I love the word “synthesize” from the original Bloom’s Taxonomy. In fact, i think “synthesize” is a million times more useful than “create”.
My problem with “create” (from Revised Bloom’s) is that just because students are “creating” something doesn’t mean they’re thinking at a high level.
In fact, “Create” can often mask low-level thinking.
“Students will create a drawing of the planets in the correct order.”
Despite that fancy word “Create,” this task is at the very bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy. My most advanced students have nowhere to go once they’ve got the order correct. “Ok, I finished Mr. Byrd, now what do I do?” Uh… add more colors?
Now, “synthesize” is meaty! No one will confuse “synthesize” with “draw a picture of the planets.” So, let’s look at what this level of Bloom’s really looks like in practice?
My Recipe For “Synthesize”
My favorite recipe for a synthesize-level task is to ask students to make a change to existing content, and then explain the effects of that change.
- What if we changed something about the earth’s atmosphere? What effects would that lead to? Who (or what) would like those effects? Who (or what) would be harmed by those effects?
- Make two changes to this math expression and explain the effects. Did those changes make the expression simpler or more complex?
- Change the setting of Hatchet and explain how this would affect the tone of the story. (We called this “remixing a story”).
- What if Van Gogh used a different color for the background of Sunflowers? How would that impact the painting? Would it be more or less successful?
- Imagine that you changed one adaptation of the desert mouse. How would that affect its survival? Would that change its predators? Its prey?
You can see how these questions demand a deep understanding of the content. They will require thinking. They may require more research. I’m also trying to ask a series of increasingly specific questions, not one-offs.
These are also nice examples of divergent questions since, while there are many correct answers, there are also clearly wrong answers. In other words, these are not fluffy questions!
Now, sure, your top student will be able to tackle these right away.
But you’ll have way more success if you thoughtfully scaffold the task. Create at least two sub-tasks before you get to this synthesize level.
- List the layers of the earth’s atmosphere. Explain, in one sentence, why each one is important.
- Now create a ranking of the layers in order of importance. No ties allowed!
- Imagine if you were to change something about one of these layers. How would that impact the earth?
Pro-tip: only reveal the next task once a student has successfully completed the previous task. In other words, students wouldn’t know they’re going to rank until I was satisfied with their list and explanations.