Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

THE CHARACTER OF ACHIEVEMENT: An Analysis of Teachers' Instructional Practices for Character Education

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

THE CHARACTER OF ACHIEVEMENT: An Analysis of Teachers' Instructional Practices for Character Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

From kindergarten classrooms to college campuses, educators are becoming increasingly invested in developing students' character in addition to their intellect (Seider, 2012; Tough, 2012). Concurrently, research contributions in education, social and positive psychology, and developmental sciences are helping to build a more active and visible field of study related to character (Damon & Learner, 2006). Much of this practitioner and scholarly interest in character stems from studies demonstrating the positive association between character strengths and important academic and social outcomes (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Heckman, Humphries, & Kautz, 2014; Seider, Gilbert, Novick, & Gomez, 2013).

Despite a growing body of scholarship that demonstrates the positive association of character and life outcomes, findings related to the efficacy of programs designed to develop character are mixed. In a comprehensive report commissioned by the Character Education Partnership (CEP), Berkowitz and Bier (2005) investigated 69 research studies of 33 different character education programs and concluded that character education influenced a variety of outcomes, including academic success. In contrast, a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE, 2010) examined the effects of seven social and character development programs, together as well as separately for 3 years. The study's researchers found that, while the introduction of these programs led to an increased focus on social and character development instruction, the seven social and character development programs when analyzed individually or collectively did not improve student outcomes. The discrepancy in findings between the CEP and U.S. DOE-commissioned reports is likely attributable to two methodological decisions: (1) the definition of character and character education, and (2) a limited study of teachers' classroom practices versus school-level efforts related to character instruction.

Questions of programmatic efficacy are important, but a singular focus on school-level programs obscures the impact teachers- regardless of schoolwide efforts-have on the development of character. Often referred to as the hidden curriculum of schooling (Dreeben, 1968), the decisions teachers make-from the amount of academic support given to opportunities to work with peers to disciplinary systems, among countless others-influence students' character development. Yet, teachers vary in their intentionality to make decisions that positively impact students' character (Jackson, Boostrom, & Hansen, 1993). Variations in teacher intentionality are, in part, due to the near absence of character and other related topics in most teacher education programs (Lickona, 1993; Milson, 2003; Ryan & Bolin, 1999). More than a decade ago, the National Commission on Character Education commissioned a report on the status of incorporating character education into teacher education programs. Overall, they discovered that there were varying approaches to character education but that teacher education programs reported more success when they made character education foundational to the program of study (Williams & Schaps, 1999).

The research reported here sheds insight on the discrepancies in the observed programmatic outcomes of character education by examining teachers' instructional practices related to character, using theoretically and empirically relevant measures of character strengths and teacher practice. The study design includes K-8 teachers enrolled in the same character education course. By selecting a population of teachers with shared learning experiences related to character, the study also examines the ways in which teacher education influences teachers' practices related to character instruction. Using their final assignment, a lesson plan with at least one objective aligned to a character strength, we find that a majority of teachers selected achievement character strengths (Duckworth, Tsukayama, & Patrick 2014), or strengths such as self-control and grit, among other character strengths that focus on the qualities needed to achieve excellence (also see Lickona & Davidson, 2005; Seider, 2012). …

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