Assessing Learning

Exploring an ideaI had an idea today, and I decided to try it out and see if it would work.

Teachers use Bloom’s Taxonomy to construct assessments for students, but I don’t think students have ever heard of it. I know I never thought to share it with students. And why not? It’s not a great big secret.

We finished studying Macbeth in one of my classes, and so I decided to let the students essentially create the test, which is not a novel idea. Other folks have done that. What I did, however, was share the various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy with the students and ask them to think of questions that they felt addressed each level. We began with remembering or knowledge and reached analysis before the period ended and we had to table the discussion for tomorrow. Here are some of the questions the students came up with in the level of Bloom’s that the students placed them:


  • How many witches?
  • What happened in the play?
  • Describe the setting of the play.


  • How is Lady Macbeth the more dominant partner in the relationship?
  • How should an actor interpret a given passage of the play?
  • Give examples of how Macbeth misinterprets the witches’ prophecies.
  • Explain how Macbeth changes over the course of the play.


  • Show how Macbeth is still relevant to a modern audience (Why do we study it? What can it teach us?)
  • Show how Macbeth is similar to a modern teenager.


  • Compare how Macbeth felt after killing Duncan to how he felt after having Banquo and the Macduffs murdered.
  • Why did Macbeth kill Duncan? Banquo? The Macduffs?
  • Why did Macbeth listen to the witches?

I think some of these questions are really good and really interesting. I’m not generally a fan of using the lower level questions, and in my mind it is those few knowledge/comprehension questions that are weakest. Beyond identifying how many witches are in the play, it might be more interesting why there are three witches instead of two or four, for instance. I might also have placed some of their questions in other categories. For instance, I think the question about Lady Macbeth’s dominance is more of an analysis question than a comprehension question. Same with the question about Macbeth changing over the course of the play.

Some of their higher order questions are questions I wouldn’t have thought of—showing how Macbeth is like a modern teenager (they mentioned “peer pressure”). I really like the question about why Macbeth listens to the witches.

It was a good assessment of my teaching to hear what the students were telling me they had learned from studying the play. I think it will be interesting to see the assessment that they craft—the assessment that will tell me what they consider important and worth assessing about their study of Macbeth.

Creative Commons License photo credit: JJay

10 thoughts on “Assessing Learning”

  1. My school is big on Bloom's and "Asking Questions." I had my students do a similar activity. I gave them the categories and question stems. They then had to reflect on which is more difficult asking questions or answering questions. Many of them thought asking questions was more difficult. I will definitely do this again.

  2. I've done this a few times as well. The taxonomy is useful as students do self-assessment.

    Just to make a point about the so-called lower levels: we tend to skip them or dismiss them as lower-level thinking skills, but I've found it more useful to think of them as foundational thinking skills. It's tough to do the analysis without the comprehension, and I find some students have never been given strategies for collecting knowledge and checking comprehension, so the analysis or synthesis is not very effective.

    1. Oh, I wouldn't say that the lower-level thinking should be dismissed. My point was that on a summative assessment like a test, I'm more interested in some of the higher-level questions.

  3. Great idea. Frequently the assessing phase of education seems separate and tacked on to the end of the learning process. In this activity, you clearly show that important learning is continuing as you move into assessment. A test that teaches–brilliant!

  4. When I began teaching AP courses, I began thinking about what you mentioned–we teachers have always discussed Bloom's, but do the students understand it and how it can help expand their thinking.

    I started to incorporate Bloom's by having students learn the taxonomy and crafting questions for each level from simple stories–like Cinderella. Then I moved them into creating their own Bloom's level questions for studying and for assessing their understanding.

    Using Bloom's has been one of the ideas students have always mentioned as being most helpful on their end of the year evaluations. Definitely something to use and work with students on using regularly.

  5. I love that you're doing this! It's a great way to scaffold student progress so that they can work towards evaluating literature without relying on outside guidance.

    I don't know if you've seen them yet, but recently one of our writers, former teacher Douglas Grudzina, came up with a line of teaching units called Levels of Understanding using the same premise.

    It's funny that you're working with Macbeth right now because that happens to be the first one that we completed just last month. We're hoping to create quite a few of them over the coming months. I'm really glad to see that we're thinking along the same lines as great teachers like you. Any suggestions for other titles we should work on?

    1. Thanks, Annie. Anything by Shakespeare would be great, I should think. I would shoot for the commonly taught works, though contemporary "classics in the making" would be helpful to have, too, especially if they're common AP authors.

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