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Bloom's defines the skills (cognition) and stuff (content, concepts, and courses of action) students will learn as part of an educational experience.  Webb's designates the scenario, setting, or situation (context) in which students will transfer and use the deeper knowledge and thinking they have acquired and developed.  The "rigor" of a learning experience is marked and measured how deeply students are expected to think about what they are learning and how extensively they are to express and share what they have learned.​

WHAT IS COGNITIVE RIGOR?

Cognitive rigor involves superimposing Bloom's Revised Taxonomy with Webb's Depth of Knowledge Model to develop educational objectives.   Bloom's establishes the kind of knowledge and  type of thinking to demonstrate.   Webb's designates the context in which the knowledge and thinking - or learning - will be transferred and used and also how it will be expressed and shared.  The context is designated by what comes after the verb in an educational objective.  This context can be content-specific and focus on knowledge acquisition (DOK-1); focus on knowledge application (DOK-2) or knowledge analysis (DOK-3) of how and why concepts and procedures can be transferred and used to attain and explain answers, outcomes, and results; or emphasize knowledge augmentation (DOK-4) by encourage students to think critically and creatively about what else can be done with the knowledge, how else could the knowledge be used, or - most importantly - what can they personally design, develop, and do with the knowledge.


Bloom's Affective Questioning Inverted Pyramid (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973; Francis, 2016)

The Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid also reintroduces synthesis to the taxonomy.  In Bloom's original taxonomy, ​synthesis involved "the putting together of elements and parts so as to form a whole... [and] provides for creative behavior on the part of the learner" (Bloom, 1956, p. 162).  When Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) revised the the categories within the Cognitive Domain, synthesis was split between understand, apply, analyze, and evaluate in that each cognitive category involved in some aspect of thinking critically about a concept, idea, or procedure as a whole or the relationship between its individual components and parts.  Synthesis was recategorized as the cognitive category of create and included the cognitive action verbs that challenge students ​to generate, plan, or produce.

Also, Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge Model is not a taxonomy with levels that scaffold based on their complexity like Bloom's.  Hess (2006)  describes the Webb's levels as "ceilings" that designate how deeply or extensively students are expected to transfer and use the knowledge and understanding they have acquired and developed. For example, learning experiences at a DOK-1 level expects students to develop and demonstrate background knowledge or foundational understanding about a specific text or topic.  An educational experience at a DOK-2 level challenges students to examine and explain how academic concepts and skills can be used to answer questions, address problems, accomplish tasks, and analyze specific texts and topics.  An educational experience at a DOK-3 level engages students to think strategically about how and why they can transfer and use what they are learning to attain and explain answers, outcomes, results, and solutions.  A learning experience at a DOK-4 level encourages students to think extensively about what else can be done with the deeper knowledge and understanding they have acquired and developed as well as how can they personally use what they have learned in a variety of academic or real world contexts. 

Marzano's (2004; with Simms, 2013) methodology of deepening background academic knowledge through direct vocabulary instruction and language development using Beck and McKeown's (1995) language tiers fosters and promotes communication of depth of knowledge by challenging and engaging students to do the following:​  ​

  • The Knowledge Dimension
  • The Cognitive Process Dimension

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy: The revised version by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl (2001)  defines the kind of knowledge and type of thinking students are expected to demonstrate in order to answer questions, address problems, accomplish tasks, and analyze texts and topics.

In their revised version, Anderson and Krathwohl distinguish between knowledge and thinking by splitting the Cognitive Domain of Bloom's Taxonomy into two dimensions that address the following:

Conclusion

Cognitive rigor expects students both demonstrate and communicate the depth and extent of their learning using some format or type of oral, written, creative, or technical expression.  It also expects not only to attain but also explain answers, conclusions, outcomes, results, and solutions.  By using good questions instead of performance objectives that direct students simply to do something to prove they are learning, we not only prompt students to think deeply about the texts and topics they are reading and reviewing but also express and share how they can use the concepts and procedures they are learning in detail, in-depth, insightfully, and in their own unique way.  That's what truly marks and measures rigorous learning!

