Don’t ignore the affective domain

Schools are data collection factories.

We can access at the top of our fingers individual profiles for every single student in the school, which inform us of the grades earned by a child since they were first enrolled in school. These profiles also outline support programs, behaviour records and extra-curricular involvement.

In other words, information about the cognitive domain and the psychomotor domain.

What is often neglected, however, in data storage and analysis, is the affective domain. By this I am referring to the interests, motivations and attitudes of children.

The affective domain goes beyond the metacognition of pupils knowing their best learning style and favourite subject- although this is a good place to start.

I’ve had the privilege this year to have played an integral role in a project that involved surveying primary school students in order to uncover their core motivations in regards to their education.

Careful thought was put into the design of questions that would give us the kind of information that would best inform our future tracing practices. After all, this kind of qualitative data is difficult to measure.

We came up with things like- does that child prefer working in a group or alone? Do they have an inner drive or are they working hard merely to receive good grades on their report cards? Do they feel like they belong at school? Do they believe that their learning efforts pay off or do they have no self-efficacy? Do they perceive their work as too easy, too hard or just right?

Giving students a voice is a powerful thing. All too often, data is only about numbers. We have to put a face to the data.

Gathering data about student feelings and not just their results enables teachers to powerfully tailor their teaching to cater for individual differences.

It also provides rich fodder for discussions around interrogation of the data, such as “why do more grade 2 boys show a genuine interest in maths than their female counterparts?” or “what do I need to do to help student X see the benefits of group work?”

Students have remarked on how it’s the first time a teacher has ever asked them to really reflect on every aspect of their learning, and really valued their answers.

What’s the key message from all of this? To not forget that kids are not just a statistic. They are in fact, each and every one of them, wide, mysterious universes. And it’s our job to do everything we can to explore the vast depths of these universes, and not just skim the surface.

To be open to receiving feedback and not just giving it. To allow kids to tell us all of the things we usually shut down- what they like, don’t like, find boring or find too hard. To evaluate school performance beyond the use of test scores.

To recognise that a student’s opinion, point of view and feelings about school give us a window into their character, their development and their true growth potential….if we only choose to take a look.


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