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Fostering Character in a Collaborative Classroom

Curriculum Overview Documents

Our K-5 Language Arts Curriculum addresses three dimensions of student achievement: mastery of knowledge and skills, character, and high-quality student work. This document focuses on the character dimension. Part 1 explains what EL means by character and how the K–5 Language Arts Curriculum promotes habits of character. Part 2 provides practical guidance about how teachers can set up the classroom environment, structures, and culture that will help this curriculum succeed.

EL Education is committed to equity: to creating schools that value all learners, that give real opportunities for achievement, and that prepare them well for the future. The EL Education Language Arts curriculum addresses three dimensions of student achievement:

  • The mastery of knowledge and skills (a deep understanding of content; the ability to apply learning to new tasks, to think critically, and to communicate understanding effectively)
  • Character (working to become effective, ethical people who contribute to a better world)
  • High-quality student work (creating complex work that reflects higher-order literacy skills, demonstrating craftsmanship, and creating authentic work)

Many common frameworks are used to help educators think about the development of character in the classroom: character education, social-emotional learning (SEL), nonacademic factors, the social curriculum. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the development of character is about helping “students and adults understand, care about, and act on core ethical values.” A central goal of this curriculum is to give children the tools to become effective, ethical learners who work to make the world a better place.

EL Education has our own language and approach to foster what we call students’ “habits of character.” But these can and should complement, not replace, schools’ existing frameworks, language, and routines for promoting social-emotional learning.

For example, some schools focus on the five core competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), or others might be using Responsive Classroom or Caring School Communities, two programs designed to integrate social-emotional learning with daily classroom practices. Schools may have codified specific character words or habits to focus on (e.g., self-discipline or kindness), which can continue to be used. Instead, teachers can simply help students connect the language used in the curriculum (e.g., “perseverance”) to how their school may talk about character (e.g., “tenacity”). Such connections will expand students’ academic vocabulary and enrich their understanding of these important concepts.

EL Education’s curriculum gives students authentic opportunities to practice these habits of character (e.g., persevering as they work on multiple drafts of their performance task). The curriculum is unique in that it integrates an intentional focus on developing students’ habits of character within the context of the Language Arts lessons (see the chart below). No curriculum is values-free; every curriculum either explicitly or implicitly addresses how students are expected to behave, in addition to what they are expected to learn. EL Education’s curriculum requires habits such as self-reflection and collaboration; we choose to be explicit about those character strengths and how teachers can foster them.

Promoting character development is not new to classrooms. What makes EL Education’s curriculum distinct is how habits of character are integrated into all aspects of the daily life of the classroom. It is not preached through admonishments or commercial posters; rather, it is taught through authentic experiences and ongoing reflection on those experiences. How children learn is as important as what they learn.

To read more about how the curriculum fosters character in the classroom, please download the guidance document.

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EL Education

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