Mercy Pushpalatha

An Enduring Guide for Teaching and Learning

Mercy Pushpalatha, the former principal of Lady Doak College, now serves as a program consultant to the United Board.

As a chemistry professor, principal, and advocate for whole person education, Mercy Pushpalatha has relied upon Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide for teaching and learning. “Bloom’s taxonomy focuses on the outcomes of learning,” she explained in an interview. “Learning is the product, and Bloom’s taxonomy outlines the process for attaining the product.” The rubric, based on the work of American educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, separates learning into six stages: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create (see diagram below).

Dr. Mercy was introduced to Bloom’s taxonomy when she joined the faculty of Lady Doak College in the 1980s, and it changed her outlook on teaching. “The beautiful thing is that the teacher is a facilitator, and she no longer simply delivers information to students,” Dr. Mercy said. Facilitation begins before the teacher steps into the classroom. “She must have a session plan for her teaching that focuses on cognitive learning and outcomes.” Flexibility is part of the preparation. “The teacher must be alert to whether students are following or not,” Dr. Mercy said,” and modify the lesson accordingly.” This approach helps students move beyond understanding and remembering to higher-order learning.

Mercy Pushpalatha often speaks on topics such as faculty development, service-learning, and counseling.

Now, as a program consultant for the United Board, Dr. Mercy introduces Bloom’s taxonomy at faculty development workshops for South Asian educators. She shows participants how it can be used to frame learning questions, write out learning outcomes, and assess their own performance as teachers. She explains how she used the taxonomy in her chemistry classes, and she has participants make a blueprint for a learning activity of their own. Each stage is an action word, she points out, and that helps reinforce the idea that students need to be active participants in the learning process.

Dr. Mercy also links Bloom’s taxonomy to whole person education. “At the higher end of the taxonomy,” she said, “we can use ethical and spiritual principles to connect students with people in the community.” She offers an example of community-based research in chemistry. “When students take water samples in a community, we want them to assess the water quality without bias – we don’t want them to make assumptions based on the socioeconomic status of a particular village,” Dr. Mercy explained. “When students get to the stage of proposing solutions, we want them to understand the context of the community – and recognize that a solution proposed for one community may not be feasible or acceptable to another community.”

Bloom’s taxonomy seems designed for contemporary learners. “Twenty-first century students want a facilitative process, one that combines intrapersonal learning and experiential learning,” Dr. Mercy finds, and Bloom’s taxonomy offers an enduring framework to meet those expectations.