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What's in the Story?

Group of students

Group of students

Teaching ethical thinking in literature classes

Yael Kidron

According to an ancient tale, the idea of the relationship between ratios and musical harmony came to the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (about 580–500 BC) in a blacksmith’s forge. Pythagoras noticed that, although the independent sound of each clanging hammer was not pleasing, the combined sound of hammers of different weights was very musical.

In a world divided by tribalism and intolerance, such stories can exemplify the benefits of striving for social justice and collaboration.

Our students can find more elaborate and current stories in young adult books, which offer a place for inquiry. Multi-cultural and historical fiction can transport readers to other places and times and provide a rare insight into the thoughts and feelings of others, especially those from diverse backgrounds.  

Teachers who make a wide variety of books available to their students can gain a window into their interests, and can get to know their students better simply by reading or listening to their responses to texts. Of course, this is assuming that students are actively generating responses. Readers who use strategies such as writing or talking about their reactions to the text, and making sense of the story by adding to or clarifying the content gain more from the reading experience. [1]

This is the philosophy behind the Character-Based Literacy (CBL) program which provides lesson plans tailored to multicultural, historical, and realistic fiction. The CBL daily sequence of instruction uses the PRREE framework (Prepare, Read, Respond, Explore, and Extend). The “Prepare” step is based on the assumption that a lack of knowledge about relevant geographic, cultural, economic, and historical contextual factors may be a barrier to comprehension and reflection. Therefore, it invites students to learn about or research a key fact mentioned in their daily reading selection. In the “Read” step, students review the plot timeline from the beginning of the story and work individually or in groups to read and reflect on the thoughts and feelings the story has invoked. During the “Respond” step, students identify key aspects of the plot using both words and visuals. While in the “Explore” step, students use higher order thinking to analyze the text, and in the “Extend” step, they write a short  response to a writing prompt. The CBL lesson plans are organized within virtue themes such as responsibility, courage, and justice. Students may examine their own choices or societal issues as they advance in their reading. For more details about the principles underlying the CBL program, watch the video, below.

[1] Barnes, J. L. (2018). Imaginary engagement, real-world effects: Fiction, emotion, and social cognition. Review of General Psychology, 22(2), 125–134.

Mar 7, 2019

What is Character Development?

In this overview, you will learn about promoting students' social-emotional, cognitive, and behavior skills tied to moral and responsible behavior.