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Blending Character Education with Curriculum

Students' performance is enhanced when setting personal goals is integrated into a seventh-grade mathematics curriculum.

In October 2009, Mark Schumacker, a seventh-grade mathematics teacher at Ankeney Middle School of the Beavercreek City School District, a suburban district east of Dayton, Ohio, earned the EUREKA Educator of the Year Award from the Better Business Bureau of Ohio's Center for Character Ethics for his efforts to blend character education with instruction. Schumacker is the first recipient of this statewide honor that recognizes positive actions with regard to constructive character development.

Schumacker combines the idea of "performance character," which encourages students to set goals, do their best work, and adopt a positive attitude, with seventh-grade mathematics instruction. According to Schumacker, this nationwide movement began approximately 15 years ago to emphasize moral character and performance character in the classroom. This is Schumacker's third year of practicing performance character, such as goal setting, in his teaching. In these three years, Schumacker has noted his students are more engaged, they have improved their test scores, and there have been fewer incomplete and "zero" assignments. Schumacker says the number of his students failing math has decreased from approximately 15 students to three since he implemented this program into his curriculum.

At the beginning of the school year, Schumacker asks students to consider the most incredible goal they could set for themselves in math, and then encourages them to make that their academic goal for the year. For example, one student reported his goal was to achieve straight A's on his report card. He developed a plan to complete all assignments, revise his homework, and follow the class's recommended study techniques. Schumacker reports that to date, this student has met his goal.

"Many students aspire only to mediocrity, but nothing is impossible," says Schumacker. "You can achieve your dreams if you put forth the effort to make them happen."

To reach their yearly targets, Schumacker asks students to set quarterly and biweekly goals. Pupils chart their progress on a "Goals and Accomplishments Sheet," a sheet of paper passed out every two weeks, and they display their work and grades in class. Students meet weekly with a classmate to encourage accountability, and Schumacker enlists the help and involvement of each child's parents. Schumacker hosts special nights when parents can come to the classroom to learn more about the curriculum, goals, and classroom methods.

According to Schumacker, such efforts, when combined with specific classroom policies that support learning, have made a tremendous difference with his pupils. My classes' test results were better last year than at any previous point in my career," he said.

Beavercreek district officials believe that Schumacker's efforts are making a difference. "Classroom innovators like Mark help children who are struggling or discouraged in math realize that they can improve when they have a goal and a positive outlook," says Patricia Shannon, the district's assistant superintendent for pupil services. "He inspires them to reach higher while ensuring they make measurable progress."