Understanding the Affective Domain of Learning

Kelly Brouse
Kelly Brouse
Elementary school principal; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction
Taxonomy spelled out on white tiles displayed on a small wood shelf.

The word “rigor” has become one of the most commonly used terms in education, as we are always striving to ensure students are challenged and engaged in learning that helps them reach their full potential. What may be rigorous to one child may be easier to another, and there is in fact a progression to learning that has been well-identified over time. What we have also learned is that there are different domains of learning. The concept of “book smart versus street smart” is one that uses outdated terms to reference that someone may have more ability with academic tasks versus interpersonal skills. Over time, Benjamin Bloom’s famous model of rigor, known as “Bloom’s taxonomy” has been enhanced to reflect not only varied depths of thinking, but also various contexts for thinking. Understanding the differences among levels as well as domains can help you articulate the strengths and areas of need for students and support them accordingly.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

The word taxonomy means to categorize, and in fact, Benjamin Bloom did that by categorizing the ways in which we think and reason. Originally creating them in a pyramid hierarchy, the types of thinking were organized by the level of rigor required, moving from more basic thinking skills like concrete knowledge and comprehension questions to more analytical thinking processes including analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating. The rigor increases as the thinker is required to first hold on to information presented and later use their own tangential ideas to make sense of that information at higher levels. In the mid-nineties, this hierarchy was slightly revised by former students of Bloom’s, adjusting the top of the hierarchy to more accurately reflect what was considered the most rigorous form of thinking, “Creating”. Thus, the current taxonomy reads: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating. Still, that did not fully capture the layers to thinking and reasoning that are required by us as humans, and thus the concept of “Domains” was formed.

Domains recognize that we use these types of thinking skills in different contexts, three to be exact. The Cognitive Domain is when we think and reason for specific knowledge-based skills, the Affective Domain centers on the interpersonal skills of thinking and reasoning related to feelings or emotions, and the Psychomotor Domain addresses the physical or manual skills we grow and develop over time. By creating contexts for thinking and reasoning, we can more deeply explore and understand the levels of thinking that are required to meet these three unique demands in our world.

What is the Affective Domain?

According to the developers of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, the affective domain includes “the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes” (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973.) Excitement, challenge, frustration, and even trauma are all emotions and experiences that require us to dip into our bank of coping skills and apply them in order to successfully navigate interpersonal situations. These skills can in fact be taught, and thus we can apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to this domain to understand how a learner may first need to acquire the knowledge more concretely about skills like self-regulation or social interactions before then applying them in their authentic experiences. The Affective Domain is likely alive and well in your curriculum, potentially found in your Civics curriculum standards or more commonly in your Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Many districts have clear lessons and programs that introduce affective skills at the introductory levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy with remembering and understanding tasks, and later have students analyze these skills and evaluate moral and ethical behaviors, all falling within the affective domain.

Affective Domain Categories

Within this broad range of social-emotional skills, the domain is broken into five categories that develop from more simple to complex over time.

Receiving

One of the earliest skills is the receiving phenomena (pg. 2), which in a nutshell means the person is able to listen and has a willingness to hear out others. At a young age, children are taught to attend to directions from adults or demands from playmates. This early skill is a prerequisite to finding success in later skills in the Affective Domain.

Responding

Becoming an active participant in social situations can begin effectively once the receiving skills are mastered. Participating in discussions, asking questions, and presenting information to others are next-level skills that create a stronger foundation for interpersonal connection and expression.

Valuing

Once receptive and expressive communication skills are established, students can internalize values that inform how they use their thinking and reasoning to act upon what they learn. Appreciation, justification, invitation, and demonstration are all ways one may show this category of thinking with interpersonal situations.

Organization

As we grow, we realize that different values and beliefs are held, and we must grapple with the conflict of such a message. To do so, our brain engages in organization, where we contrast different view points and create our own unique system to evaluate what we see occurring based on our values. Each system is unique because of the various influences that are put upon the individual in order to make sense of the unique experience they are having in the world.

Characterization

Once a person has identified various belief systems and placed value and organization on them, the person will act based on the unique affective system they have created. For example, one may act on an injustice through verbalization or service because of the value they have placed on fairness and equity.

Undoubtedly, it is critical we attend to the affective domain as educators to ensure students build everything from receiving phenomena where they can actively listen, to characterization through which they can take informed action to positively impact their lives and others. If social-emotional learning is not already a part of your district’s curriculum, the time is right to ask for it, and tell them Bloom sent you!

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