Retrieval Practice and Bloom’s Taxonomy

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Retrieval Practice and Bloom’s Taxonomy

By Cindy Nebel

As researchers attempting to bridge psychological science and education, we come across several challenges. Each of us has expertise in the area of retrieval practice, where many of the classic studies take place in the laboratory with simple materials. Researchers have therefore attempted to answer several questions to address the extent to which the research conducted in the laboratory meaningfully applies to the classroom. We have discussed these issues in previous blogs, specifically with relation to the lab to classroom model, transfer to related material, and how knowledge of facts are required for application.

One criticism that we have received is that retrieval practice is primarily good for fact learning, but not for higher-order learning. In other words, retrieval practice might serve rote memorization but not the ability to critically think about material or apply it. We addressed this question here and explained that facts must be sufficiently encoded in order to use those facts in a new situation. Because retrieval supports knowledge acquisition, retrieval practice of facts should therefore support application.

However, a recently published study (1) by one of our colleagues, Dr. Pooja Agarwal, examined whether retrieval practice could do more than just support the acquisition of factual information. The study was based on a common prescription for using Bloom’s taxonomy (2): students should first focus on the lower levels of the taxonomy before higher-order thinking can be accomplished. Dr. Agarwal directly compared retrieval practice with the use of lower vs. higher-order thinking to determine if the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy were indeed necessary before moving to more complex thinking. Here is what she did:

First, she examined the effect of quizzing using either fact or higher-order questions on a final test two days later using laboratory materials. Participants read passages that supported two sides of a controversial issue (e.g. “Does welfare do more harm than good?”) and then were given the opportunity to study the passage again, took a fact-based quiz, or took a higher-order quiz over the passage. In order to illustrate the difference, here is an example of each type of question: