Monday / April 22

The ABCs of Involved Learning

Benjamin Franklin is often incorrectly attributed as the genius behind the following ancient Chinese proverb:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

While the sentiments of those simple sentences may seem to be plain old common sense, the depth and power behind them is quite stunning. What they capture is a deliciously rich understanding of the complexity our humanness—how we, as individuals, experience our world through a combination of three different, yet related, domains  that enable us to think, know, assess, and understand: the Affective, the Behavioral, and the Cognitive.

Many educators immediately connect these domains to Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), with the recognition of Behavioral used here in place of the original term: psychomotor. Yet, when designing curriculum or reflecting upon a lesson or unit that didn’t go as well as intended, these domains are often forgotten in the rush to ensure coverage of content or a specific learning standard and, honestly, to skip over these ABCs is penny-wise and pound foolish (which sounds like another Franklin-ism, but actually is not). The time one spends ensuring that each of these domains is an integral part of the educational experience will pay off greatly, for students and teachers, because they are an investment in meaningfully involving the learner in the learning process.

Let’s break this all down to gain a better sense of how focusing in on the ABCs before we teach affords much more involved, meaningful learning in the lesson and long after.

A = Affective: feelings, values, judgments, personal connections, emotional associations

B = Behavioral: actions, physical movement, motions, motor-skill engagement

C = Cognitive: logic, intellectual connections and correlations, factual knowledge,

drawing appropriate conclusions, problem solving

In any unit of student learning, all 3 domains must be a part of the experience. This doesn’t mean every single lesson, but within the whole of the experience there needs to be a connection to each domain to ensure the authentic involvement of the whole individual.

Often, the Affective comes at the start to motivate engagement with the topic itself through an emotional connection (be it in the form of a drawing activity for younger learners or a reflective paragraph for older students). Opening students’ emotional connections to what they are about to study encourages a stronger personal bond with the learning. As social creatures, we want to put effort and energy into that which we value. Harnessing the power of the Affective domain early in the unit gives the intended learning a “stickiness” on an individual level that pure activity or logic rarely affords—especially when things get challenging or do not immediately make sense for the student.

The Behavioral component is essential to ensure the learning feels real. The more a human body can actually do– be it in specific physical movement to support an idea (moving hands to show small versus tall) or constructing a tangible artifact to represent a theory or abstract idea, the greater opportunity for our kinesthetic intelligence to help us build connections to both long and short term memory. Think about how difficult it is to explain how to tie a tie without going through the motions. Empowering students to bring the body into the learning process frees up cognitive space to focus on more complex aspects of learning; rather than having to handle the load of the minutia along with the bigger picture components, this affords more direct energy toward understanding and communication.

The Cognitive domain is the one most often relied upon in traditional learning, but it is often misunderstood; memorization is a single aspect of learning, not the ultimate goal. The Cognitive domain recognizes that a student needs to be able to understand the learning in a fashion that makes it usable- it can be applied, modified, built upon – and ultimately translated into real world action. Thus, when designing learning for the Cognitive domain, we must challenge students to think beyond the limited scope of repetition with any skill or cannon of facts. Seeking creative use through problem-solving and seeking multiple ways to deal with issues- these are the kinds of mental contests that engage logic and intellect with the drive and passion necessary to overcome misunderstandings or misconceptions.

Here is an example of a lesson plan with the ABCs identified for clarity in the design and as a reminder for the teacher as they facilitate the learning.

I strongly encourage you to pull out a favorite unit you have taught and do the following:

  • Identify the various A, B, & C components in the learning
  • Seek out small modifications you could make to ensure a more balanced learning experience for the students, ensuring that there is genuine A, B, & C involvement throughout
  • Ask yourself how much more involved with your own learning experiences would you have been in your more challenging courses had there been a blatant focus on affording more Affective and Behavioral learning alongside the Cognitive

Returning to where this article began with our dear friend Ben Franklin, one quote he is credited with that he actually did say (or write) is the following:

He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”

(Poor Richard’s Almanac, preface, 1758)

With so much to learn and not nearly enough time to delve deeply into it all, we can no longer hope that simply telling students what they need to learn is enough. It is essential that we infuse our curriculum and the learning experience with genuine student involvement and engagement so that they are as present as possible in their growth from that moment and into the future.

Harnessing all that the ABCs offer us as educators is an empowering step that truly, in relation to the time and effort it requires of us before and during the learning, is both penny and pound wise.

Latest comment

  • Bravo. There is a natural tendency to focus on the cognitive. The equal importance of the affective and behavioral are, imho, what increases relevance and retention for the learner.

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