Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Explaining The 6 Stages of Moral Development in the Classroom

Ever since I read Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair Is On Fire, I've tried to incorporate Lawrence Kohlberg's six stages of Moral Development in my class and my teaching.
Or was it his other book, There Are No Shortcuts?

Here is Mr. Esquith's explanation of the six levels:

I've re-worded the levels slightly to make them more accessible to fourth graders. First, I changed the title, "Six Levels of Moral Development" to "Six Levels of Good Choices." My reasoning here is that the language is more natural, and I can refer to it easier. So I can say, "Why did you make that good choice?" As opposed to, "What stage of moral development were you at when you made that choice?" And can get to the same response, without as much confusion.
Below is a table of how Rafe defines his 6 levels, and how I choose to define them:
His WordingMy Wording
Level 1: I don't want to get into trouble Level 1: I don't want to be punished
Level 2: I want a rewardLevel 2: I want a reward
Level 3: I want to please somebodyLevel 3: I want to please somebody
I care about
Level 4: I follow the rulesLevel 4: I follow the rules
Level 5: I am considerate of other peopleLevel 5: Empathy: I think of others
before I think of myself. 
Level 6: I have a personal code of behavior
and I follow it
Level 6: Integrity: I think of others before
I think of myself, and I don't seek
recognition for doing so.

The big differences are the ways I choose to communicate levels 3, 5, and 6.

On rewording level 3:

When I first started teaching this several years ago, I found that students had a hard time explaining the difference between level 3 and 5. This was because the wording for each was so similar. Being considerate of someone and pleasing someone can be similar things. So I thought about what each means. To me Level 3 doesn't mean wanting to please random people. Therefore I made the distinction that this is really about making a good choice for the people that we care about.

On rewording level 5:

For me level 5 is all about empathy, and for me empathy is one of the main values that I want my students to understand and appreciate. It's critical. Here's one reason why:

On rewording level 6: 
This level is the hardest to understand and explain, so I need to use wording that is easier than the phrasing that Rafe Esquith chooses to use. A few years ago, I simply called this the "Stargirl" level or the "Groundhog Day" level. I'll get to why in my next post. But that title was simply not sufficient, so I changed the title to be an extension of my level 5 title, with the addition, "...and I don't seek recognition." Along with the examples I use to illustrate this in class (again, I'll talk about those in my next post), the wording makes this level more clear.  But this year I decided to add that one word, "Integrity" to the definition, because along with "empathy" this is an important concept to understand. It is also a concept that gets thrown around a lot in elementary. It's a value that our school as a whole trumpets, but it is often misinterpreted as a synonym with "honesty," and it's not. It's bigger. It's level 6, and that is why I changed it.


  1. This is great...thank you. One thought on level 6 - wording that we use for integrity in our school is: we do what we know is right, even when no one is looking - which gets to your idea of not seeking recognition...

  2. I like that definition a lot Danielle and have used it too. The main reason I have the wording, "and I don't seek recognition" is because it relates a little closer to who Stargirl is- which I use as a literary example.


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