Ask Impactful Coaching Questions Using Bloom’s Taxonomy
To ask better questions, choose better words, as words themselves have a hierarchy in the domain of communication and learning. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical learning ladder that expounds upon the human learning process. Benjamin Bloom, chair of the committee of educators at the University of Chicago, created a diagram in 1956 (Heick, 2020) that has since been revised and used in the learning and development community. Continue reading for insight into Bloom's Taxonomy, questions that can push your client's to learn more about themselves and achieve their goals, and resources you can use in your coaching sessions.
The diagram represents a hierarchical model, meaning that the lower levels of learning must be fulfilled before moving up the diagram. For example, the lowest level of learning is “remembering.” To reach the second level of “understanding,” the first level must be fulfilled.
This diagram has been used in teaching and educational circles since its creation to further encourage higher levels of learning in students. As stated by Sandford Inspire, Bloom’s Taxonomy theory can be used, “to create questions that can push students to ever-higher levels of thinking” (2017). We can apply the same principles to our executive coaching clients and support their own understanding of their goals, objectives, habits, setbacks, and potential.
How is Bloom’s Taxonomy used?
In the following paragraphs, we introduce you to each step of Bloom’s Taxonomy hierarchy, explain its importance in your coaching practice, and share four questions that will help your clients develop through the stages of learning.
Step 1: establish and remember the foundation
Bloom’s taxonomy is traditionally used by educators, but can also be used by executive coaches. In order to develop higher levels of understanding, coaches can begin by identifying the overall goal of their client. What do they want their student’s takeaway to be? Secondly, educators must assess the current level of knowledge that their students hold. This can be done through pre-assessments or questionnaires. The desired goal of the client must first be established, then their knowledge of how to reach this outcome must be analyzed. By understanding the foundational knowledge of clients, coaches can better assess the next set of questions and goals they must set.
Describe what happens when…?
How would you define…?
How would you identify…?
What is (are)...?
Step 2: understand the “why”
The second stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy is the ability to “understand.” Once both the client and coach know and remember the overall goals of the client, both parties can move towards developing an understanding of these goals. In this stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy, it is important to dive deeper into the meaning and targets that lie behind set goals. For example, if a client’s overarching goal is to leave a thriving business behind for his children to inherit, a coach’s potential understanding for this goal could be the desire to keep his family out of poverty, wish maintain a family legacy, or his/her values of family over career. By further understanding why clients have the goals they have, coaches can help them develop more tailored approaches to goal achievement. In this example specifically, if the client’s “why” for the goal is valuing family over career, the coach can address future obstacles with this understanding in mind.
Elaborate on ….
How would you express…?
What can you infer from…?
How would you clarify the meaning…?
Step 3: apply knowledge
Now that the client and coach understand the goals and reasoning behind them, they can begin to formulate a plan based on these new understandings. Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1988) states:
“to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know” -Steven Covey
If clients and coaches only remain in the bottom two tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy, their knowledge and understanding are never truly applied to the situation. This is the hurdle that many coaches face with their clients: information learned in the coaching session is not applied afterward. It is critical to stress the importance of knowledge and tool applications to clients. Without it, clients cannot effectively move on to the fourth stage of analyzing their decisions and situations.
One way that coaches can help their clients is by encouraging them to complete measurable tasks between sessions that apply the knowledge learned in previous sessions. An example of this would be keeping a journal three days out of the week to inspire self-reflection and thoughtful contemplation. With a goal this specific, coaches can ensure clients are equipped to apply their new knowledge outside the coaching session.
How would you demonstrate…?
How would you solve…?
Why does … work?
What would be the result if…?
Step 4: analyze the outcome
After the client remembers and establishes their goals, understands the reasoning for their goals, and applies their knowledge of their goals to their current life, they can begin analyzing the outcome of their new decisions. For example, if a client accomplished their journal three days out of the week between coaching sessions, they can then reflect on the outcome of their actions. Did the journaling cause any difference in the way they related to their employees? Did it help them get closer to their goals or higher self? Coaches that help their clients analyze the outcome of their actions encourage active clients to keep pushing towards their goals.
Discuss the pros and cons of ….
How is … connected to ....?
What can you point out about…?
Why do you think…?
Step 5: evaluate the decision
Evaluation is the fifth step in Bloom’s Taxonomy. This step requires that coaches guide their clients in a critique of their former actions in steps one through four. It is at this stage that coaches can use questions and conversation to help their clients evaluate the effectiveness of their actions.
Here, clients can express concerns, questions, and ideas about the executed plan and suggest changes according to their own experiences. This stage of evaluation encourages the client to be an active participant in the pursuit of their goals.
Taking the client beyond steps three and four, which simply follow a set plan and define the outcome, allows them to evaluate if the outcome was worth the effort. In cases in which the outcome was worth the effort, this stage serves as an encouragement to keep pursuing their goals. In cases in which the outcome was not worth the effort, the client can begin the process of creating a new plan with their coach as an active and experienced member of a collaborative team.
Predict the outcome if…
How would you improve…?
How would you elaborate on the reason…?
What alternative would you suggest for …?
Step 6: create new ideas
After walking through steps one through five with a client, coaches can begin teaching clients how to create their own methods and plans for goal accomplishment. Clients who reach this level of reasoning with their coaches can begin to formulate new solutions and ideas in response to developing situations. With their coach’s guidance, clients begin to wield the tools necessary to achieve their own success. Coaches who teach their clients how to create new ideas and solutions have a greater effect on their clients as a whole.
What choice would you have made if…?
What criteria would you use to assess…?
What would you suggest to someone else that…?
What would you do if…?
The following chart offers a source of tangible examples for how to use Bloom’s Taxonomy in your coaching sessions. Each column represents a stage in Bloom’s Taxonomy and correlates with the aforementioned steps. The word “remember” has been replaced with “knowledge” and “understand” with “comprehension.”
Choose which stage you and your client are at in terms of understanding, then move across the stages accordingly. For example, if you are at stage 3/step 3 (application) of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the corresponding column would be yellow.
You can use this information to build conversations around the application stage with questions such as “How would you use…?” This chart offers executive coaches a roadmap to higher levels of understanding between them and their client.
What does it all mean?
Bloom’s Taxonomy offers coaches and educators alike a guide to establishing more intentional and thoughtful learning experiences with their clients. By using these guidelines within coaching sessions, coaches can push clients towards their goals while also teaching clients about themselves, their thought processes, and new skills that they can apply to their careers later on. We encourage coaches to use these steps and example questions to support their client’s understanding of their thought processes and achievement of their goals.
Armstrong, P. (2010). Bloom's Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.
Bloom's Taxonomy. The Coaching Spot. (n.d.). https://coachingspot.weebly.com/blooms-taxonomy.html.
Ferlazzo, L. (2020, May 22). The Best Resources For Helping Teachers Use Bloom's Taxonomy In The Classroom. Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... https://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2009/05/25/the-best-resources-for-helping-teachers-use-blooms-taxonomy-in-the-classroom/.
Heick, T. (2020, May 1). What Is Bloom's Taxonomy? A Definition For Teachers. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/what-is-blooms-taxonomy-a-definition-for-teachers/.
Sanford Inspire. (2017). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Plan Question. https://modules.sanfordinspire.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Using_Blooms_to_Plan_Questions_Coaching_Guide-1.pdf.
Sarfraz, H. (2017). Strategic leadership development: Simplified with Bloom’s taxonomy. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(1), 40-47.
doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.uttyler.edu:2048/10.1108/ICT-08-2016-0056, Original source: Bloom’s Taxonomy: Teachers Plan (2013)
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