Chapter 8: Thinking, Communicating & Problem-Solving

Thinking & Learning

Affective check-in

Affective check-ins can be a formal or informal part of a college course. These kind of check-ins help students reflect on how they are feeling about their learning and may also link their life experiences to course content. Let’s try it.

  1. How are your classes going? How is COS in particular?
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a learner so far?
  3. Are you staying focused and persistent? If yes, how? If not, why?
  4. Is there anything you are concerned about in regards to your academics? If yes, what?
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. —Aristotle, Greek philosopher

Defining Thought

Thinking is the mental process used to form associations and models of the world. When you think, you manipulate information to form concepts, to solve problems, to reason, and to make decisions. The act of thinking produces thoughts, and thoughts produce ideas, images, sounds, associations, emotions, and much more. Many would say our thoughts are a large part of what makes us human beings.

The power of thought

Thought is intimately connected to being human because, as humans, we are all thinking beings. This idea is what French philosopher, René Descartes, was exploring when he said, “Cogito ergo sum.” Translated from Latin into English, it means, “I think; therefore, I am.” People have argued about this profound philosophical idea for centuries: we exist, and we are aware that we exist because we think. Without thought or the ability to think, we don’t exist. Do you agree? Do you disagree? What are your thoughts about this belief that has had people talking since the 1600s?

Many great thinkers, scientists, educators, and theorists have dedicated their lives to the study of thought, trying to understand exactly how we receive, absorb, generate, and transmit thought and also how we learn.

One such thinker was Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist. Particularly interested how people learn, Dr. Bloom chaired a committee of educators that developed a set of universal learning objectives, which came to be known as Bloom’s taxonomy. This classification system has been slightly updated since it was first developed in 1956, but those levels remain important in helping both students and teachers understand the skills and structures involved in learning. Explained more in depth below, Bloom’s taxonomy is what professors and administrators use to guide them as they create learning outcomes for lessons, courses, programs, and institutions.

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are goals that specify what someone will know, care about, or be able to do as a result of a learning experience; for example, some texts list learning objectives at the beginning of each chapter to communicate what students should know after reading them. Some professors present learning objectives, or key questions, that each class is designed to answer, and all courses contain overarching objectives, called learning outcomes. Course learning outcomes, found on all course information sheets, explain what students will be able to know and do by the end of the semester, and program and institutional outcomes describe what students will be able to know and do by the time they graduate with a degree in their chosen majors.

Domains of Learning

Learning skills can be divided into three main categories or “domains”: the cognitive domain (what you know), the affective domain (what you care about), and the psychomotor domain (what you do). Another important area that deals with thinking and cements learning is the metacognitive domain (thinking about thinking).

College classes focus on what students should know or do, so the cognitive domain of learning is discussed at length below. However, to optimize their success, students should pay attention to all the domains of learning.

The Affective Domain of Learning

The affective domain sets the stage for learning and addresses much of what is discussed in this text, such as motivation, confidence, school/life balance, personal responsibility, and healthy choices. In addition, what we know and how we feel about a particular area of study as well as our assumptions about and prior experiences with learning are a part of the affective domain. Students can prepare themselves for learning by coming to class with a positive affect, or attitude, by accessing what they already know about the topic to be covered in that day’s lesson, and by temporarily putting aside any personal challenges to focus on the class or learning they are about to experience. Addressing the affective domain offers personal and academic rewards such as managing emotions and creating a mental readiness to learn.

The Cognitive Domain of Learning

The cognitive domain of learning is divided into six main learning-skill levels or stages, which are arranged hierarchically–moving from the simplest of functions like remembering and understanding, to more complex learning skills, like applying and analyzing, to the most complex skills of evaluating and creating. The lower levels are more straightforward and fundamental, and the higher levels are more sophisticated.[1] See Figure 1, below.

Triangle chart, labeled The New Version of Bloom's Taxonomy. The largest bottom layer is Remembering, then Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating at the top.
Figure 1

The following table describes the six main skill sets within the cognitive domain.

Remembering When you are skilled in remembering, you can recognize or recall knowledge you’ve already gained, and you can use it to produce or retrieve or recite definitions, facts, and lists.

