Tag Archives: Bloom’s Taxonomy

Maslow while you Bloom

This fall everyone seems to be worried about “starting the year with SEL” before launching into their content or “Maslow before Bloom.” There is a renewed effort to make sure that teachers are developing relationships and connecting with their students. Teachers are working hard to figure out how to successfully build class culture in an online environment that can feel isolated. So many have used creative strategies to make this happen.

I am in full support of all of this effort because I believe strongly in the power of culture in the classroom. Yet I think that there are some misconceptions, particularly around what it means to focus and teach SEL.

Not either/or

What does the “A” in CASEL stand for? I’ll wait while you look it up.

The research is clear that SEL competencies are best learned integrated throughout the day, not as a separate activity or class.

SEL is meant to be taught infused with meaningful content. So teachers don’t need to compromise on content. SEL should be embedded into everything in the classroom. You can teach SEL skills and content at the same time. You can Maslow while you Bloom.

Students who develop strong SEL competencies will be more successful academically. These are the skills that employers are looking for, and that society needs to solve global and local issues with empathy and love. They will make students more successful learners and better humans.


Not sure everyone understands what SEL actually means. What many people are really starting off the school year with is building relationships and being aware of students’ emotional states. Teachers are noticing the moods of students and being responsive to the trauma students may be experiencing due to Covid, racial inequality, poverty, or remote learning in general. While this is important work that teachers should be doing now (and always), it is not the same as teaching SEL competencies.

When looking at the actual list of SEL competencies, you will notice that they go way beyond checking in on your students emotional well-being. That is a great starting point, but SEL encompasses so much more. The competency are a complex set of tools students need for academic and social progress.

Not one week

Developing SEL skills in our students is not something that can be relegated to the first week of school and then checked off as done. It is something that must be prioritized for the entire school year. If you do meaningful activities to build relationships the first week and then week two shift into traditional, teacher dominated lessons focused entirely on content for the rest of the year, then that first week seems disingenuous.

  • If you only work on building relationships week one and then emphasize content, then how will students develop Self-Awareness of who they are?
  • If students are consistently passive listeners and never discuss your content in meaningful ways, then how will they forge Relationships Skills with each other?
  • If students only watch lectures, fill out worksheets, and take traditional tests, then how will students sharpen Social Awareness by applying content to their world?
  • If students only work through your lessons with no choices, then how will they build Self-Management by completing a project?
  • If students only read the chapter and take notes, then how will they exercise Responsible Decision Making through inquiry of their questions about your class?

Relationships and community building take time. It can’t be “accomplished” the first week and then moved on. The first week should set the tone for what your class will be like for the rest of the year, not some kind of one-off fun time before “real” learning begins.

We need to intentionally teach, practice, and assess the SEL competencies all year long. This won’t happen unless teachers make it an intentional part of their lesson planning. When you start each unit or project, choose one SEL competency or sub-competency that you will focus on developing in your students. Explain to them what it means and how they will be practicing the skill during the unit. Have students reflect on the competency and how they are using it throughout the project. Only by intentionality will all students see substantial growth in SEL skills.

Maslow while you Bloom means daily checkins on the emotional state of all of your students while expecting them to engage in content at a deep level. Teaching SEL means daily emphasizing student growth in the competencies using inquiry structures such as PBL while learning standards applied in authentic ways. SEL isn’t for the first week of school, it’s the reason that we do school at all!

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a Ladder, not a Pyramid

“My students aren’t ready for PBL.”

In PBL workshops with teachers, I ask them to describe the skillsets of the Ideal Graduate from their school. I once had a high school teacher say, “I want my students to be able to write a complete sentence.”

Of course, we would be failing if students couldn’t complete basic skills, but the implication of comments like this, is that “You don’t know my students. They are so low ability that I could never do a PBL project without first teaching them a long list of basic skills first.” This is “pyramid” thinking and it is damaging to students by setting low expectations of them.

Misconceptions about Bloom’s Pyramid

It has been documented that Bloom did not invent the pyramid image so often associated with his taxonomy, nor does it accurately display his ideas.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been revised and inverted, but I am still not sure that the majority of educators get the point. Bloom’s Taxonomy was never meant to be hierarchal or sequential. In other words, one does not HAVE to remember and understand basic knowledge BEFORE they can analyze or create.

Upon reading that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has both a similar pyramid and misconceptions. I learned about a better analogy: the humble ladder. Daniel Wren argues that Maslow’s Hierarchy could best be understood as multiple rungs on a ladder that are being used at the same time. Bloom’s Taxonomy works the same way.

Bloom’s Taxonomy should not be viewed as steps to be completed in sequence as knowledge and skills are mastered like leveling up in a video game. Instead think of each student on a ladder with their feet on one rung and their hands holding another as they lean their body against the other rungs. Students are constantly moving up and down Bloom’s Ladder as needed in the moment.

Bloom’s Ladder and PBL

PBL offers a great methodology for the proper use of the ladder analogy. A project is launched with an entry event which exposes students to a challenging problem. The driving question asks students to analyze and evaluate the problem and then create a solution. So PBL starts by getting students excited about the top rungs of the ladder.

Next comes the Need to Know process where students ask questions about what they don’t know to be successful. Basically students are identifying what bottom rungs of the ladder are missing in order for them to make it to the top.

Throughout the middle of a project students move up and down the ladder, evaluating and analyzing the problem and researching their own questions to fill in what they need to remember and understand.

Every project ends with students demonstrating their learning. Oftentimes they create a physical object such as an art piece or model. Other times they write a plan or essay analyzing the problem and presenting solutions. Whatever the final artifact of their learning looks like, it provides evidence of students at the top rungs of the ladder.

Get on the Ladder!

Here’s the kicker, what is the purpose of a ladder? It is a tool to get to an area out of reach, oftentimes to do important work. So if we think of the higher rungs of Bloom’s Taxonomy as where we want students functioning the majority of the time, then the ladder analogy works. One does not grab a ladder unless they have a desire to reach a higher place for a purpose.

The problem with many students in traditional schools is that they aren’t interested in getting on the ladder. The teacher never shows a goal at the top of the ladder that is meaningful to the majority of students. They have no motivation to even step onto the rungs of remember and understand because they have no idea where the steps could lead to.

PBL launches by showing students what is waiting at the top of the ladder. It starts with engagement, motivation, and a purpose for the learning so that students are eager to grab onto the ladder, moving up and down, developing skills as needed until they reach their goal of a creative solution at the top.

So don’t limit students to the bottom rungs of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The upper rungs provide the context and motivation for the knowledge acquisition on the lower rungs. Use PBL as a structure to guide students to the top of Bloom’s Ladder!

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.