look at the complex social and economic issues in Third World francophone countries and consider how they could apply their language skills in combating problems like poverty and AIDS.

As a teacher, I plan to use Bloom’s Taxonomy everyday in each of my classes. Because the questions build from simple and direct to highly complex, the taxonomy is easily adaptable for students of varying levels and abilities.

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