Theses Doctoral

Promoting the Social: Cultivating Character in Urban Public Charter Elementary School

Hostetter, Mayme

The study examined the reading and character growth of elementary school students (n = 2144) in urban public charter school classrooms (n = 88), focusing on the relationship between the students’ growth and a character-focused lesson. Reading growth, as measured by in-classroom reading assessments, and character growth, as measured by self- and teacher- report surveys focused on either grit or self-control, were the outcomes of interest. The study employed a mixed-methods design, combining quantitative methods (i.e., descriptive statistics, correlations, and multi-variable linear regression) and qualitative methods (i.e., video observations, surveys, and interviews) to both describe and better understand the relationship between these outcomes.
The average reading and character growth of the students in the study was notable, with students—on average—making 1.24 years of reading progress (as measured by grade level equivalency) over one school year and demonstrating character growth beyond expectation. Students in classrooms focused on the character strength of grit grew more with respect to strength of character than did their peers in classrooms focused on self-control. Also, students demonstrating higher levels of grit grew more with respect to reading than did their peers with lower levels of grit.
Counter to the study’s hypothesis, the character-focused lessons were negatively (though weakly) associated with students’ character growth. Qualitative examination of a subset of the lessons indicated that (a) grit was often positioned as the more “academic” strength, while self-control was often positioned as the more “social” strength and (b) stronger lessons may have heightened students’ reference bias, such that students had a more ambitious vision of grit or self-control as a result.
In interviews with a subset of the teachers in the sample, those who led their students to notably above-average character growth all had consistent, robust character education in their schools, in stark contrast to the teachers who led their students to notably below-average character growth.
The study’s findings suggest that particular non-cognitive strengths—in this case, grit—are associated with desirable academic outcomes, even in young school children, and that in-classroom and school-wide character education may help to support the growth and development of these strengths.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Hatch, Thomas
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2018