What Are Our Students Thinking?

What motivates students to participate or respect what a teacher asks? What gets students to behave appropriately? At times it can be easy to have students participate or behave properly and other times more challenging. Sometimes rapport helps and other times a more disciplinary tone is appropriate.

I was reading Rafe Esquith’s, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, where in one chapter he talks about moral thinking. After refreshing my mind with Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, I thought how I might be more intentional when motivating students to act appropriately.

2218528649_6b21d27f8bHere is a short and brief summary of Kohlberg’s six stages.

  1. Level I thinking describes a student who behaves because they don’t want to get in trouble. Esquith explains that the problem with this is that we want students to behave and think not because of fear but because they think it’s right.
  2. Level II thinking describes the student who behaves because of an incentive, “If you do this or that, you’ll get this. One issue with this level of thinking is that it sends the message that proper behavior is rewarded rather than expected.
  3. Level III thinking states that someone will behave because they want to please someone. I think of times when students listen because of the rapport built between student and teacher. The opportunity here is to have kids act right not to please others, but to do it for themselves.
  4. Level IV thinking depicts the student behaving because they want to follow the rules and rules say what they should do. Esquith explains that when you act primarily to follow the rule, people fail to learn the lesson or principle of the rule.
  5. Level V is something we would all like our students to do; behaving accordingly because it’s what they would want someone else to do for them.
  6. Though it would be great to have our students think in this way, the last level is the best place I would like my students to behave from. Level VI is behaving accordingly because of a personal code of behavior one has developed.

Fear, incentive, rapport, rules, and consideration are all ways I can motivate students to participate or behave properly. I think of the negative mentality that pop culture has created in some young people today. Though Level VI may be the most difficult to attain, this level might be one of our best aids against the mentality that hinders our students from being their best self.

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