How did George Washington’s leadership at Valley Forge, and his later insistence that he serve only two terms as president, reflect his virtuous character? What did Ida B. Wells’s fight against Jim Crow laws and lynching say about an individual’s moral duty in America? Why did Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo decide to break the law to help the indigenous people in his Mexican village, and what did his role as a revolutionary demonstrate about his values? Such stories of historical leaders and reformers are central to the Core Knowledge History and Geography (CKHG) program, and they can serve as a rich resource for the study of character.

CKHG’s Grade K−6 world and American history curriculum—including twenty-four brand-new K−2 units—provides elementary teachers with innumerable examples of figures in history who displayed virtuous character, as well as some history makers whose actions proved harmful. These stories can be used to think about and discuss issues of character faced by people throughout history.

The Core Knowledge Foundation is pleased to call to your attention two resources that teachers may find useful in integrating Core Knowledge content with classroom discussions about important values.

The Core Knowledge Foundation Welcomes the Launch of The Character Formation Project

The Civic Character Formation Project (CCFP) draws on CKHG content to help students develop their own sense of character. The Character Formation Project is a nonprofit that strives to prepare students to lead fulfilling and virtuous lives. Like Core Knowledge, CCFP uses outside subject matter experts to review their material. Designed to align with CKHG, CCFP’s vividly written accounts effectively place the student at moments of moral decision making, allowing for reflection, discussion and the examination of virtue. CCFP programming focuses on seven virtues that have been exhibited throughout time by countless individuals who have worked to advance human freedom. The seven virtues are justice, respect, responsibility, integrity, self-sacrifice, diligence, and courage.

CCFP has created a series of lessons offered for free download on the Character Formation Project website. An accompanying student component, My Character Formation Journal is available for purchase on the CFP website.

Congratulations to Core Virtues on Twenty-Three Years

Twenty-three years ago, Mary Beth Klee designed Core Virtues, a nonsectarian approach to character education for students in Grades K−6. Klee founded Crossroads Academy, an independent day school in New Hampshire, with the twin goals of academic and moral excellence. To accomplish these goals, she oversaw the implementation of the Core Knowledge Sequence at her school, and then created the Core Virtues program. Teachers who follow the program read quality children’s literature “to provide inspirational or insightful examples of virtue in action.” Each month teachers highlight a key intellectual, moral, or civic virtue, such as respect, responsibility, diligence, honesty, generosity, or perseverance. They read quality children’s literature at a “Morning Gathering” to provide inspirational or insightful examples of virtue in action. The reading of these well-written and often beautifully illustrated stories helps children to fall in love with the good, and to cultivate a vocabulary of virtue.

Of particular interest to Core Knowledge Schools is a feature entitled Core Knowledge Connections that highlights the elements in the Core Knowledge Sequence that align to the Core Virtues program. Also don’t miss the September blog post by Mary Beth Klee, “Eyes on the Prize:  Knowledge and Virtue.”

14 comments on “Teaching Values and Character Education Using Core Knowledge”

  1. 1
    Pietro Meli on September 18, 2019

    Thank you for helping to shape the character of our learners! I work in Oxon Hill Middle School and we talk a lot to our students about the importance of character development in order to work with others and to create positive changes in our local community and also in the world. I was particularly interested in the connection between character development and academic achievement. The Carnegie Foundation also examined the importance of teachers having a say in setting standards for behaviors as an essential area for teacher involvement and define it as involvement that is essential to the health of the school (Ackerman and Mackenzie, 2007). I wonder if anyone could share what materials were replaced by the introduction of the Core Virtues Program and if there was any push back from parents. Thank you for any insight.

    Ackerman, R. & Mackenzie, S. (2007). Uncovering teacher leadership: Essays and voices from the field. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

    1. 2
      Des on September 22, 2019

      Pietro, you are correct. This movement can positively impact the world if we invest in this kind of character building. Our team at school decided to use this concept to build the moral of the students and encourage them that being positive is a good thing.

  2. 3
    Stephanie Lee on September 19, 2019

    Wow! This is my first time reading about Core Knowledge and the character formation project. This is a great way to delve into history and character virtues. I am interested in learning more and how I can implement this in my classroom. I have required curriculum to follow, but I am intrigued how this would work with my second graders. My students need to know how leaders and people of great significance used moral and virtues to lead their lives.

    1. 4
      Pietro Meli on September 22, 2019

      Hi Stephanie, I was also impressed by this program’s emphasis on values and ethics. I believe this program could be used in some type of extra-curricular or supplemental material. After all, academic and moral excellence in our learners, and in our teachers, benefits not just the school but the entire community surrounding the school.

  3. 5
    Des on September 22, 2019

    Core Knowledge and the Character-building project have been interests of mine for a few years now. I was trained in the Virtues Project by Dara Schain Feldman in the Virgin Islands several years ago. It was an awesome way to start the day. Students were engaged and encouraged to use a tactful word in their speaking. The students were taught to value themselves and others. I truly believe this is a great way to promote positivity in the classroom. Hopefully, this method will impact the world someday.

  4. 6
    C. Corbett on October 14, 2019

    When I taught in Atlanta Public Schools, Core Knowledge was being introduced. The district was experimenting with the idea of core knowledge tasks. Select schools were given tasks to help them decide on the district’s approach to the concept. Since then, the district has gone through a complete structural overhaul. It would be interesting to know where they are with Core Knowledge now.

