What if… we shifted from teaching content to teaching character?


downloadWhat if…in addition to teaching content and assessing standards, teachers also intentionally planned ways to foster students’ thinking skills and dispositions?

Schools need to develop a new definition of what it means to be “smart” – one that promotes higher levels of thinking and emotional engagement. This new intelligence should be determined not by how much you know, but by the quality of your thinking, listening, creating, collaborating, and learning. Let’s replace quantity with quality; surface learning with deeper learning.

We know that students will never remember all the content that we teach. What they will remember and be able to apply in life are dispositions and habits of mind that will enable them to be successful.  Just as students have areas of strength in content areas, they also possess unique strengths of character, such as curiosity, persistence, flexibility, and/or creativity. What if we could help students build upon these strengths, and learn how to use them thoughtfully and meaningfully? Instead of asking, “How smart am I?” students should ask  “How am I smart?”

What are some ways to teach character?

In Reading, discuss the dispositions of characters, and reflect on how those dispositions impact the character and the choices they make.

In social studies, research historical figures such as Madame Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rosa Parks, and analyze how their achievements were connected to their character. 

In science or STEM, analyze scenes from films; for example, Apollo 13 is the epitome of creative problem solving. Finding Nemo is an example of persistence and grit.

In math, highlight the mathematical practices and thinking skills that will be needed to work through a particular problem.

Just as with content, provide specific feedback and praise to students as they develop thinking dispositions and character. Celebrate their successes and continue to build upon their strengths.


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