This section includes a number of methodologies for teaching the Discovering the Real Me material. Each teacher has his or her own teaching style and may not feel comfortable using all of our suggestions. We provide this information in order to help you, the teacher, get started. You are encouraged to use and adapt these recommendations as you see fit.

The general approach recommended for teaching the course Discovering the Real Me is one that encourages the maximum degree of interaction between teacher and students. Because the focus of the course is on developing the students’ character, it is best if students become agents in their own learning and development. Encourage students to speak up, to express their ideas, emotions, and opinions and to participate actively. The desirable outcome is that students think and discuss in such a way that any moral conclusions they come to about right and wrong are their own.

Yet, in guiding the learning process, you remain the authority. To be effective, it is best to guide the students according to the clear moral framework laid out in the book. Otherwise, you run the risk of the class believing that all viewpoints are equally valid.

Group and Individual Projects

Both group and individual projects are useful in teaching character. It is suggested that you continually re-create the groups throughout the course (even on a daily or weekly basis) so that unhealthy cliques, which can be detrimental to class unity, do not form.

While group projects are a good way to teach students to work together, individual projects encourage personal creativity and interest in a topic. In assigning projects, it is well to take student interest into consideration. You may even want to allow the students to choose or design some projects themselves. This way they will be much more creative and enthusiastic about their work.

Over the past one or two decades, “cooperative learning” has become very popular in many Western school systems. It has formed its own society—the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education, and has its own practitioner-oriented magazine—Cooperative Learning. Hundreds of studies have been conducted that demonstrate the effectiveness and applicability of cooperative learning on all levels.

Cooperative learning is a team approach to learning, involving students working together to accomplish a shared task. Through this method, students can learn social as well as scholastic skills. It is an approach that is oriented toward the students’ interests and teaches them responsibility for the results of the learning process.

The traditional method of education emphasizes the subject content. In cooperative learning, the study process is primary. It says to the teacher: “Take what you would normally teach, teach it through cooperative learning for at least part of the day or period, and you’ll be teaching virtues and academics at the same time.” Cooperative learning can be utilized in teaching almost any kind of subject, whether it is ethics, literature, math, science, or sports.

Benefits
  • It teaches the value of cooperation. It teaches students that it’s a good thing to help each other. Studies show that the opportunity to be a contributing member of a benevolent peer group promotes caring about fellow group members, develops more altruistic attitudes, and encourages pro-social behavior.
  • It builds a sense of community in the classroom. Interaction helps students to get to know and understand each other better. One effect of this is to reduce interpersonal conflicts. Cooperative learning has been found to foster greater acceptance of classmates who are physically challenged or from different ethnic or racial backgrounds.
  • It tempers the negative aspects of competition that often pervade classrooms. Often, the spirit of destructive competition, rather than cooperation, dominates the school or classroom atmosphere.
  • It improves academic achievement, self-esteem, and attitude toward school. By encouraging student participation and interaction, cooperative learning has been shown to dramatically improve academic achievement, self-esteem, and a positive attitude toward school among all students, but especially for chronic underachievers.
  • It teaches life skills. Cooperative learning teaches students some of life’s most important skills, including learning to listen, taking the viewpoint of others, respecting others, patience, tolerance, communicating effectively, solving conflicts, and working together to achieve a common goal.

Types
  • Learning partners. This is the easiest and least threatening way to begin cooperative learning. It is a building block for other, more complex forms of cooperation.
  • Small group projects. Students work together in groups of four to six on a single project. The emphasis is on cooperative processes such as group problem-solving, creativity, and team research.
  • Whole-class projects. At times the entire class can work together on a single project. The project can be divided into several sub-projects. For example, divide the research into the life of a historical figure into different categories (childhood, adult life, contribution to culture, influence on others, etcetera), then combine reports.

