Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

A NEW PERSPECTIVE: Spontaneous Character Education Using Positive Causal Attribution Training

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

A NEW PERSPECTIVE: Spontaneous Character Education Using Positive Causal Attribution Training

Article excerpt


A basketball coach had a time out with his team. He was visibly upset about the previous play and let his team know his frustration with firm corrective feedback. Most interestingly, though, he pulled one player aside before the time out ended and said, "Tyler, you were really persistent out there on defense. You didn't let your man get around you. Good job." The type of feedback the coach gave was impressive. The coach labeled his player with a positive causal attribute, was very specific about how his player displayed the attribute, and provided the feedback during a spontaneous, unplanned moment. This is a shining example of how schools could provide character education in a spontaneous manner.


Character education can be defined as "intentional implementations that organize behaviors according to main human values and are provided with the aim of training academically successful individuals" (Katmilis, Eksi, & Osturk, 2011, p. 855). This type of programming encourages students to act on values, such as, respect, civic virtues and citizenship, responsibility for others, self-control, loyalty, courage, perseverance, and honesty, all of which encourages them to enact goodness (Davis, 2006; Huitt, 2004; Lickona, 1991; Niemic, Rashid, & Spinella, 2012; Shields 2011) that can positively impact either or both academic performance and moral character (Haynes & Thomas, 2011).

The terms values and character are closely related. Values involve orientations and guiding principles, such as self-control, responsibility, and perseverance (Huitt, 2004a; Ryan & Bohlin, 1999). Character, then, requires action on values, which manifests itself in observable behaviors (Huitt, 2004a). For example, an athlete demonstrates the value of respect when she shakes an opposing athlete's hand, which is "good" character. When values are active and applied, one's character is evident. Therefore, values are one of the foundations of character, and character education involves guidance on how to act on one's values.

Despite noble intentions and a variety of ways character education programs have been implemented, their effectiveness has been weak (Social and Character Development Research Consortium, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Character education using positive causal attribution training (PCAT) in spontaneous moments, which is the focus of this paper, may provide an alternative to typical implementations.

Character education programs in schools across America are implemented using different approaches. For example, character education has been integrated into after school programs (Hill, Milliken, Goff, Clark, & Gagnon, 2015); sports (Power, 2014); discipline specific programming such as art (Hyungsook, 2014), social studies (Katilmis, Eksi, & Ozturk., 2011), cinema (Russell & Waters, 2014), and religious studies (Roso, 2013); and while building caring relationship between teachers and students (Sojourner, 2014). These approaches to character education are usually in the form of preplanned lessons or activities promoted by a particular published program. Empirical studies, however, do not yield data indicating effectiveness of these programs.

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), an agency of the Institute of Education Sciences, collects evidence on the efficacy of a variety of curricula, including character education programs. The last comprehensive evaluation of such programs occurred in 2007 when WWC examined 93 studies involving 41 programs. WWC found only 13 character education programs that evidence "positive effects to no discernible effects" in the three areas: behavior; knowledge, attitudes & values; and academic achievement. Of these 13 programs, there is only one program in each category that has "strong evidence of a positive effect with no overriding contrary evidence" (U.S. Department of Education, 2007, p. 2).

Then in 2010, the U. …

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