Remembering may be how you studied in grade school or high school, but college will require you to do more with the information.

identify · relate · list ·  define · recall · memorize · repeat · record · name
Understanding Understanding is the ability to grasp or construct meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages.

Each college course will introduce you to new concepts, terms, processes, and functions. Once you gain a firm understanding of new information, you’ll find it easier, perhaps later, to comprehend how or why something works.

restate · locate · report · recognize · explain · express · identify · discuss · describe · discuss · review · infer · illustrate · interpret · draw · represent · differentiate · conclude
Applying When you apply, you use learned material (or you implement the material) in new and concrete situations.

In college you will be tested or assessed on what you’ve learned in the previous levels. You will be asked to solve problems in new situations by applying understanding in new ways. You may need to relate abstract ideas to practical situations.

apply · relate · develop · translate · use · operate · organize · employ · restructure · interpret · demonstrate · illustrate · practice · calculate · show · exhibit · dramatize
Analyzing When you analyze, you have the ability to break down or distinguish the parts of material into its components, so that its organizational structure may be better understood.

At this level, you will have a clearer sense that you comprehend the content well. You will be able to answer questions such as what if, or why, or how something would work.

analyze · compare · probe · inquire · examine · contrast · categorize · differentiate · contrast · investigate · detect · survey · classify · deduce · experiment · scrutinize · discover · inspect · dissect · discriminate · separate
Evaluating With skills in evaluating, you are able to judge, check, and even critique the value of material for a given purpose.

At this level in college you will be able to think critically. Your understanding of a concept or discipline will be profound. You may need to present and defend opinions.

judge · assess · compare · evaluate · conclude · measure · deduce · argue · decide · choose · rate · select · estimate · validate · consider · appraise · value · criticize · infer
Creating With skills in creating, you are able to put parts together to form a coherent or unique new whole. You can reorganize elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.

Creating requires originality and inventiveness. It brings together all levels of learning to theorize, design, and test new products, concepts or functions.

compose · produce · design · assemble · create · prepare · predict · modify · plan · invent · formulate · collect · generalize · document combine · relate · propose · develop · arrange · construct · organize · originate · derive · write · propose

The two videos below explore these concepts further. The first, Learning Levels, is from the Center for Learning Success at Louisiana State University. It discusses Bloom’s taxonomy with regard to student success in college.

This next video, Bloom’s Taxonomy Featuring Harry Potter Movies, is a culturally based way of understanding and applying Bloom’s taxonomy. Download a transcript of the video here.

The Metacognitive Domain of Learning

The metacognitive domain is the key to solidifying and reinforcing new concepts, course content, and effective learning methods. When you examine your learning strategies and preferred processes, you engage in metacognition. Similarly, predicting how you’ll do on a test, evaluating your approaches to learning, and reflecting about what you’ll do differently next time are all important parts of this learning domain. While in this and other courses metacognitive strategies are taught and used as part of the curriculum, in other classes you’ll be responsible to complete this stage of learning as part of your normal study routine.

The Power of Thought

From Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning skills, we can see there is order and structure in the way we think and in the way we process and internalize information and that thought and thinking can be understood as patterns, systems, or schemes within the mind.

As we look at patterns of thought, we can also think about the power of thought. The scientific community is still discovering a great deal about how plastic, malleable, and constantly changing the brain is. For example, the act of thinking alone can affect not only the way your brain works but also its physical shape and structure. The following video explores some of these discoveries, which relate to all the thinking and thoughts involved in college success.

Metacognitive reflection


Think about your thinking. Are you using all six thinking skills? Reflect on your schoolwork in the past three weeks and identify specific examples where you used each of the thinking skills. Use the comment column to write notes about the skills, determining the skills which are second nature to you and those you would like to develop further.

Skill Set How You Used It in the Past Three Weeks Comments

Remembering and Recalling












































  1. Wilson, Leslie Owen. "Anderson and Krathwohl - Bloom's Taxonomy Revised." The Second Principle. 2013. Web. 10 Feb 2016.


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