May 1, 2017
Teachers Talk - The Shift of Significance
Cody Mills, Teacher, Cariboo Adventist Academy, Williams Lake, BC

The Shift of Significance: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Develop a Colour-Coded System to Facilitate Significance-Based Assessment for BC’s New Curriculum
When we teachers were presented with the vision of British Columbia’s new curriculum, we were provided with a challenge: “Take the subject or unit that you are the most comfortable with and attempt to integrate the new curriculum in that course or unit.” As a new teacher, I am ultra-comfortable with about zero percent of my units, so I figured why not go all-in and try and integrate the new curriculum into my classes as they sit right now? I am a graduate of an Alberta university, and thus I had already built my courses with a strong emphasis on project-based learning. However, the dilemma that I faced was to answer the question of how I could use summative assessment in a meaningful way that could not only be implemented now, but also transition smoothly to the new curriculum. I was working late one night, pouring over my old notes on Bloom’s Taxonomy, trying to find ways to assess through the use of higher-level learning (analyzing, evaluating, and creating), as opposed to lower levels (remembering, understanding, and applying). No matter what I attempted, I always came back to the same roadblock: it would be so much easier if the students knew what the levels of learning were, then they could basically assess themselves. The roadblock was the answer.
I decided to teach my English 11 and 12 classes the basics of Bloom’s Taxonomy, presented as the way that they learn material. By using a modified graphic organizer of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I divided each level of learning into a specific colour (gold, pink, green, white, blue, and mint). I was then able to create a language that the students could attach to their own levels of learning. When they are asked/ask a basic recall question, they refer to this as a “gold” question. The same would then work for when they create a task that helps establish a new product or point-of-view; they now recognize this as a “mint” task. They are establishing a hierarchy of questions and tasks in their daily experience, recognizing the most meaningful forms of learning, and how to achieve significant information.

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It’s cool to see students recognizing when they are not experiencing meaningful learning, and looking for ways to achieve those elusive upper levels, but that’s not the driving force behind integrating Bloom’s Taxonomy into the classroom. The most significant component of this experiment is how it makes summative assessment meaningful. I no longer assess students on whether or not they can regurgitate what I deem significant back to me. The power shifts. Through combining self, peer, and instructor feedback, students are now assessed on their ability to identify what is significant to them, and then determine a meaningful way of learning that significant information. The push behind this process is that it is no longer important whether or not students can relay back what the teacher has deemed significant. There are so many vehicles available to students to simply find out those answers. What is really important is being able to answer these questions: “Can I determine what is significant to me?” and “Can I achieve a way of learning that significance?” It is the answer to these questions that should truly be assessed. After a student/group has answered these questions, the responsibility of assessment is split between that particular student or group, the other students in the class, and the instructor. Right and wrong are irrelevant; the relevance is whether or not significant material was identified, and if the learning of the material was successfully achieved. The days of filling in bubbles have no place in this process, because the assessment component becomes the responsibility of the learning community that the students are working within.
Class time shifts away from lectures, notes, and assignments, and instead is used as a communal learning process. Material is read and discussed, but it is up to the students to identify what material is significant, and, for which levels of learning. They’re taught that the key is to build from the lower levels of learning, not to disregard them. So they may use their gold question to set-up a pink question, and then use that pink question as the basis that their green and white questions are built on. They determine the questions that need to be asked, as well as what they determine the appropriate answers should be. This is where class discussion and peer/self-assessment can identify if there is misplaced significance, or if the learning of that significance has fallen short. When students design blue and mint questions and tasks, they are accessing those higher levels of learning before they even carry them out. Taking these student-created tasks and questions and implementing them as group projects that are then self, peer, and instructor assessed is also a sufficient implementation of this assessment strategy. Students may be asked to design questions and tasks for each colour of learning based off of a specific scene in Shakespeare, a plant cell unit, the Cold War, even geometry—it can be used not only in each individual class, but can be cross-curricular so that if a student determines the blue task from his/her World War II unit is to justify the United States’ response to the attack of Pearl Harbor, that same student could identify his/her mint task for formal and business writing in English to be a letter to the President outlining and planning the response. The important part of this strategy is that the students need to lead their own assessment. It is up to the learning community as a whole to identify and attain significance, as opposed to the teacher guiding students to achieving what he/she has identified as significant.
The goal with this colour-based, learning community assessment is that students learn that the emphasis is not on what they can simply memorize, but what is really important, and that is what they can identify as being important. The power is completely in their hands, and they drive their own assessment. Rather than teaching students to identify success with being right as opposed to wrong, we need to teach them to value their learning and determine ways of achieving what they have identified as significant.