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Linking Literacy and Moral Education in the Primary Classroom
The Reading Teacher, 2001, 55(2), p. 125-129

by Vickie E. Lake, Ph. D., Florida State University

How can teachers create discussions with children through their literacy curriculum that will develop children’s understandings of moral elements--responsibility, friendship, fairness, empathy, or hope? In what ways can teachers combine language and literacy standards such as listening for meaning in discussions and conversations; speaking easily, conveying ideas in discussions and conversations; using language for a variety of purposes; understanding and interpreting a story or other texts; and composing stories with a beginning sense of sequence, with the content of moral education? This article explores the classroom and school environments as springboards for morality decisions that can be used to strengthen classroom literacy instruction.

Schools provide moral environments whether or not they offer specific moral education programs. Moral environments are evident in classroom rules, treatment of students, teacher attitudes, curricular programs, and sports activities (Benninga, 1988). Although children experience moral environments, actual prosocial skills or moral skills need to be explicitly taught and modeled by caring adults. Teachers can be more conscious of modeling moral behaviors for their children by deciding what prosocial skills or moral behaviors they want to stress for their classroom. Some examples of moral behaviors primary teachers might choose are compassion, friendship, perseverance, acceptance, cooperation, dependability, and empathy.

The road to being literate and moral can be viewed as parallel journeys. Just as reading and writing takes place slowly and develops over a period of time, moral development also takes place slowly and develops over time through interactions and experiences gained by socializing with others.

  • Teachers’ Storytelling –– Educators have a wealth of personal experiences to draw from that can be used as stories for their children. Using personal experiences and/or stories about the children in their class, in lieu of reading a book to children, is an excellent avenue for educators to pursue both to enhance their literacy instruction and to incorporate specific prosocial skills or moral education into their curriculum.

  • Children’s Storytelling –– Storytelling, the art of narrating a tale from memory rather than reading it, is an important teaching tool for literacy and can be extremely powerful in moral education as well. The storyteller in this strategy is the child.

  • Children Responding to Stories Read Aloud –– It is difficult to find a children’s book that does not have a character performing or behaving in a moral or immoral way. Teachers often use literature as a starting point for discussing rules and acceptable classroom behaviors, but this is just the beginning. Educators need to move discussions towards children’s personal experiences, then return the discussion back to classroom experiences.

  • Teachers Restructuring Classroom Dialogue –– Restructuring teacher-student and student-student interactions may also be a place to start. This restructuring is not meant to add something else to the teachers' already full school days, but could be accomplished by changing the way teachers structure the dialogue that already takes place in their classrooms.

Including moral elements and behaviors into the classroom curriculum expands the domain of language and literacy. Being honest or having integrity does not happen by chance, nor do reading, writing, listening, and speaking; all need to be explicitly taught and reinforced.

© The Literacy and Social Responsibility SIG of the International Reading Association (IRA L-SR SIG)
Kaye West, Ph.D., Webmanager
Date Modified: November 28, 2006 - Feedback

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