How to Apply Kohlberg's Theory in the Classroom

How to Apply Kohlberg's Theory in the Classroom

Lawrence Kohlberg's theory on moral development can be applied to the classroom where rules, standards, and consequences are concerned. The theory tracks an individual's level of moral reasoning by assigning him to one of six stages, where the first stage is a basic submission to authority and the last is universal ethics for all. As an educator, consider where your students' personal development lies in terms of Kohlberg's six stages. Then work toward achieving optimal moral character along the lines of Kohlberg's level six "Universal Principals" for a positive and constructive learning environment.

Students at stage one behave appropriately to avoid punishment. At stage two, students behave to earn rewards. By stage three, students start thinking about other people and caring about their expectations. Give students the opportunity to help create a classroom code of conduct. In this way, they will become responsible for the rules that they set and follow them accordingly, rather than blindly agreeing to standards set by school administrators or other authorities.

Allow for a written self evaluation as part of any disciplinary consequence. It does not have to be lengthy, but it should provide the student with adequate time to review their own reasoning for misbehavior and to come up with a solution for the future. This type of action relates to Kohlberg's fourth stage of morality, in which individuals do their part to maintain order by reflecting on the impact of their words and actions.

Plan group projects where students work together toward the understanding of curriculum instead of sitting back and listening to the teacher talk at them. Group activities encourage engagement. Responsibility for learning is placed squarely onto the students, facilitating adherence to the classroom goal of educational enrichment. Collaborate learning supports Kohlberg's fifth morality stage, which relates to upholding a social contract.

Make time for role play, whether it be related to the curriculum or used as a problem solving tool. By acting or seeing situations through the eyes of others, students gain a more broad understanding of what is taking place. This helps them to make decisions based not on themselves, but on a commitment to the group. Similarly, they have advanced to Kohlberg's sixth stage, in which the needs of every person in society are worth considering. In a classroom, a brief skit or scenario can help students focus on making sure everyone is involved and engaged in learning.

Since 2006, Pilar Ethridge has had the pleasure of honing her writing skills as the assistant editor of the newsletter from a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization. Her interests include children's media, film, American pop culture, crafts, and performing arts in general. Based in Southern California, Ethridge received a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of California.