  5. 7
    Amber King on November 13, 2019

    Wonderful! I did not know such a lesson with Core Knowledge existed. I teach at a middle school in South Texas, and our counselor often does character lessons. I believe this would be effective if done in the classroom, students being held accountable for their choices is a wonderful way to promote kindness and responsibility. My school has a required intervention class. This would be a perfect time to implement a character formation project.

  6. 8
    Heather on November 14, 2019

    I appreciate the wealth of knowledge and the sharing of ideas on this blog. I really enjoyed reading about the importance of teaching values and good character traits in the classroom. Once I saw the heading of this post, I was intrigued to learn more.

    This is the first time I have heard of the Core Virtues program. This program seems to be planned out in an organized and thoughtful manner. The story-based approach is a great way to introduce students to a virtue and for them to see how virtue can be applied in a story with characters. Children’s literature is an effective resource that helps young children to learn many life lessons. Stories have taught me valuable information like how to tie my shoes, how to use my manners, and how to resolve conflicts with my friends.

    I think more teachers should be made aware of this program and the benefits it would bring to their classrooms and, more importantly, to the lives of their students. Having an assigned virtue each month with a set of literature to teach about the virtue makes this curriculum realistic and manageable to implement in a classroom. As a sixth-grade English teacher, there are many lessons and writing assignments that I could pair with the assigned readings to encourage character development and a values-based experience for my students. Has this program been implemented in grades 7-12? I am curious if there was a specific reason that this program is directed towards students in kindergarten to sixth-grade. I will continue to research this program and brainstorm ideas on how I could teach about values and good character in my classroom.

    Thank you for sharing!

  7. 9
    Write a writing on December 24, 2019

    The story-based approach is a great way to introduce students to virtue and for them to see how virtue can be applied in a story with characters. This method will surely impact the world someday.

  8. 10
    Lindsey Kuntz on January 22, 2020

    I really like the idea of this curriculum – it sounds like it would be engaging for my 4th-grade students since they would have background knowledge of some of the historical figures. Virtues and leadership qualities can be abstract, difficult concepts for younger students to grasp, so I think to provide real-life examples of how people they have learned about represented those qualities would be beneficial for students.

    I am wondering if these textbooks include a variety of multicultural figures and/or more recent figures? It’s important for students to see positive role models from all over the world, and I know my students would love learning about people that are still alive or that are impacting the world now.

  9. 11
    Trisha A Boyd on January 26, 2020

    Learning about leadership qualities through historic figures is a great idea. This curriculum sounds really engaging and resourceful for scholars to grasp the content in a meaningful and different way.

  10. 12
    Kristen Stuckenberg on March 17, 2020

    I really enjoyed reading about this curriculum and the connection to the country’s history, as well as the investment in developing leadership characteristics for the students engaged with it. My school began using a social-emotional curriculum this fall and it has made an impact in just a few short months. I implement lessons that help develop qualities of sensitivity and understanding of other’s feelings. The counselor has delivered a few lessons to kindergarten and first grade, to lay the foundation for the students to hear these ideas for the next five years. It is helping the students talk to each other with listening ears and not judgments. These types of curricula that help develop the whole student are really important for the 21st-century learner.

  11. 13
    A Krall on July 15, 2020

    Creating opportunities for students to engage authentically with real-world examples is a great way to help them build their character. Many times we talk about character in very abstract ways, which can be hard for students to grasp, particularly younger students. Schools are responsible for growing students academically and socially. According to Barth (2007), schools receive a lot of scrutiny and asking teachers to take on various leadership roles can help to fill some of the gaps and create change. Furthermore, utilizing a curriculum that develops character is a great way to help students develop their leadership skills. Studying relevant and diverse leaders allows students to see how different people lead and grow. Focusing on teaching students morals can benefit the school culture and climate. Restorative justice practices have shown to be more beneficial than punishments (Payne & Welch, 2007). Utilizing a curriculum that integrates lessons on character development can help students continue to develop their character and give all members a common talking point. For example, if students studied leaders such as Michelle Obama and were making bad choices, the teacher could use this lesson as a way to address the choices that the student was making. Emphasis on developing the whole child allows educators to teach students the value of restorative practices. Payne and Welch (2007) state that the use of such practices leads to a decrease in negative behaviors. The pairing of character development and restorative justice is an excellent example of a well-rounded curriculum. One critique would be to ensure that the leaders in the book are inclusive and representative. There are many great leaders without problematic pasts that students could study to help them on their journey of character development.

    Barth, Roland S (2007). The teacher leader. In R.H. Acherkman and S.V. Mackenzie (Ed.), Uncovering teacher leadership: Essays and voices from the field (pp. 9-36). Corwin Press.

    Payne, A. A., & Welch, K. (2018). The effect of school conditions on the use of restorative justice in schools. Youth violence and juvenile justice, 16(2), 224-240.

  12. 14
    L. Mebane on January 27, 2021

    We almost always tell our students and children to lead by example. What better way than to do this following along with historical figures. Students benefit greatly from character education. Focusing on the progress of character education and highlighting the virtues are helping to shape responsible, caring, and productive adult members of society. It is important to note that these infusions of character education into our curriculums are not just making an impact on our individual students, but our entire classrooms, school community, and society. These small contributions inevitably create a platform for real and positive social change. These changes start with our young students. When they establish the norm, our society becomes a better place with adults who lead by example along with students who are also evolving leaders with integrity and high expectations for themselves and their peers. These resources lend themselves to be cross curricular which turn up the rigor while teaching life skills. Students can focus on leaders of the past and modern times while designing plans on how to be good citizens themselves. Thank you for these resources!

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