Classroom expectations
It is important that the behavior expected of the students be made clear. Here are some suggestions that the teacher could post on the wall concerning classroom expectations:
  • Cooperate with each other
  • Do not speak when someone else is talking
  • Do not distract each other
  • Say what you think honestly but without putting others down
  • Do not leave others out
  • Support each other
  • Do not make sarcastic comments

Procedures
Place students in groups (groups will vary in size—four to seven is optimal).
Assign each member of the group a specific role. Examples:

  • Organizer: Organizes all the research information of the group in a presentable manner
  • Secretary: Takes notes for the group
  • Team captain: Makes sure that all the group members are fulfilling their responsibilities
  • Spokesperson: Presents the group’s work to the class and responds to any questions from the class
  • Noise keeper: Makes sure the volume level does not become excessive
  • Timer: Makes sure the group's assignment is completed on time and that the group is using its time wisely
Depending on the size of the group, the roles can be combined.

Clarify the task to be worked on and the time allotted for its completion.
Review rules (should be posted on the wall in such a way that they are visible and readable). For example:
  • Get into your group quickly and quietly.
  • Bring necessary materials with you.
  • Stay in your group unless asked to do otherwise.
  • Wait to begin until you know your role and the roles of others in your group and have received all instructions.
  • Speak quietly.
  • Listen to your partner or teammates.
  • Address your partner or teammates by name.
  • Raise your hand if you have a question for the teacher.

Give each group feedback concerning their work and accomplishment, including any signs of improvement.

Group Discussions

As you probably have experienced, the use of a circle formation has proven effective in helping students to open up and share their ideas.

Set a non-relativistic context for discussion
Adolescents may adopt the attitude that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, asking, “Who’s to say what’s right?” This may lead them to adopt a relativistic attitude toward morality. Group discussion provides students with the opportunity to affirm students’ right to their own viewpoints while challenging them to consider the existence of a clear sense of ethics and morality that applies to everyone. Challenging students’ relativistic thinking requires teaching them the following general criteria that apply to any moral issue:
  • Does a given action respect the rights of those it affects?
  • Would I want to be treated in such a way? (test of reversibility)
  • What if everyone acted that way? (test of universality)
  • Does the action bring objective benefit to individuals and society?

Challenge students' thinking, concepts, and assumptions.
As you know, you can challenge students’ thinking through the questions you ask. Even young children can be helped to grasp objective ethical criteria if the teacher’s questions are formulated well. You might want to consider, “What questions will I pose if students take such-and-such a position?” For example, if the teacher is discussing with the class whether it is unethical to steal or shoplift, here are some questions he or she could formulate prior to the actual discussion:

• Imagine that you were the owner of a shop. How would you feel if someone stole from you?
• How does stealing affect people who don't steal?
• Is stealing wrong for someone who has enough money to buy what he or she wants and not wrong for someone who does not have enough money? If so, does that mean that stealing is only wrong depending on the person’s situation?
• What would happen if every person in society stole whatever he or she wanted?
• If you think stealing is all right when you don't like the owner of a shop or if you think the shop is too expensive, does that mean that people have the individual right to decide when it is okay to steal?
• When you do things such as stealing, do you feel corrupt inside?
• What problems does stealing create for a society?

Some of these questions could be raised in an initial discussion; others could be made as part of a writing assignment; still others could be posed as part of a subsequent discussion of the issue.

Require sincerity and careful thinking.
There is nothing more frustrating for a teacher than when students do not treat an issue seriously. Discussing moral issues may challenge some students’ own personal behavior, and they may rebel because of this. It would be best if you make it clear before any discussion that students are expected to keep a serious attitude.

Also, you might want to reflect on what format for moral reflection and discussion best helps students to think carefully and critically. There is a big difference, for example, between a loose, open-ended approach that simply invites students to voice their opinions and an approach that requires them to engage in research and/or systematic ethical analysis before taking up a position. To encourage continuing thought, you might also give students some thought-provoking reading on the topic and ask them to write an essay in response.

Ways to encourage moral discussion
Relate to the existing curriculum.
  • Use examples from literature to teach virtues: e.g., what moral choices do the characters in a particular story have? How would the story change if they made one choice over another?
  • Use examples from history or social studies to ask moral questions: e.g., what have been the effects of prejudice and discrimination in history?
  • Ask students to ponder how scientific fraud—scientists faking their data—undermines people's life and health?

