Jo and Bednarz (2009)


Jo Bednarz

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An educational taxonomy is defined as “a classification of educational outcome” (Bloom et al. 1956, 1) and conceptualized as “a framework for classifying statements of what we expect or intend students to learn as a result of instruction” (Krathwohl 2002, 212). Numerous taxonomies have been developed for educational purposes. Traditionally these have been used to evaluate instructional activities and materials in terms of where the relative emphases are; how the curriculum is aligned; and what educational opportunities are missing (Anderson and Krathwohl 2001; Bloom et al. 1956). There are a dozen taxonomies of thinking skills but no one taxonomy wholly developed for spatial thinking skills exists.

To design a taxonomy is to construct categories of phenomena, then to arrange the categories by a consistent set of principles (Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia 1964). To establish a taxonomy of spatial thinking, therefore, is to identify categories of key aspects of spatial thinking and to order them according to a consistent rule. Three primary categories of the this taxonomy can be derived from the definition of spatial thinking as “a collection of cognitive skills comprised of knowing concepts of space, using tools of representation, and reasoning processes” (National Research Council 2006, 12). The subcategories for each primary category are then derived from a review of the relevant literature. The three primary categories (concepts of space, using tools of representation, and processes of reasoning) and the subcategories (non-spatial, spatial primitives, simple-spatial, and complex-spatial for the category of concepts; non-use and use of representation for the category of using tools of representation; input, processing, and output level for the category of cognitive processes) were visualized as a 4×3×2 cube in which each axis stands for one of the three primary categories of the taxonomy (see Fig. 1).

The taxonomy of spatial thinking can be used for many purposes. In this study it was used to measure the spatiality of geography textbook questions: 1) by classifying the concepts that the question required students to know (i.e., non-spatial, spatial primitives, simple-spatial, complex-spatial concepts); 2) by determining the nature of the tools of representation which the question asked students to use (i.e., non-use, use); and 3) by classifying the cognitive processes that each question expected to address (i.e., input, processing, output level). Whether a question integrates the three components was also measured by its location in the 24 cells of the taxonomy (Fig. 1). The questions categorized into nine cells 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, and 24 were viewed as integrating all three components of spatial thinking. Among these, questions classified in cells 10, 11, and 16 are at the simplest level of spatial thinking, involving low-level spatial concepts and cognitive processes. A question asking students to identify a location in on a map would be an example. Questions falling into cells 12, 17, and 22 are at a higher level of spatial thinking than cells 10, 11, and 16. An example is a question that requires students to compare two regions through using a map. Questions categorized into cells 18, 23, and 24 are viewed as representing spatial thinking at its highest complexity and abstractness, requiring knowledge about complex-spatial concepts, use of representations, and the highest level of cognitive processes. Questions asking students to make generalizations about a pattern featured in on a map can be is an example of spatial thinking at this level.

For more detail about taxonomy construction and question analysis results, please see:
Jo, I. and S. Bednarz. 2009. Evaluating Geography Textbook Questions from a Spatial Perspective: Using Concepts of Space, Tools of Representation, and Cognitive Processes to Evaluate Spatiality. Journal of Geography 108: 4-13.