Writing Rubrics - Using Bloom's Taxonomy and Beyond

The challenge of writing rubrics is in selecting the appropriate type (as explained in colleague Sarah’s 2016 post, “For the Love of Rubrics”), and then in determining the levels of proficiency and the standards or criteria that comprise each level.

When writing rubrics, precision in language is very important. We may ask:

  • What are the exact intended learning outcomes?
  • What discrete action or performance tasks can students do to show evidence that they have achieved them, and what actions (or inactions) comprise each level of proficiency?

Underlying all of these questions is another equally important question: How are the criteria and levels of proficiency determined?

The subject of this post is the tools we use to help answer that question.

In a recent professional development workshop on writing rubrics, presenter Linda Suskie cited Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) as a commonly used tool for identifying cognitive levels of mastery and developing appropriate learning outcome levels (I can attest to the truth of this statement at least for our IDS team; it is not uncommon to hear colleagues speak of “Bloomifying” language when editing assignments and course objectives).

Briefly, Bloom’s Taxonomy presents a hierarchical organization of cognitive levels of mastery and associated, generalized actions. Ordered from lower to higher levels of intellectual complexity, it ranges from simple knowledge tasks (identify, define), to comprehension (explain, summarize) and application (use, apply). At the top of the pyramid, representing the highest level of intellectual demand, are analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (design, create, present, critique, etc.).

Arguably, as Olga and Sue state in their Writing Effective Learning Outcomes webinar, graduate-level outcomes should be, at a minimum, at the “Application” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and higher.

Although the Bloom’s model has been invaluable in the field of education and continues to be widely used today, Linda raised an interesting question: does Bloom’s Taxonomy fully represent the standards and outcomes we want for our students in today’s society?

In her presentation, Linda identified five categories of learning outcomes for a course of study:

  • Base Knowledge
  • “Hard” Career Skills
  • “Soft” Transferable Skills
  • Attitudes and Values
  • Habits of Mind

Linda’s critique focused mainly on this last area, Habits of Mind. Within the Habits of Mind category, she included skills that are highly relevant to career success and to making a positive contribution within one’s role: professionalism, critical thinking, real-world problem solving, evaluating information for credibility, clear and articulate communication, collaboration, and teamwork, working with diverse populations, creativity and innovation, ethical judgment, and understanding of statistics. Her argument went something like this: While Bloom’s Taxonomy offers an excellent model of ordered intellectual skills, it is lacking in these key areas relevant to the 21st-century workforce – and therefore to our students.

If our mission is “to educate and support future leaders in industry and service,” should our assignments, assessments, and grading criteria go beyond Bloom’s Taxonomy to include “Habits of Mind?” If so, how can we best define and incorporate these standards into our learning outcomes, assessments and writing rubrics for the benefit of our students and our world? Perhaps by combining Bloom’s Taxonomy with “Habits of Mind” such as those presented here.


Bloom, B. S.  (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals. (1st ed.). New York: Longmans, Green.

Suskie, L. (2017, May). Great Rubrics and More! Professional development workshop presented at the University of New England, Biddeford, ME.

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One response to “Writing Rubrics - Using Bloom's Taxonomy and Beyond”

  1. Mike Matis says:

    Bloom also outlined the other “Domains” of learning, What we refer to “Bloom’s Taxonomy” is just the Cognitive domain of his larger model. He also created taxonomies for the Affective and Psychomotor domains, which cover the skills you mention. This isn’t a criticism, just a refinement. I completely agree we have a tendency to prioritize the cognitive domain while the other two domains take a back seat, or we try to shoehorn objectives into the cognitive domain that don’t belong there.

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