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Encouraging Cognitive Development of Clinical Supervisees: Bloom's Taxonomy in Supervision
The Levels of Bloom's Taxonomy
Each of the six levels in the hierarchy provides an essential skill for students wishing to become critical thinkers. The levels are articulated as follows with descriptions based on those included in the Learning Skills Program (1999).
Knowledge. In this lowest level, the student recalls or recognizes information, ideas, and principles in the approximate form in which they were learned. The material can vary from specific facts to complete theories, but all that is required is remembering the information. Because of this focus, critics have suggested that this category would be more aptly named recall, arguing that the term knowledge implies more cognitive complexity than is truly necessary for this skill (Paul, 1993). Learning objectives at this level include knowing terms, facts, methods, procedures, basic concepts, and principles.
Comprehension. This level is defined as the ability to grasp the meaning of material and may be shown by translating material from one form to another or by interpreting material. Students using comprehension demonstrate basic understanding of material. A student at the knowledge level can recall information in a rote fashion; students at the comprehension level, however, must be able to manipulate that information in a manner that demonstrates more than simple memorization. Learning objectives include understanding facts and principles, interpreting material (e.g., verbal material, charts, graphs), paraphrasing information, and describing previously learned material.
Application. This level is defined as the ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations and includes applying rules, methods, concepts, principles, and theories. Students at this level apply concepts and principles to new situations, apply theories to practical situations, and solve problems.
Analysis. This level refers to the ability to break down material into its component parts and may include the identification of the parts, analysis of the relationship between the parts, and recognition of the organizational principles involved. Learning outcomes include recognizing unstated assumptions and logical fallacies in reasoning, distinguishing between facts and inferences, and evaluating the relevancy of data.
Synthesis. This level refers to the ability to put parts together to form a new whole. The student originates, integrates, and combines ideas into a product, plan, or proposal that is new to him or her. Objectives on this level stress creative behaviors, with an emphasis on the formulation of new patterns or structure, Learning objectives include integrating learning from different areas into a plan for solving a problem, formulating a new schema for classifying objects or ideas, and proposing a plan for an experiment.
Evaluation. This level is concerned with the ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose. The judgments are based on defined criteria that are either developed by the student or given to the student by an outside source. This is considered to be the highest level in the cognitive hierarchy because it contains elements of all the other categories, as well as conscious value judgments based on clearly defined criteria. Learning objectives include judging the logical consistency of written material, judging the adequacy with which conclusions are supported by data, and judging one's own performance using internal or external criteria.
How to Use the Taxonomy in Clinical Supervision
Bloom's Taxonomy has been found to be a useful method in guiding educational objectives across developmental levels (Kunen et al., 1981). It has been applied at a microlevel for learning particular objectives or subjects as well as at a macrolevel across entire curricula (Furst, 1981). Therefore, the taxonomy would be applicable to students from first practicum through internship. Regardless of the cognitive developmental level of the supervisee, supervisor's questions (when approaching new material or new cases) could start at the knowledge level and proceed through the subsequent levels. As students develop cognitively, particularly in relation to a particular topic, less time would be spent at the lower levels, eventually with just a cursory check through the lowest levels and with more concentration on higher order questions. Of course, the supervisor's interventions need not be in the form of questions. Other tactics (e.g., modeling, role-playing, feedback) can and should be used. The point is that the supervisor should use some mechanism to determine whether a particular cognitive level has been mastered before moving on to the next level.
Bloom's Taxonomy provides a ready-made assessment of the student's cognitive level on a particular topic. As the supervisor moves through questions or other interventions representing the cognitive levels, she or he eventually reaches the student's current level of cognitive processing for the topic at hand. Clearly, this guided questioning could take place during one supervisory session or over the course of many weeks or months. Each time the student was faced with a question that was beyond his or her cognitive level, the supervisor could stop the process and focus interventions to help guide the student through that cognitive level for the particular topic. At that point, the supervisor could use various interventions to help move the student, from participating in guided discussions with the student to asking the student to perform library research or talk with other professionals to demonstrating to the student how particular objectives are attained in the supervisor's own work. Through the taxonomy, supervisors are provided a mechanism to guide questioning in supervision in an intentional manner, a context from which to design supervision questions and interventions, and a structure to provide feedback to students (Loughead, 1997).
