• Trish Dotts

Maslow was Wrong.

Have you heard it? The echo of the reminder:

"We have to cover Maslow before we can address Bloom! "

We hear this in our Professional Development days, we see it in our staff rooms, it haunts us in our dreams.


As teachers, we are familiar with two, of many theories about human learning. 1) Bloom’s taxonomy and 2) Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. But, Maslow was wrong.


Bloom’s Taxonomy, is a flow from our basic understanding of a topic flowing to using


our brain for more complex thinking.

Learners to be exposed to information or ‘content’ then through exercises and experiences learners ‘chew’ on the content which helps the brain make more connections. These connections facilitate memory recall and make the content useful in our lives


Teaching would be simple if all we needed to do is attend to Bloom’s taxonomy. We live for those parts of a lesson or unit where the students have enough content knowledge to really dig deep to apply, analyze and evaluate information.


When I read comments on Facebook posts, my brain begs to scaffold the learning of the commenters. Social media allows ease of ‘creating’ without processing through the taxonomy. People go directly from seeing content to reacting with a post creation without analyzing or even ‘understanding’ the complexities of the issue. This is why social media is a useful tool for propaganda. But that can be a whole different post.


Social media allows the rest of us to see why teaching isn’t as simple as following Bloom’s taxonomy. Our lives and brains are much more complicated than simple inputs, processing, then output.


So along comes another triangle that teachers consider while working with learners. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, reminds us that before a person can learn abstract content, certain needs must be addressed. In this triangle, there are three categories; Basic needs, Psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs. The upper-level thinking takes place at the top tier of Maslow’s triangle.


Time for a SHIFT. Maslow’s triangle is WRONG. In his book, Social: How our brains are wired to reconnect., Matthew Lieberman suggests that the social part of the pyramid is the foundation. This does not just affect us in the classroom, it also interferes in the workplace. Engagement is not just a teacher term it also applies to staff in all tiers of society.


The research Lieberman cites shows us that from our very first moment we are reaching out to others in order for our basic needs to be met. From birth, humans can not survive without other humans. From that moment on we are learning to leverage human connections to move up through the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy.



My friends know that my thinking happens as the words come out of my mouth. My parents read handwritten report card comments from teachers,

“Trish is very social.”

While I talked in class, my classmates passed notes. Today, students text each other during class. Teachers are always trying to SHUT THIS DOWN. Teachers get frustrated when this need for social connection interferes with the lesson.


I suggest as teachers that we leverage this learning. We can use this most basic need to motivate our students. Encouraging ‘social’ is our greatest tool. We know this when we look at John Hattie’s work in his meta-analysis presented in Visible Learning for Teachers. Scan through this graph from the Visible Learning site to see methods that leverage students talking to one another enhance learning. Scan through the negative effect sizes related to social isolation.


The more we use social interaction to engage students in our content, the deeper their learning. The ‘jigsaw method” presented in the graph is a perfect example. Forming thoughts into complete ideas is the cognitive demand we are looking for. It is one reason we have students write. In order to fully process our ideas, we need to get them out of our heads and formulate them into thoughts. Writing can be a barrier for MANY students, can’t we just let them talk? Or present their thinking in an array of choices? It takes a great deal of processing to create a video or podcast.

Do you wish your students spent as much time rehearsing your content as they do for their TikTok?


How do your lessons and classroom experiences reflect social engagement as a valuable tool for learning?


What do you think about shifting the ‘social needs’ to the bottom of the model?





Social cognitive neuroscience: a review of core processes., Lieberman MD. Annu Rev Psychol. 2007;58:259-89.

Now to the nitty-gritty. How can we leverage that top tier, when our students aren’t even in our classrooms?


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