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Moral and Character Development . Gordon Vessels and William Huitt. Last revised: March 2005. Interest in Moral Character. 1600s to 1935—seen as central issues by parents, school, community 1935 to 1970—decline for a variety of complex reasons

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Moral and Character Development

Gordon Vessels and William Huitt

Last revised: March 2005

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Interest in Moral Character

  • 1600s to 1935—seen as central issues by parents, school, community

  • 1935 to 1970—decline for a variety of complex reasons

  • 1980s to present—renewed interest, often ranking ahead of academics

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Moral Character Defined

  • Evaluative orientation that distinguishes good and bad and prescribes good

  • Sense of obligation toward standards of a social collective

  • Sense of responsibility for acting out of concern for others

  • Concern for the rights of others

  • Commitment to honesty in interpersonal relationships

  • State of mind that causes negative emotional reactions to immoral acts.

* Damon, W. (1988). Moral child: Nurturing children’s natural moral growth. New York: Free Press.

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Components of Moral Character

  • Moral behavior (prosocial, sharing, donating to charity, telling the truth)

  • Moral values (believe in moral goods)

  • Moral emotion (guilt, empathy, compassion)

  • Moral reasoning (about right and wrong)

  • Moral identity (morality as an aspect self-image)

  • Moral personality (enduring tendency to act with honesty, altruism, responsibility

  • “Metamoral” characteristics meaning they make morality possible even though they are not inherently moral

Berkowitz, M. (2002). The science ofcharacter education. In W. Damon (Ed.), Bringing in a new era in character education (43-63). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute Press.

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Moral Identity










Moral Identity

Moral Identity




Model of Moral Character

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Theories of Moral Character Development

  • External/Social (behaviorists and sociologists): view morality as a product of external imposition in the form of consequences and/or the intentional transmission of social rules and norms;

  • Internal (nativists and sociobiologists): focus on genetic and maturational influences;

  • Interactional

    • Instinctual--psychoanalytic, psychosocial, and socio-analytic theories that view human nature as instinctual, undeveloped, and in need of control or socialization;

    • Maturational--cognitive- and affective-developmental theories and social-learning theories that view human nature as good;

  • Personality/Identity: includes theories that find virtue rooted in personality and personal identity.

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Impacting Moral Character

  • Attempt to impact both individual and context

  • Individual

    • Knowledge and reasoning

    • Empathy and values

    • Intentions, commitments and choices

    • Behavior

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Impacting Moral Character

  • Attempt to impact both individual and context

  • Context

    • Classroom, school, family, community

    • Caring, compassionate, empathetic environment

    • Strong, intimate relationships with others

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Impacting Moral Character

  • Any effort works best when implemented at the school level

  • General approaches

    • Character Quotes—thought of the day

    • Virtue, Value of the Week or Month

    • Lesson plans with embedded moral character issues

    • Modify lesson format to emphasize selected virtues, values, or attributes

    • Service learning

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Selecting Values, Virtues & Attributes

  • Have parents and teachers (and possibly students) complete survey

    • valuessurvey2.doc

  • Select 3 to 5 on which to focus

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Thought For The Day

Read a quotation and reflect on it in terms of

  • What does it mean (what is the main concept or principle)?

  • Why is this concept or principle important?

  • How would this concept or principle be implemented (how would it impact behavior)?

  • How will you know if you have been successful or unsuccessful in implementing the concept or principle?

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Thought For The Day

Sources of quotations





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Thought For The Day

  • The respect for the rights of others is peace.

    • Benito Juárez (President of Mexico)

  • You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

    • Abraham Lincoln (U. S. President)

  • A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.

    • Nelson Mandela (South African Prime Minister)

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Embedding Character In Academic Lessons

  • Georgia Learning Connections


  • Becoming A Brilliant Star

    • Character/chared_index.html

  • Character Education (Jerrie Cheek, KSU)

    • chared.htm

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Modify Lesson Plan Format

  • Bernstein’s Artful Learning


  • Active Learning Practices for Schools


  • 4MAT


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Service Learning

  • Process whereby students learn and develop academic and social skills as well as moral character through active participation in organized service experiences that actually meet community needs*

  • Learn and Serve provides resource to implement service learning projects


* Champion, F. (1999). Service learning. Educational Psychology Interactive.Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved May 2004, from

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Service Learning

Essential phases

  • Preparation

    • Assess community needs

    • Identify academic and character objectives

  • Action

    • Develop academic and character skills

    • Implement service learning program

  • Reflection

    • Done continuously throughout program both independently (thinking, writing) and in groups (discussing, presenting)

    • Students must be involved in assessment and evaluation

  • Demonstration/recognition

    • Share learning with others

    • Receive recognition from other students, teachers, parents and community

* Burns, L. (1998). Make sure it's service learning, not just community service. Education Digest, 64(2), 38-41.

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Service Learning

Definition of Community

  • In early childhood and early elementary, community may be classroom or family

  • In later elementary, community could additionally be school or neighborhood

  • In middle and high school, can expand notion of community to city, state, world

    Increased Responsibility

  • Moves from adult to student as child becomes a pre-youth and then a youth

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Principles of Effective Character Education*

  • Promote core ethical values as the basis of good character.

  • Define character comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and behavior.

  • Use a comprehensive, intentional, proactive, and effective approach to character development.

  • Create a caring school community.

  • Provide students opportunities for moral action.

* Lickona, T., Schaps, E., & Lewis, C. (2000). Eleven principles of effective character education. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership (CEP). Retrieved May 2004, from

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Principles of Effective Character Education*

  • Have meaningful and challenging academic curricula that respects learners, develops moral character, and helps them to succeed.

  • Develop students’ intrinsic motivation.

  • Have educational professionals who exemplify core values and maintain a moral community.

  • Foster shared moral leadership for educators and students.

  • Engage parents and community members as full partners.

  • Evaluate school character, student character, and adults as character educators.

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