Ethics: A Great Teaching Connector for All Learners
The study of ethics requires asking "What is right?" and "What is good?" In one form or another, most children ask these questions of themselves and their surroundings on a regular basis. As they mature into adolescents, justice issues—especially those that affect them—become a prominent part of this questioning process. For this reason, we consider ethics a great teaching opportunity.The study of ethics can
- Connect students to content areas.
- Stimulate emotions, making an otherwise dry subject come alive.
- Provide frameworks for practicing critical-thinking skills.
- Level the playing field...because any student, from any walk of life, has had to confront the questions, "What is right?" and "What is good?" on plenty of occasions.
Consider the following example. Jeff's math class is learning to plot data on a bar graph. Jeff has never liked math, and feels he rarely understands much about what's going on in it. But just then, his teacher asks, "How many of you have ever felt you were treated unfairly?" Suddenly, all hands in the room shoot up. Even Jeff can answer this question! And he finds the next question even more interesting: "How many of you have felt unfairly treated here at school?" Jeff can respond to that question also. Next, the teacher asks students to write three examples of being unfairly treated at school, and then he will collect all of their responses. Jeff participates here, too! Jeff's teacher has found a way for Jeff to fully engage in math class—through ethics!
Jeff's teacher is wise enough to say "Please put your name on your paper only so I can check in with you if I don't understand what you've written." Jeff's teacher checks with him, because writing is a big challenge for Jeff. But Jeff's feelings and experiences are no less clear and legitimate just because he can't write about them effectively. Jeff's teacher has validated both the feelings and the struggle as part of this assignment. Now Jeff is fully invested in the class.
The next day, the teacher has cards prepared with all sorts of ways that students have reported having been treated unfairly at school. Jeff is pleased to see that his ideas are among them! The class separates into small groups, sorting the data and helping the teacher to build a bar graph of the results. Jeff is absorbed in the experience from start to finish.
Particularly for students with learning differences, ethics can be an effective way to lead them to participate in classroom activities and keep them interested. The trick is to connect your topic to their strongly held beliefs and blossoming self development. A simple planning list should answer the following questions:
- What is my target theme or concept?
- What ethics concepts will hook my students?
- What prompts or activities will connect the ethics concept to the theme?
- How can I teach so that a variety of learners (kinesthetic, visual, verbal, auditory) will participate?
- How can I maximize strengths and support needs?
Jeff's teacher developed his planning list this way:
|What is my target theme or concept?||Making a bar graph from data|
|What ethics concept will hook my students?||Fairness|
What prompt will connect my target
|Instances of fairness|
|How can I honor my learners?||
Kinesthetic: card sorting and bar graph building
Visual: cards used to build bar graph
Auditory: questions, discussions
Verbal: questions, discussions
How can I maximize strengths
and support needs?
|Engage emotions and provide a safe way for all children to communicate ideas|
There are lots of other ways to integrate ethics in your class work. Visit the Ethical Literacy website for more ideas!
Paula Mirk has worked at whole child partner the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE) since 1996 and currently oversees the IGE education department's many initiatives, including the Ethical Literacy expanding community of schools. She collaborates with national and international organizations, and with school districts from large to small, to integrate ethical literacy into classroom practice, school culture, and systemic reform. Mirk has worked with schools and audiences around the world, particularly across Latin America, as she is also fluent in Spanish. Her articles have appeared in education journals in the United States and Canada. Connect with Mirk at firstname.lastname@example.org.