The American education system has always included value-based curriculum as part of lessons in either a formal or informal manner. Schools create rules that students are expected to follow typically revolving around respect, commitment, honesty, and teamwork. Figure 1 below lists many of the fundamental values taught by schools, families, cultures, and religions.
According to Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun (2015), studying values is important because students learn to think more critically about how their personal behavior and values impact their decisions and other people. Teaching values to children includes several considerations. How do you decide what are important values and do those values align with students’ cultures and home life? Why are certain values taught? How do you incorporate virtue lessons in classroom instruction? And perhaps the most important question is can values actually be taught?
Russell Kirk (1987) stated, “Can virtue be taught? Why, it can be learnt, though more through a kind of illative process than as a formal program of study…” I think Kirk’s statement is accurate because ideally, values would be learned through personal reflection and motivation. A formal program exposes students to what virtues are and what they mean, but the formality does not help students understand why people hold certain values and how values impact daily life. Parents, teachers, and other mentors can guide virtue lessons by having students think about why they believe in certain values and how those values influence their decisions. One strategy to teach children about values is through role playing. The basics of role playing involve providing students with a problem situation in which the outcomes are affected by an individual’s virtue and students act out the roles of people in the scenario. Role playing is an opportunity for students to model positive behaviors and interactions, work together to assess social issues, and practice a democratic way of solving issues (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, pgs. 261-262). This is also an effective kinesthetic activity since as children move around while acting out different roles, more neural networks are being developed in their brain so the learning is retained longer (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, p. 73).
Coordinating students to act out certain scenarios aligns more with teaching values instead of students learning values on their own, but I do not believe most children will learn the importance of values and how to think about them without some direction. A benefit of role playing is students experience how their actions and values impact other people and they spend time thinking about why someone might decide differently. This activity is interactive and involves higher thinking skills than a student reading about virtues or listening to a lecture. Teachers should not rely on one method to teach students about morals. Teachers should also consider modeling virtues, complimenting students when they practice a positive behavior, or initiating discussions about decisions made by historical figures or characters from stories. These activities provide ample opportunities for students to observe actions, think about outcomes, and decide how they want to represent themselves and their community.
Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., & Stone, Bj. (2012). Classroom Instruction that Works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.
Kirk, R. (1987). The wise men know what wicked things are written in the sky. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway.