Is character education important?

The Ofsted framework in 2019 outlined recommendations for schools about the importance of character development. Admittedly, they realise it is a very complex concept, but their guidance framework reduces it down to: intrinsic motivation, positive moral attributes; social confidence; and long-term commitments to the wider community. The evidence gathered by Ofsted, and agreed by many, is that the above characteristics are important for all our children to be able to adopt and fundamental to well-being. 

I would suggest that schools do an excellent job teaching children ‘character facets’ through a variety of activities, lessons, rewards and processes. Some of them are more successful than others: rewarding compassion and praising it loudly in weekly assemblies models its virtues. If you are like me then a lot of life is about trial and error. As a matter of fact, can we actually learn something without experiencing it? Correspondingly, how do we know that these characteristics have been internalised and adopted? 

I love this quote by Epictetus: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Surely, this is the litmus test for character education. Coupled with rewards, we can see how children react and if they are able to consider what is really important.

At Meta Prep, one of our strategies that we give children is to consider learning behaviours. Our 11+ Big Picture shows the ideal behaviours for the best learning possible. These behaviours are the most important basic elements needed to create resilient, life-long learners with the skills to tackle any problem. The EEF’s guidance report about metacognition (2018) highlights the importance of ‘self-regulation’. Pupils need to be self-aware as they think and learn. Our job is to help them develop the capacity to self-monitor, self-modify and self-reflect as they plan, monitor and evaluate their learning and how they react to joys and difficulties.

Moreover, Bena Costa & Art Kallick’s research into Intelligent Learning Behaviours led them to categorise 16 Habits of Mind that were seen in expert problem solvers and highly successful people. Teaching children explicitly that there are 16 habits of mind and getting them to consider which ones would be a useful tool to use for that lesson, piece of homework, project or challenge gets them thinking! 

Just like the multiple layers of rock surrounding a diamond help to shape it into the most precious stone, our Intelligent Learning Behaviours, supported by research, is another key influencer towards shaping your child ready for success. In the same fashion, we are helping children shape and monitor their actions.

Y chart to help understand a Habit of Mind

Of course, a good starting point is to suggest employing the habit of persistence or thinking interdependently to solve a particular problem. However, for some children the word persistence or interdependence are just words and mean nothing. As a matter of fact, our job as the cognitive coach is to model this and share examples with pupils. Using a graphic organiser, like the Y-chart, helps them reflect on what that behaviour might look, sound or feel like. We are giving time and space for deeper thinking about a particular habit. Perhaps a child is already persistent and just hasn’t realised that they are exhibiting the traits. We want to help encourage them to be conscious of their habits and to develop their strategies.

Sharing a rubric (a set of expectations) for one of the HoM helps unpick that habit and help extend capacity and understanding. These rubrics target intelligent behaviours and can be created by the class as a whole or by an individual teacher or pupil. The important aspect is to focus on the habit of mind in question and to use the key skills and language attributed to that habit of mind in the rubric. Part of the evaluation process should prompt follow up with a strategy plan for ‘next time’ or ‘moving forward.’

Being a meta-learner is more than thinking about your thinking, it is understanding that you have a range of tools and strategies to rely on when the going gets tough. It teaches a child that learning is always about moving from the novice towards expertise. Surely, that in itself builds intrinsic motivation?

At Meta Prep, our spring term Year 4 metacognitive course focuses on metacognitive skills and imbeds those neural pathways with the pupil at the centre of everything we do. In Year 5, these metacognitive skills can be easily called upon to aid when learning the key maths, English and reasoning skills needed for success in the 11+ exams. When these metacognitive skills are continually practised, the pathways become neural highways and information easy to access. It sets you up for a lifetime of deep learning.