Examples of Bloom's Taxonomy in Supervision
Example 1: Working with a difficult client.Clients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have been identified as extremely difficult and demanding for beginning counselors (Linehan, 1993). A supervisee faced with a client with BPD could be guided through some questions and interventions by a supervisor using Bloom's Taxonomy.
First, a knowledge question could attempt to uncover whether the counselor trainee had knowledge of the disorder (e.g., What are the diagnostic criteria of BPD?) or the client (e.g., At what age did the client receive the diagnosis? How long since her or his last hospitalization?). A comprehension question could then be used to help the trainee gain understanding of the disorder (e.g., What is the prognosis for someone with BPD? Why are personality disorders so difficult to manage?). Regarding application, the goal would be to apply what the trainee knows in general about managing clients with BPD to managing the particular client (e.g., How could Linehan's, 1993, concept of skills acquisition be used to help this client stop "cutting"? How could you use behavioral contracting with this client?). Modeling also might be appropriate here (e.g., Watch my interactions with this client, and then we'll process what I've done). If the supervisee demonstrates competence in this area, the supervisor could move to analysis, where the goal is to help the supervisee break apart the case into smaller components or to analyze the relationships between these components (e.g., How is the concept of "splitting" evidenced in this client? How is the behavior evidenced by the client in her current relationship related to how she saw her parents interact when she was a child? Through role play, can you demonstrate how you might help the client identify the core issues?). Moving to synthesis, the goal is for the supervisee to develop broad case conceptualization and an understanding of how all the components of a case are integrated (e.g., Bringing together all aspects that you know of the client's current functioning, the attempts that have been made to manage her suicidal gestures to date, and the information you learned about skills acquisition, how can you, together with the client, develop a plan that will help her or him stay safe over the weekend?). Finally, in the evaluation stage, the supervisee could be asked to evaluate her or his effectiveness with the client (e.g., How will you know when you have achieved your treatment goals? What evidence is there that the client is making progress?).
Example 2: A countertransference issue. Countertransference is an issue that must be continually addressed in supervision. Regardless of the specific issue that is causing the counselor to lose objectivity, interventions based on Bloom's Taxonomy could be used. In this instance, the supervisor is using the cognitive domain to intervene in what is undoubtedly an emotional issue. Although the emotional underpinnings of the countertransference may need to be addressed as well, the following example provides a cognitive intervention for helping the counselor to recognize her or his countertransference and its potential impact on the client.
First, at the knowledge level, the supervisor would determine whether the counselor trainee knows what countertransference is, including possibly its theoretical basis in Freudian psychology. At the comprehension level, supervisees could be asked to demonstrate an understanding of why countertransference occurs and how it is likely to manifest in counseling. Having established that the supervisee understands the fundamentals of countertransference in the abstract, it is time to apply those concepts to the current case (e.g., How might countertransference be impairing your judgment with this client? Let's try to role play and see if your countertransference with this client becomes clearer). Moving to analysis, the supervisee could be asked to analyze the relationship she or he has with the client to the relationship that is causing the countertransference. Another option would be to analyze specific behaviors or comments that would support the supervisor's concerns about countertransference (e.g., How are your feelings of countertransference being evidenced through behaviors?). Moving to synthesis, the supervisee could be encouraged to understand the effects of the countertransference on the overall counselor--client relationship. In addition, the supervisee could determine a plan of action to minimize the countertransference or refer the client (e.g., What plans can you make to minimize the possibility of harming your client? How has your countertransference affected your ability to link with the client?). Finally, in evaluation, the counselor trainee could be asked to evaluate her or his success in recognizing and preventing countertransference (e.g., Assess how you handled the situation and what steps you could make for improvement in the future).
- Granello, Darcy; Encouraging the Cognitive Development of Supervisees: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy in Supervision; Counselor Education & Supervision, Sept 2000, Vol. 40, Issue 1.
Reflection Exercise Explanation
Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances
your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection
Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues.
Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience.
Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education,
occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health,
home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be
approximately 150 words in length. However, since the content of these Personal
Reflection Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they
may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a work in
progress. You will not
be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information
about encouraging cognitive development of supervisees with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
What are the six levels in Bloom's Taxonomy hierarchy that provide essential skills for supervisees wishing to become critical thinkers? To select and enter your answer go to .