Discuss hypothetical moral dilemmas as a way of diagnosing and developing students’ moral reasoning.
Draw out dilemmas that students themselves may be facing.
  • Design decision-making activities that encourage conscientious reflection.
  • Use role-playing to help students take and understand a point of view different from their own.
  • Help students develop moral self-knowledge through personal ethics journals and character improvement activities.

Role Playing

During role-playing, students assume the roles of various characters and act out a brief episode resembling real life that involves a problem. Those assuming a role use their own words, attitude, thoughts, and feelings in the role-play. The role-playing process involves four basic steps:
  • A specific problem is identified. It could be, for example, a conflict between a student and his/her parents, or between two students.
  • After the problem is described, roles must be established and assigned to various students. We recommend that the teacher seek out volunteers to play the roles.
  • The actual role-playing takes place and should be brief. The same situation may be repeated several times with different students in order to demonstrate that there are often several solutions to a single problem.
  • A debriefing and discussion follow, focusing on the behavior itself or the actions taken rather than on the student who played the role, emphasizing how he or she addressed or solved the problem that was the focus of the role play. If the students did not solve the problem effectively, the class can suggest alternative approaches.

Role-playing allows the student, in a safe context, to understand and learn ways of coping with various types of difficult situations. It encourages seeing situations from different points of view and applying innovative solutions.
This technique demonstrates to students that very often conflicts are the result of misunderstandings between different parties. It shows the importance of listening carefully, of controlling one’s emotions, and of recognizing prejudices and biases that one might have. Experiencing what it is like to be in another person’s shoes can help to foster greater empathy and mutual understanding. Role-playing has the effect of muting ridicule and put-downs, which are so often a part of the school environment.

Journal Writing

In addition to the spaces provided for written reflections and responses in the students’ textbooks, you may want to have students keep journals in which they can explore the topics introduced more thoroughly. Journal writing (and drawing) is a tool for encouraging the student’s personal growth. The exercises at the end of many of the chapters in the student textbook are designed to take students to places inside themselves that they may have rarely visited. The exercises can help them to:
  • express their feelings and thoughts
  • sort out the seemingly random experiences in their lives
  • make more conscious choices and decisions
  • define and implement desired changes
  • get a clearer picture of their creative potential and how to use it
  • change negative thought and behavior patterns
  • discover new and different parts of themselves and learn how these parts can relate to each other harmoniously
  • investigate their life purpose and find deeper meaning in their lives
  • envision a better future and discover what their particular contribution to that future might be

The journal is a place where they can let their inner selves come out. The pages become a mirror for seeing themselves more clearly. Starting with self-communication in private, they then can develop their ability to communicate with others. Being clear with themselves opens the way for being clearer with others.

Clarify to students that, as with life, the more they put into their journal, the more they will get out of it. It is good to encourage them not to restrict themselves to the assigned exercises but to feel free to explore and experiment on their own.

Some students may be hesitant because they think they have no talent for writing or drawing. It is good to emphasize that no special talent or training is needed to do these exercises. The goal is not to make art or literature but to explore their inner world. They are not drawing or writing to please anyone else or to get anyone’s approval. Their journal is by them and for them. Assure them that while writing assignments will be checked by the teacher to make sure they have been done, sharing the contents of writing assignments will be voluntary.

To help students feel more comfortable and confident with journal writing, you may want to do a sample journal exercise together with them at the beginning of the course.

Service-Learning


This is a concept with a long history in educational theory, but which has been given new impetus in recent times in reaction to the excessive emphasis on cognitive learning in the 20th century. Most theories of education, even in character education, have stressed the development of a person’s reasoning faculties and intellect. We, too, acknowledge the importance of learning to think logically, rationally, analytically, and critically. However, as we have already stated, the development of one’s heart and conscience is more important in order to deeply internalize moral and ethical values. This requires the active engagement of the student in relationships with other people and the surrounding environment, in which both the mind and body can be involved.