Questioning for cognitive rigor is an instructional method that supports teaching and learning for higher order thinking, depth of knowledge, and language development.  It involves rephrasing academic standards, performance objectives, and learning targets into good questions that prompt and encourage students to think deeply and express and share the depth and extent of their learning.  It also makes learning environments and educational experiences more active and authentic, challenging and engaging students to attain and explain answers, outcomes, results, and solutions using the content, concepts, and procedures they are learning.  It also supports differentiated instruction and talent development, encouraging students to show and tell the depth and extent of the self-knowledge, personal understanding, and awareness they have developed in their own unique way.​

The Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid also reclassifies the foundational category of the taxonomy from Remember to Recognize.  This challenges students to demonstrate background knowledge and foundational understanding more active and authentically.  Questions at this level of thinking prompt students to acquire and gather the information they need to develop the deeper knowledge and thinking they will need to transfer and use to answer more complex questions.  It also engages students to develop the essential skills of learning to read, research, and report background knowledge and foundational understanding.  When students are presented objectives that expect them to define, know, identify, list, name, recall, or recognized, they should be asked good factual questions that prompt them to read, research, and report who, what, where, or when​.

Tiers of Language and Usage (Beck & McKeown, 1995; Marzano, 2004; with Simms, 2013)

Teaching and learning for cognitive rigor expects students to demonstrate and communicate their learning.   The cognitive categories of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy -- which Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) renames as verbs - describes and determines what students will do with the concepts and content they are learning.  Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge levels designates how deeply and extensively students will express and share their knowledge and understanding.

Rigor has become the educational "buzzword" of the 21st Century.  Cognitive rigor is marked and measured by the depth and extent students are challenged and engaged to demonstrate and communicate their knowledge and thinking.  It also marks and measures the depth and complexity of student learning experiences. This instructional model developed by Karin Hess (2009) superimposes two educational frameworks that are commonly used to establish performance objectives and learning targets:​

Teaching and Learning for Cognitive Rigor (Francis, 2016)

Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge Model: ​The depth of knowledge levels in the model developed by Norman Webb (1997, 2002) establishes how deeply or extensively students are expected to transfer and use what they are learning.  This model consists of four levels:

In the Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid, synthesis is renamed synthesize and placed between the cognitive categories of evaluate and create.  The category of synthesize serves as an affective component of the taxonomy, addressing how a student personally processes the knowledge they have acquired and developed about a concept, procedure, subject, text, or topic.  This is the cognitive category that encourages students to personalize what they have learned, asking them to receive, respond,     The question stems within synthesize ask students to develop and demonstrate self-knowledge and personal understanding by asking what do you believe, feel, or think; how could you or how would you; or what could or would you do if / when.   Once students have personally processed their knowledge, understanding, and awareness, they are then challenged to demonstrate what can you design, develop, or do - or create - that reflects and represents their self-knowledge, understanding, and awareness.

​While Bloom's and Webb's both deal with establishing and evaluatIng the depth and complexity of student learning experiences, they differ in regards to their their scope, application, and sequencing. 

The Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid featured in my book Now That's a Good Question!  How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning makes the taxonomy more accessible and applicable for questioning.  Each category includes specific question stems that can be used to address the cognitive demand - or verb - designated within an educational objective.  Using these question stems instead of specific cognitive verbs also allow for more flexibility in the level of thinking students are expected to demonstrate as well as within the taxonomy itself.  For example, the question stem how or why can be used to challenge students to understand, analyze, evaluate, and even synthesize and create. 

What is Questioning for Cognitive Rigor?

What is Teaching and Learning for Cognitive Rigor?

Questioning for Cognitive Rigor: Place Value Understanding (Francis, 2016

Knowledge Dimension (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Walkup & Jones, 2014)

  • DOK-1: Recall and Reproduction
  • DOK-2: Application of Skills and Concepts
  • DOK-3: Strategic Thinking
  • DOK-4: Extended Thinking

Webb's Depth of Knowledge Context Ceilings (Webb, 1997, 2002; Hess, 2006; Francis, 2016)

By Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S.

