Questioning with Bloom’s Taxonomy

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Pedagogy, Writing Center
Tags: , , , , ,



Tutoring Approach

A non-directive tutoring approach helps a student improve his writing skills than a directive tutoring approach. A tutor who uses a directive approach establishes himself as a credible resource by clearly stating how to fix the flaws in a paper, but this approach rarely provides the student with a method to tackle the next paper. A directive approach often generates a sense of dependency between the tutor and the student, which creates problems regarding academic honesty.

Tutoring sessions using a non-directive approach (also known as the minimalist approach) can be time-consuming and challenging since the success of this approach mainly focuses on a grueling question-and-answer session. Because the success of this approach also relies heavily on the student developing her writing skills while simultaneously improving her writing, the student is often frustrated and leaves the session without a feeling of closure. With these facts in mind, a non-directive approach is certainly more difficult than that of a directive approach. However, the former approach is more rewarding because it transforms a struggling writer into an independent one. The rapport and conversations between tutor and student in such a session revolve around changing a dependent, frustrated, or unmotivated writer into a more confident writer who demonstrates an improvement in his writing skills.

Since a non-directive approach is more effective, questions should be a priority in the session. Questions asked by peer writing tutors during a tutoring session are multipurpose. According to Hunkins (1989) in Teaching Thinking through Effective Questioning, questions develop problem-solving strategies, and they trigger reflective thinking. They motivate a student to participate, and they focus a student’s attention. An exchange of questions and answers can build rapport when the tutor incorporates the student’s response to elaborate a point or further the line of inquiry because the reaction validates his contribution (Hunkins, 1989, p. 214).

Tutoring Questions

The questions posed during a tutoring session should result in what Bruffee (1984) calls a “kind of social context in which normal discourse occurs: a community of knowledgeable peers” so student writing appears natural and unencumbered (p. 644). Boquet’s Noise from the Writing Center (2002) proposes a potential structure for a tutoring session that contains spontaneous, innovative energy but still addresses the paper’s structure:

We take texts and we turn them around and over and upside down; we cut them into their bits and pieces; we tug at them, tutor to student, student to tutor, back and forth, to and fro, tug-tug-tug. We ball up ideas and we pitch them, sometimes to each other, sometimes away—three points!—into the trash. (Omygodcanwedothat?) (p. 18).

Yet questions in tutoring sessions should not be arbitrary or haphazard. Questions move a student from lower-level thinking to higher-level thinking. Questions have two purposes: to lead and to probe. To establish when these types of questions should be asked, clear learning objectives must be established early in a tutoring session. Objectives personalize writing strategies and confirm that a student’s needs and concerns are met while also addressing a teacher’s objectives (Gillespie and Learner, 2008; Harris, 1992; Ryan and Zimmerelli, 2010).

Tutors who use leading questions guide the student’s answer by suggesting how to respond to a question. The result is a directive statement disguised as a question, and it is dichotomous, invoking either a yes or a no response (Harris, 1986, p. 65). However, leading questions do have merit in tutoring sessions. They seek to find out the student’s prior knowledge; they test whether the student understands the concrete, and they build upon the student’s existing foundations (Fredricks, 2010; Ross, 1998).

Probing questions during the “setting the agenda” stage of a tutoring session are more diverse in nature. They ask for a rationale behind student reasoning, which prompts the student to do a multitude of tasks. These include any one of the following: define an audience, develop supporting details, explain a process, summarize the paper, reevaluate an answer, or find appropriate applications based on prior knowledge (Chuska, 2003; Gillespie and Learner 2008; Hunkins, 1989; Ross, 1998). According to Duke (1975) and Hunkins (1989), probing questions also help the tutor determine objectives and build rapport. Harris (1992) confirms this and adds that probing questions during the “setting the agenda” stage help the tutor negotiate, multi-task, or chunk the session to meet the student’s needs and concerns (p. 278).

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Center

Knowing what approach to take and which questions to ask can improve the tutoring session immensely. One methodology that accomplishes this goal is the long-established Bloom’s Taxonomy, which was designed in 1956. The Taxonomy was not intended for tutoring purposes; however, it does serve as a cumulative hierarchy to engage the student in lower-level thinking prior to higher-level thinking (Benson, Sporakowski, and Stremmel, 1992; Granello, 2001). To achieve this, Bloom’s Taxonomy classifies knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as the six domains of cognitive processing, and each category is broken into clearly defined subcategories that develop learning objectives that are feasible and measurable (Bloom, 1982, p. 18).


Benson, M. J., Sporakowsk, M. J., and Stremmel, A. J. (1992). Writing reviews of family literature: Guiding students using Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives. Family Relations. 41(1), 65-69.

Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1982). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Boquet, E. H. (2002). Noise from the Writing Center. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Bruffee, K. (1984). Peer tutoring and the “conversation of mankind.” College English. 15(7), 635-652.

Chuska, K. R. (2003). Motivation, participation, and higher-level thinking. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Duke, C. R. (1975). The student-centered conference and the writing process. National Council of Teachers of English. 64(9), 44-47.

Fredricks, A. D. (2010). The teacher’s handbook: Strategies for success. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education/ Lanham MD 2010.

Gillespie, P., & Learner, N. (2008). The Longman guide to peer tutoring. New York: Pearson-Longman.

Granello, D. H. (2001). Promoting cognitive complexity in graduate written work: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a pedagogical tool to improve literature reviews. Counselor Education & Supervision. 40, 292-307.

Hunkins, F. P. (1989). Teaching thinking through effective questioning. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

Harris, M. (1986). Teaching one-to-one: The writing conference. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Harris, M. (1992). Collaboration is not collaboration is not collaboration: Writing center tutorials vs. peer response groups. College Composition and Communication. 43(3), 369-383.

Ross. E. P. (1998). Pathways to thinking: Strategies for developing independent learners K-8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.


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