Values can be hard to learn, and even harder to teach. Concepts like personal responsibility and kindness might seem rather ordinary to us (adults), but we forget how intangible they may be to young children learning about them for the first time. Both parents and teachers frequently work together to ingrain these lessons in to their children and students, but finding a way to teach these values requires a lot of work and a little creativity.
"Character Strength Cards", initiated by Pudong Elementary School teachers Mrs. Deb Whitney (Grade 2) and Mrs. Christal Nicolai (Grade 1), were created to positively teach elementary students to be proactively and independently responsible. The goal of the card is to reward certain behavior, such as kindness, with certain privileges.
From the looks of it, it's just a name badge that students can pin on their shirt. But to the students it means a lot more. Mrs. Whitney said that "to the students it's a really big deal to be allowed to walk by themselves to the lunchroom or to the bus. These are some of the privileges that can be earned. They are all very motivated to get a card." Mrs. Whitney recalls how her students have pinned their card proudly on their shirts yelling, "I have my card! I have my card!"
"We teach our students that in real life your privileges are not always unconditional—often we have to earn them. So the students take real pride in earning their own privileges," said Mrs. Whitney. And, just like in real life, they can lose privileges as well. One day, one of her students was running down the hallway and making a lot of noise, despite them knowing that that was not what they should have been doing. So Mrs. Whitney had to take their card and they lost their special privileges until they where able to earn it back.
This week we sat down with the students to find out, in their own words, what Character Strength Cards really mean to them. Alex likes that it is "how you prove that you have been good. And you can earn different privileges." Sophie, his classmate, says it helps remind her to make wise choices, "When somebody talks while the teacher is still talking, you tell them 'wait, wait, let's talk later'." Raymon, another 2nd grade student, understands the difficulties involved with keeping his card by always choosing to remember and follow the rules, but "when you lose it, you really want it back!"
But, as Mrs. Whitney reminds her students, you can earn your card back the same day you lose it. Turning to the students she agrees with them that everyone will have a few 'whoopsies' moments throughout the week when they don't make the right choices and follow every rule. She even lets them in on a little secret: some days, even grownups make bad choices and if they had their own Character Strength Cards they would have them taken away.
Rico, also in 2nd grade, grabs a list that is stuck to the whiteboard with magnets and starts reading all the different privileges that they can earn. Besides the right of walking to the bus and lunchroom independently (which is a big deal to a 2nd grader as it shows everyone else at school that they are no longer a "little kid"), they can also earn the rights of going to the DREAMS Lab (the maker space in the Elementary School) or choose to go to the library during recess. All students are nodding in agreement that those are very important privileges to them and they all want to earn them.
At Shanghai American School we believe that elementary school children benefit when teachers focus on each child holistically. Children prosper with warm and sensitive teaching; integrated learning; ongoing, authentic assessment; a blend of child-guided and teacher-guided learning experiences; and the strong support and involvement of their families. Elementary school students look for ways to apply their enhanced reasoning, problem solving, and other cognitive skills that will help them in their studies, and in life. Our teachers aim to provide opportunities for all of our students to be involved in authentic learning and provide experiences that allow all students to be excited by learning and have a successful future—in third grade, and beyond.