March 2016

Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid (Francis, 2016)

Each of these dimensions within the Cognitive Domain​ of the revised taxonomy categorizes "the skills and stuff" students will learn based upon their complexity.  The skills are the cognitive actions and processes students are expected to demonstrate and develop. ​  The stuff is the curriculum and subject matter that is being taught and learned - or what the landmark report A Nation at Risk (1983) describes as "the very stuff of education".   By splitting the Cognitive Domain into two dimensions, Bloom's Revised Taxonomy clearly distinguishes between the subject matter content (knowledge) that is being taught and learned and what students must do (thinking) with what they are learning. 

Questioning for Cognitive Rigor (Francis, 2016)


  1. Select the performance objective to be addressed and met in the specific lesson or unit.
  2. Identify the academic vocabulary, subject-specific terminology, and specific details within the standard or objective and create good factual questions that ask students to define, describe, and explain who, what, where, or when.
  3. Replace the cognitive verb at the beginning of the standard with the appropriate question stem from the Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid.
  4. Rewrite the imperative sentence of the standard into an interrogative sentence that can be used as the good question to set the instructional focus and serve as the assessment for student learning.
  5. To create cognitive rigor questions that promotes differentiation and personalizes learning, place one of the questions stems from the categories of synthesize or create in front of the performance objective.

To rephrase academic standards and educational objectives into good cognitive rigor questions using the Bloom's Questioning Inverted Pyramid, simply do the following:

Notice from where these good questions come from and how they scaffold.  The bold cluster is rephrased into a cognitive rigor question that sets the instructional focus and serves as the assessment for student learning, asking them to examine and explain how and why can the place value system be understood and used to determine the value of multi-digit numbers.  To build background knowledge and foundational understanding, students are asked to read, research, and report who, what, where, or when about subject-specific details and terminology related to the place value system.  The standard under the cluster is rephrased into two good questions students are expected to investigate - specifically, ​why in a multi-digit number does a digit in one place represent 10 times as much as it represents to its place to its right and why in a multi-digit number does a digit in one place is 1/10 of what represents to its place to its left?  Finally, students are engaged in an authentic learning activity that challenges them to design to demonstrate ​how could you use the place value system to determine the value of a digit in a multi-digit number based upon its place in the number and its relationship to other digits within the number.

  • Tier 1: Understand and use basic and concrete words and phrases from everyday conversation.
  • Tier 2: Understand, use, and analyze the meaning of words with multiple meanings that appear in different contexts, subject areas, and topics.
  • Tier 3: Understand, use, and evaluate how domain-specific words describe and explain particular concepts, ideas, process, and topics in a specific subject area.

However, the original and revised versions of Bloom's Taxonomy do not lend themselves to classify or produce good questions - nor were they ever intended to be used as a resource for instructional methods such as questioning (Bloom, 1956; Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Marzano & Simms, 2014).   Bloom's Taxonomy is meant "to classify the intended behavior of the students --  the ways in which individuals are to act, think, or feel as the result of participating in some unit of instruction" (Bloom, 1956, p.12).   Only certain cognitive actions within Bloom's Revised Taxonomy -- verbs such as apply, define, describe, discuss, explain, illustrate, show, recite, rewrite, summarize, or write -- encourage extrinsic expression of knowledge using some of oral, written, creative, or technical expression.  Bloom's continues to an effective resource for establishing educational objectives that are written as imperative sentences that explicitly state what students will do -- or ratherthe kind of knowledge or type of thinking students will demonstrate -- in a learning experience.   However, in regards to questioning and expressing and sharing knowledge and thinking, the taxonomy is limited when categorized based upon conceptual nouns or cognitive verbs.

​Tiering the communication of knowledge by its level of complexity helps students better understand how to consider the task, purpose, and audience when sharing ideas and information.  It also serves as a method to foster and promote English language development, helping students with limited English proficiency to develop and demonstrate deeper knowledge and understanding of how to express themselves in English in different contexts.

 Categorizing and scaffolding questioning for cognitive rigor in this manner fosters higher order thinking in that students must actively acquire and gather the information they need to develop and process into the deeper knowledge and understanding they can transfer and use in different academic and real world contexts.  It also addresses each kind of knowledge students must develop and demonstrate as categorized in the Knowledge Dimension of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  Questioning for cognitive rigor also extends depth of knowledge by engaging and encouraging students to express and share the knowledge they have acquired and developed authentically through some format or type of oral, written, creative, or technical communication.