A taxonomy of Affective Learning

Last week’s post focused on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning.  Today’s post focuses on Krathwohl’s Taxonomy of the Affective Domain which focuses on perceptions, feelings, emotions, and belief systems.  And the emotional side of things cannot simply be ignored, even if many of our learning objectives and course aims focus on the cognitive domain. Unlike the taxonomy of cognitive learning, I think the “verbs” in learning objectives are less helpful for understanding the affective domain taxonomy than examples. So here are the levels of affective learning and examples:

Level Definition Examples
Receiving A person is aware of, or sensitive to, ideas, material, or phenomena and is willing to tolerate them.
  • Listening to a discussion of a new topic
  • Knowing that homework is assigned
  • Aware that racism exists
Responding A person not only responds to a phenomenon but reacts to it in some way.
  • Completing homework assignments
  • Reading beyond the assignment
  • Reading for enjoyment
  • Questions new ideas in order to fully understand them
  • Participates in team problem-solving activities
Valuing A person shows some involvement or commitment to a new item. These ideas are often considered under “attitude” and “appreciation.”
  • Assumes responsibility for getting the group to work well
  • Participating in campus blood drive
  • Informs a teacher about something they care about
  • Providing food to the homeless
Organization A person relates a new value to the other values that they already hold and attempts to bring them together into an internally consistent philosophy.
  • Accepts responsibility for one’s actions
  • Recognizes own abilities and values, and then developing realistic aspirations
  • Accepting professional ethics
  • Prioritizing time well to meeting everyone’s needs
Characterization A person actions consistently with their values and internalized philosophy.
  • A person has a consistent and predictable belief and behavior system
  • A person follows their professional ethics
  • Revising judgments in light of new information

This taxonomy is more difficult to assess, and some of these categories are very broad.  Nevertheless, I think it is very helpful when we try to understand students’ behavior and think about responding to students’ declining resilience and emotional health.

Many of our thoughts about students’ behavior are in the “Receiving” and “Responding” levels.  Did students do their homework? Did they even know about the homework? Did they do it well? Did students know that Caesar was dictator of Rome? (Affective: Receiving) Did students answer the question about Caesar’s dictatorship correctly? (Affective: Responding, Cognitive: Remembering/Knowledge)

But the other levels are incredibly important.  Students may not do the homework, or do it well, if they do not value the assignment or the subject we teach.  Students’ resilience and emotional health are also tied up in the “Valuing,” “Organization,” and “Characterization” levels.  These are some of the hardest things to teach, so it is no surprise that some students struggle with them.  Indeed, there are also ethical issues involved:

  • Is it right to change students’ attitudes and values?
  • What differentiates changing students’ values from indoctrination?
  • How do we guard against students adopting unwanted values, such as racism?

How do we help students move from “Receiving” and “Responding” to, at least, “Valuing”?

Recent educational research, summarized by Thomas Koballa on a Carleton College website, offers several insights to helping motivate students:

  • Motivation can be intrinsic (reading Latin because it’s fun) or extrinsic (reading Latin because I want an A in Latin class).
  • Learning goals focus on the challenge and mastery of a task, but performance goals are often related to social status, pleasing teachers, and avoiding “extra” work.  Many of us many focus on the former and our students on the latter.
  • When students believe they have more control over a task or assignment (i.e. self-determination), they will benefit more from the task.  This can be as simple as choosing partners for group work or choosing from a list of possible essay topics, or it can be as complex as designing one’s own assignment.
  • A student’s confidence in their ability to perform a given task to achieve a desired goal (i.e. self-efficacy) can be very important.
  • Anxiety is normal, and moderate amounts of anxiety motivate learning.

With these insights into motivation, how do we actually motivate students and make sure they are at least in the “Responding,” if not “Valuing” or higher categories? According to a summary, and bibliography, of research by Karin Kirk:

  • Give frequent, positive feedback that supports students’ confidence.
  • Encourage their belief in self-efficacy by assigning tasks that are not too easy nor too difficult.
  • Create an open and positive environment in the classroom and school.
  • Help students feel like they are valued within the learning community.
  • Create learning activities that are relevant to students’ lives. Use local examples, events in the news, popular technology, and connections to students’ culture and lives (i.e. Expanding the canon).
  • Provide choices for partners, assignments, and/or test questions.
  • Seek and provide students with additional role models, such as guest speakers, fellow students, or other peers.
  • Use models that students can identify with because of gender, ethnicity, social circles, interests, clothing, or age.  These can be characters in stories, Romans, scholars, and/or tutors.
  • Encourage a sense of belonging and community.  Group work helps, but a teacher can also help a lot by being warm, open, enthusiastic, friendly, helpful, and prepared and by encouraging student participation.
  • Be supportive: listen, give hints and encouragement, show empathy, and respond to students’ questions and concerns.  Mid-term course evaluations are a more formal way of showing this.
  • When students are struggling academically, have low confidence, or low motivation, strategize with them and encourage metacognition.

 Resources about Krathwohl’s Taxonomy


3 thoughts on “A taxonomy of Affective Learning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s