Questions for Life and Bloom’s Taxonomy

When presenting PLS’s work Questions For Life (QFL) (featured in my new book) , I am often asked how QFL compares to Bloom’s Taxonomy. My usual response is that I’ll explain QFL and then let you tell me the comparison. My reason is that QFL doesn’t fit into levels of thinking.

QFL presents 11 types of questions that we ask others and our selves, grouped into three categories:
Click pic to enlarge…


The categories are not sequential. Patterns of question groupings often emerge though when different types of problem solving, critical thinking, or creativity are tackled. Studying successful people or experts in a particular field will often allow a new learner to discover patterns that the experts are using. This is why a new teacher is interested in what questions an experienced teacher has in mind as she looks at students’ body language during class. ‘Think-Aloud’s in classrooms allow teachers and students to model for others how answers were formed or ideas generated.

I found an article by Sam Wineberg and Jack Schneider, Inverting Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Oct 7 2009 (page 28) issue of Education Week that shed some light on my “comparison dilemma”.

Wineberg and Schneider note that Bloom never used the pyramid with “knowledge as the wide stable base and evaluation as the terrain of intellectual mountaineers” as the explanation of the taxonomy. They suggest turning the pyramid upside down.


The authors cite an example comparing a 17 year old AP History student’s work with that of graduate history students when asked to read and respond to a historical document. The AP student starts at the knowledge base and using known knowledge, makes some application of the knowledge and arrives at an evaluation of the document and its author, BUT misses the historical significance of the piece. The grad students after reading had new questions and were ready to being learning: (Gathering Information)
What am I looking at?
When and by whom was it written?

Wineburg and Schneider conclude:

“For the history classroom, the pyramid posters need to be turned upside down, locating knowledge at the peak of the pyramid and not its base. That’s because in history, as in other disciplines, the aim is not merely to collect what is known, but to learn how to think about problems in a new way. Students who think historically know that they need to begin with analysis: What is this? Who wrote it? What time does it come from? And, just as important, they know that their destination—new knowledge— isn’t critical thinking’s base camp. It’s the summit.”

List the questions you ask yourself when approaching a particular task, label the questions from QFL, and identify any pattern.

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2 Responses to “ Questions for Life and Bloom’s Taxonomy ”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    This is also interesting from the perspective of personality types as discussed in your previous post. Jane A.G.Kise, in her book Differentiated Coaching, discusses E.Murphy’s research and how different personality types will enter Bloom’s Taxonomy at different places based on their type. For instance, Intuitive minds start at analysis and synthesis whereas Sensing minds would start at the knowledge level.

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Thanks for the addition…it makes a ton of sense..that’s why its important for teachers to examine with a class the multiple approaches to problem solving…Questions for Life can give a language for consciously examining thinking.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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