How Bloom’s Toxonomy Can Make You a Better Teacher

Used with permission from A Handbook for Adjunct/Part-Time Faculty and Teacher’s of Adults, 7th ed.

by Dr. Donald Grieve, Ed.D.


Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

If there is a single paradigm that has stood the test of time in education it is Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom et al., 1956). Published more than half a century ago, this taxonomy describes the learning process as three factors or domains. They are the cognitive domain, affective domain, and psychomotor domain.

Essentially, cognitive learning is learning that emphasizes knowledge and information and incorporates analysis of that knowledge. Affective learning centers on values and value systems, receiving stimuli, ideas and to some degree, organization. Psychomotor learning addresses hand/eye coordination, normally referred to as physical coordination.

The importance of these three domains is not so much the overall consideration of the categories as it is the breakdown provided by Bloom. For example, Bloom’s cognitive domain is broken into several categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The affective domain is broken into receiving, responding, valuing, organizing and characterization of value complex. A psychomotor domain essentially is that which provides for the development of physical skills.

The cognitive domain is usually emphasized in the classroom learning situation. However, when writing course objectives it is often expected that all three domains will be represented. This means that you should have objectives in the cognitive domain written not only at the knowledge level but also the evaluation, analysis, and synthesis levels. In the affective domain, you would have objectives covering responding, valuing and value complex. Many institutions require course objectives and activities in all three of the domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It should be noted from examination of the descriptions rendered here that these domains effectively cover all areas of the learning process.


Students are motivated for many reasons: individual improvement, intellectual curiosity, needed employment competencies, career change or advancement, employment requirement, or the completion of degree or certificate requirements. Although these motivational reasons are broad and varied, faculty must possess the skills to motivate students with a variety of activities including occasional risk-taking.

The following anecdote exemplifies such risk taking. After many years of teaching, I remember being faced with a class that would not respond or participate. Admittedly it was a Friday night class; however, you might expect that in such a class, highly motivated students would be enrolled. They were, however, very tired students and many of them were enrolled merely to pick up additional credits. After teaching the class about three weeks and experiencing very little student response, on the spur of the moment during the third evening, I simply stated, “We must start communicating.

I would like each of you at this time to turn to a person near you, introduce yourself and tell them that you are going to help them get through the course, no matter how difficult it is, that you will be there to help them whenever they become confused, and that the two of you (by helping each other) can be successful in this course.” This seemingly simple technique worked wonders. The students became acquainted with someone they hadn’t previously known, and in many cases, found someone who really could help them get through the course. For the remainder of the course, when it appeared that the class was experiencing difficulty, I simply needed to say “let’s take a few minutes and get together with our partner.”

When chalkboard work was given, two students would voluntarily go to the board together. Thus a previously unused “risk” activity proved successful—and was my first experience with collaborative learning and the partner system. This is an example of trying a basic technique of motivation. In this case it worked. It may not work every time, but it was not a technique that I had in my repertoire prior to that time. So, when motivating adult students, remember that you must occasionally try techniques not necessarily found in the literature; however, there are proven techniques that should be in the professional portfolio of all teachers, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It is virtually impossible to incorporate all theories of motivation for your students. It is appropriate, therefore, that we find refuge in a time-honored theory of learning called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s hierarchy states that the basic needs of human beings fall into five categories:

PHYSIOLOGICAL—feeling good physically with appropriate food and shelter.

• SAFETY—the feeling of security in one’s environment.

• LOVE AND BELONGING OR THE SOCIAL NEED—fulfilling the basic family and social role.

• ESTEEM—the status and respect of a positive self-image.

• SELF-ACTUALIZATION—growth of the individual.

Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging. The fact that Maslow’s needs are in hierarchy form is a major problem for teachers of adults. For example, attempting to address the needs of esteem and self-actualization in the classroom, when physiological, safety, and love and belonging needs have not been met, is a difficult task. In fact, the lack of fulfillment of the basic needs may interfere with the learning process. This interference may manifest itself in anti-social behavior.

The challenge becomes, how does one in a short period of time, teaching on a part-time basis to mostly part-time students, overcome these barriers? The fact is that one may not overcome all of these barriers. If instructors attempt to take the time to analyze each of the unmet needs of each of their students, they will have little time to work toward the goals and objectives of the course.

There is, however, an important factor to support the instructor. It is that the need to achieve appears to be a basic need in human beings. The need to succeed, an intrinsic motivator that usually overcomes most of the other distractions to learning, is the factor upon which successful teachers capitalize.

There is little that faculty can do to help students to meet the physiological, safety, and love and belonging needs. The need for esteem and self-actualization, which are essentially achievement, are areas in which teaching strategies can be implemented.

Esteem. Esteem is the status and respect with which human beings are regarded by their peers and activities faculty members incorporate that assist students in achieving status and self-respect will support fulfillment of the esteem need. This is accomplished by providing an environment in which students can experience success in their learning endeavors. Many learning theorists claim that success in itself is the solution to motivation and learning.

One of the great fallacies of teaching is often stated by students who have succeeded in classes where other students have dropped out. That observation is: “That prof. was tough, but he/she was really good.” Being tough has no relationship to being good. Often, some faculty believe rigidity is a substitute for good teaching. There is no evidence to suggest that “tough teachers” are better teachers. It is especially discouraging to marginal students who work hard, but find the chances for success negated by the instructor’s desire to be tough.

Building esteem through success is accomplished in many ways. The following are some classroom instruction suggestions to assist students in achieving success:

Make certain that students are aware of course requirements. Students should be provided with course objectives in written form that tell them what they are expected to accomplish.

Inform students precisely what is expected of them. This means not only the work or the skills necessary for them to complete the course content, but also the time commitment.

Give students nonverbal encouragement whenever possible. There are many ways this can be accomplished. Eye contact with students can very often elicit a positive response. Gestures are important. A smile, a nod of the head, just looking at students with the feeling that you find the classroom a pleasant environment is in itself effective nonverbal encouragement.

Give positive reinforcement at every opportunity. Simple techniques such as quizzes for which grades are not taken, quizzes designed so most or all students will succeed, as well as short tests as a supplement to grading are effective positive reinforcement strategies. Comments written on hand-in papers, tests, and projects are effective ways to provide positive feedback. Of course, the ideal form of positive reinforcement is provided through individual conferences and informal conversations with students at chance meetings.

Provide a structured situation in which the students feel comfortable. The laissez-faire classroom is generally a lazy classroom. Most educators agree that a structured setting with students participating in activities is much better than an unstructured approach.

Provide opportunity for student discussion of outside experiences. Some students in your class, who may not be particularly adept in the course content, may have significant contributions and accomplishments to share. One of the greatest builders of esteem is to allow students to share their success experiences with others.

Self-Actualization. Self-actualization, the highest of Maslow’s hierarchy, is the realization of individual growth. Such growth is realized through achievement and success. Course planning for enhancement of student self-actualization is the ultimate in successful teaching. The suggestions listed here can assist in the student growth process.

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