Sunday, December 15, 2013

Character Education Across Content Areas

Character Education programs are not new. The discussion regarding developing character as part of a child's education dates back to the Colonial Period in the U.S. At that time reading, writing and mathematics instruction was blended with biblical quotes and prayers that established moral guidelines for students. Character Education programs have evolved and have become a more consistent curricula within many schools.

I have been reflecting on the integration or character education and how it can be formalized within content areas. Specifically, how can we establish the pillars or belief statements of character as a proactive approach to not only avoid negative behaviors but ensure current and future success for our students.

Wikipedia defines character education as "Character education is the teaching of children in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, civic, good, mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, traditional, compliant or socially acceptable beings" A closer look at character education programs reviews a series of beliefs or pillars and resulting behaviors that correlate.  

I recently read Paul Tough's book, How Children Succeed.  A chapter in this book takes a look at examples of character education programs in U.S. schools. The most notable program is the KIPP Schools of New York City. The KIPP Schools have established 8 character pillars and 24 belief statements that align to these pillars. They have developed a character report card that assess students on these traits. The report card provides students and parents with an overview of strengths and areas for improvement. KIPP provides a series of lessons and tasks for teachers to integrate in each content area to assess these traits.

Critics of the "grading of character model" state that formal assessment of character is not a viable solution. Larry Ferrlazo published an article in the Washington Post that argued against this process.  He pointed our attention to the motivation that Dan Pink stated in his book Drive, " rewards can provide short-term encouragement to continue a behavior, but at the price of reduced intrinsic motivation over the long-term. Frequent reporting of a student's "overall score" in terms of character amounts to a short-term reward (or punishment) and does not tell us much about progress toward self-awareness and personal growth." 

Mr. Ferrlazo discussed methods of having students reflect on the character traits through self reflection that is authentic and connected to their own lives. My own reflection on the integration of character education in my high school follows a similar path. Teachers may consider posting and discussing pillars of characters and associated behaviors. Students may be provided with the opportunity to reflect on these and self-assess their progress towards them. Teachers may work to integrate the beliefs into content areas during discussions, group activities and assignments. For example, language arts teachers may reference the traits when analyzing characters in a novel. Social studies teachers may find opportunities to compare the traits to historical figures.

The pillars and associated behaviors should be part of a class conduct policy and integrated with a discussion regarding class expectations, participation and class assignments. They should also be part of the foundation of collaborative group work.

In order to ensure effectiveness the development and delivery of the character program must be collaborative and consistent across the school. Administrators must provide the resources and recognition necessary building wide in order to ensure its positive impact on students. I believe that only if the message and promotion of these beliefs are consistent across an entire school and are reinforced daily will character education significantly impact student achievement.

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