Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms

In addition to content area strengths, students must develop non-cognitive skills and strengths.  This is discussed in :
A literature review from the University of Chicago on noncognitive factors shaping school performance

My students immediately took to discussions in class of character strengths grit, zest, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.  I made a new spinner for the end of day closure.  This one just has the one question, "How did you show ____ today?" and we would spin for the trait.  However, I began by just choosing one for a week, and then introducing another the following week.  Once we had incorporated the skills at the end of the day, I then used them throughout the day, such as in the transition from math to science.

Math is a particularly tough subject this year and many students feel frustration.  By highlighting that even though they felt frustration, they kept going, students are more willing to face the difficulties of math in the future.  So this also lead to discussions of optimism.  We have not yet connected gratitude to our new math program.  I am saving that for a little later when they can see the benefits of the comprehensive learning curve they've endured!

My ah-ha moment was when we were discussing yet another hero, and writing about that hero.  Often we use a graphic organizer to help them quickly highlight most important elements, such as date and accomplishments of a particular citizen.  This time I also planned to use a writing sample after the lesson to evaluate how well the English Language Learners were using English during content area writing.  Therefore, I was only giving the students a blank notebook paper.  To facilitate the writing process, I asked additional questions about the hero, such as how did this person show zest for what she was interested in?  How did the character use grit in order to reach her goals? How was this person optimistic in facing the fears for her well being?  The writing samples provided a great indication of:

  • whether the student knew hero well or not
  • one example of how well the English Language Learners had assimilated the English language 
  • the level of understanding or misunderstanding of the character strengths highlighted
  • a personal response, not just a drab repetition of facts
I am finding the use of the character strengths very helpful in my day to day classroom experience, and I continue to use them in discussions of heroes.

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