We can understand the value of experiential learning if we consider the way a person learns to drive a car. One aspect, of course, involves studying and memorizing a driver’s manual. However, this by itself is not sufficient to qualify one to receive a driver’s license. What is ultimately necessary is real driving experience. Only through actual experience behind the wheel of a car does a person come to really comprehend the contents of the manual.

As Kathy Winings states in her book Building Character through Service Learning: “When the ‘experience’ outside the classroom was structured meaningfully, and carefully integrated with the classroom, it could become an excellent teaching tool. Learning involves more than absorbing data and information. For profound learning to take place, the student needs to not only understand the academic aspects of the question, but also to see how this knowledge is relevant to his/her life.”

Experiential learning seeks to integrate the cognitive with the active and thus lend greater meaning to both. For character education to be effective, virtues need to come out of the realm of the abstract and enter the realm of practice. Through experiencing virtues in action, the student naturally absorbs them into his or her character. Educator David Kolb states that constructive experiential learning requires four basic steps: 1) the experience itself; 2) reflection on the experience; 3) synthesis and abstract conceptualization; and 4) testing the learned concepts in other situations.

What kind of experiences are we talking about? The best are those that are structured to serve others. In the United States, such programs have come to be known as “service learning” and can take any number of forms, such as:
  • Big brother/big sister programs
  • Tutoring younger children
  • Visiting or working in a nursing home, hospital, homeless shelter, or orphanage
  • Doing jobs for elderly people living alone
  • Providing meals for homebound senior citizens
  • Food or clothing drive
  • Cleanup activity: park, streets, graffiti
  • Planting trees, flowers, vegetable garden
  • Painting murals to beautify the neighborhood
  • Letter-writing or petition campaign on some public issue
  • Serving a religious, civic, or service organization
  • Fundraising for a worthy cause: playground equipment, computers for the school, etc.

Such activities afford students the opportunity to step beyond the boundaries of their previous experience. They experience the joy of living for the sake of others.
The reflection step is important to the student internalizing the experience. This helps to keep service from becoming simply a passing phenomenon. To stimulate reflection, you may want to encourage students to ask themselves the following questions:
  • How did I feel before the activity compared to how I feel now?
  • How did it help me to become a better person?
  • What did I learn from the experience?
  • What obstacles did I have to overcome?
  • How did the activity benefit others?
  • How do I feel about helping others now?

Overcoming obstacles, both internally and externally, in one’s heart, mind, and body, has been shown to be essential to achieving lasting personal growth. The student also needs to experience the substantial beneficial effect of his or her action on the recipient of the service. This gives a profound stimulus to offer oneself for other altruistic activities in the future.

Through reflection, the student can begin to comprehend the internal value of the experience and synthesize this with previous experiences that have shaped his or her attitudes and character. New conceptualizations of living can take form in the student’s mind and heart, which then can be tested in other areas of life. If the experience of planting trees and flowers in a neighborhood park has sensitized the student to the value of creating a beautiful environment, he or she may be stimulated to plant flowers near home or to take better care of his or her own room or area. By experiencing the effect of caring for or feeding the elderly, the student can be naturally stimulated to show greater care and concern for those in need.

Through experiential programs such as service learning, students will be encouraged and challenged to adopt a lifestyle at variance with the self-centered and consumer-oriented one advocated by much of modern culture. Hopefully, the experiences gained through such programs will stimulate the natural goodness residing within each person and become precious memories that will nourish the development of his or her overall character.


See also: A Balanced Education

Training Exercise

Look at the lesson plan from Book 4: "The Frog Prince." Have one person read the story out loud and other people act out the various roles in the story.
Do the various exercises in the lesson plan as an example of what the students will experience in class.

Comments

Share your experiences by clicking on the "Discussion" box at the top of this page and then clicking on "+ New Post." Your comments will appear below.
Subject Author Replies Views Last Message
No Comments