At which of Kohlberg’s levels of moral development are the students in your class functioning? Cite specific evidence and explain your reasoning for selecting these levels. What did the teacher do, or what might be done, to help the students advance to higher levels with regard to the examples you supplied?
I believe the 10th and 12th grade students in Mrs. G.’s classes are functioning on a range of levels of moral development ranging from punishment-obedience (stage 1) up to law and order (stage 4). They are primarily in the pre-conventional and conventional levels of moral reasoning.
I have observed a variety of student behavior and comments that leads me to this conclusion. Below I have explained several examples of observed behavior, the level of moral reasoning I believe the students are exhibiting, and what Mrs. G. did (or what might be done) to help the students advance to a higher level of moral reasoning.
Stage 1: Punishment-Obedience
Last week, I graded some book reports and observed Mrs. G. instructing her 10th grade students about their book reports. Most students used the required MLA formatting on their reports; some did not. I believe they used this format because if they did not they would have failed the assignment. Students were exhibiting stage 1 moral reasoning—they decided to use MLA formatting to avoid punishment.
Mrs. G. had a discussion with her students about why using citations is so important. She emphasized the importance of crediting the author when they use a quote or idea from someone else. This discussion could help students advance towards more post-conventional reasoning, where they would decide to use MLA formatting and citations because the author has the right to receive credit.
Another method might also be talking about the legal implications of plagiarism—a teacher could cite examples of others who had plagiarized and the laws they had broken. A teacher could also discuss what negative legal consequences happen because of plagiarism. This could help lead students to more conventional stage 4 moral reasoning, where they decide to use MLA formatting and citations because the law demands it.
Stage 2: Punishment-Reward
I observed students in a group discussion essentially rewarding one another for listening. Students listened respectfully to others after they had been listened to, exhibiting stage 2 moral reasoning.
In this situation, students also could have decided to listen respectfully because they believe in their peers’ individual rights for respect, thus demonstrating more post-conventional stage 5 moral reasoning.
Stage 3: Good boy-Good girl
In the 10th grade class’ discussion about labeling, students conformed to each other’s ideas about labeling: almost all of the comments were identical. Students agreed with each other and offered examples that were very similar to their peers’. They were exhibiting stage 3 conventional moral reasoning, wanting to appear in conformity with the status quo and meet the approval of their peers.
To help students move to a higher level of reasoning, Mrs. G. interjected with different opinions and ideas. I believe this helped establish the rule or norm that different ideas were acceptable. This helped other students voice differing opinions and ideas. Students were moving into higher level reasoning, more towards stage 4 reasoning. Once they realized that different opinions were acceptable within the law or norms of the classroom, they were more willing to voice them because being different was not against the rules.
Stage 4: Law & Order
In the 12th grade class I observed, students had a discussion about the death penalty and executions of two characters in a novel they were reading. Students seemed to readily accept the legality of the executions—they did not voice any objection to the characters’ being killed or voice an opinion that the executions had been morally wrong. The students were exhibiting stage 4 moral reasoning: because the executions were legal, they were moral.
I believe these students could also have been exhibiting stage 5 moral reasoning, where good and bad are determined by the social contract and individual rights. The characters in this book were unquestionably murderers, and had killed other characters. I believe that a person could use stage 5 moral reasoning to conclude that the executions were justified because the characters had violated the individual right to life that their victims had.
To help students advance to a higher level of reasoning, a teacher could continue this discussion with moral dilemmas surrounding the death penalty. Dolph and Lycan stated in their article “Moral Reasoning: A Necessary Standard of Learning in Today’s Classroom” that dilemma-based discussions are one method that we can help students reach a higher level of moral reasoning: “Dilemma-based scenarios . . . are tools in which open-ended scenarios are presented and discussed by students with a faculty member serving as a mediator.” Using a dilemma-based discussion could be very effective in this example, as the novel itself provides a good scenario for discussion. A teacher could use discussion questions or an academic controversy to help students move from stage 4 moral reasoning into the post-conventional level of reasoning.
An Example of Stages 1-4
A couple of students decided to read CliffNotes about the novel instead of reading the assigned chapters. I observed a small group of students talking about when, if, and how often they had done this. I can infer that students could have decided to do this based on more than one stage of moral reasoning:
- They could have decided to read CliffNotes because if they had come to class unprepared, they would have failed the quiz. This exhibits stage 1 reasoning—in order to avoid punishment (failure), they decided it was OK to read the CliffNotes.
- They could have also decided to read CliffNotes because everyone else was doing it. This demonstrates stage 3 reasoning—what we do is determined by what others approve of. Once students knew their friends approved of reading CliffNotes, they could have decided it was OK because their peers were accepting and promoting of it.
- Another student could have used stage 4 moral reasoning to decide not to read CliffNotes and instead read the assigned chapters. The law and rule of the classroom required students to read the text itself, and a student using stage 4 moral reasoning could have decided to read the text because it was the “law” or rule.
Mrs. G. uses a couple of strategies to help students move from pre-conventional to conventional and from conventional to post–conventional reasoning with regard to reading assignments. She uses comprehension quizzes to test student readiness, which aligns with pre-conventional reasoning. However, she also asks students to write down questions they have while they are reading, and uses personal and real-world connections in her lessons. I believe both of these can help students move to conventional and post-conventional levels of reasoning. At the conventional level, students could decide to read the novel instead of CliffNotes because the law of the classroom demands it. At the post-conventional level, students could decide to read the novel because the real-world connections help highlight the social contract in the novel and expose the universal principles the characters grapple with.
Most of the time, students in these two classes are reasoning at the pre-conventional and conventional levels, as evidenced by the things they do and say. On occasion, their comments and discussions have delved into post-conventional reasoning—when they discussed the humaneness of a hanging execution, or when they discussed the justice and equality (or lack thereof) in The Scarlet Letter. On the whole, their moral reasoning is about at the conventional level.