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Lawrence Kohlberg was an American psychologist best known for his theory of the Stages of Moral

Development. His research, influenced by that of Piaget, describes moral stages of development as
discontinuous and hierarchical. Kohlberg conducted a 20 year, longitudinal study on boys aged 10-16 with
which he presented a hypothetical moral dilemma in which they must make a difficult decision and justify it.
From this research, he developed a sequence of stages of moral reasoning including three levels of morality
each further broken down into two stages.

Kohlbergs stages of moral development can be utilized in a classroom. Understanding these stages can
provide a teacher with ammunition to both understand why children behave the way they do, and how to
counteract the situation. For example, rewards can be used as positive reinforcement to promote good behavior
in early elementary school, or help children in middle school to understand behavioural expectations. Children
high school aged, in many cases, will act how they want their friends to see them or in the best interest of their
friends rather than themselves. Knowing these patterns will allow a teacher to more clearly assess what
individual students are going through. With that understanding, the teacher can then empathize with the student
or take the appropriate measures to fix the situation. Understanding Kohlbergs stages of moral development of
all ages can make the classroom a more predictable environment for a teacher.
Applying Kohlbergs theory of moral development to the classroom requires an understanding of the
stages and what needs to be considered with students at these stages. The Pre-conventional Level, as shown in
the chart above, occurs around pre-school and early elementary. With students at these stages, teachers must
emphasize that classmates have needs and promote actions such as sharing, cooperating and being kind.
Students at these stages also look to please authority figures meaning that students will respond well to rewards
and others will follow suit (rewarding good behaviour and pointing it out to other students). Setting classroom
expectations and rules will also go a long way in preventing poor behaviour. In Middle School, stage 2 and
stage 3 are evident, meaning that students will be looking out for their own interests as well as maintaining

expectations of friends. For teachers in this category it is important to be aware that students may act in a
manner that will fulfill their own interests without understanding that others interests may different. Students
may only cooperate if they feel like they are getting the same in return. Teachers must ensure that in the
classroom equity is enforced and students are encouraged to express their own opinions, not necessarily the
opinions of their friends. Students also begin to notice the expectations of their parents and try to respond to
them. In High School, stage 3 is prominent with the emergence of stage 4 in the later years. Students in high
school want to maintain expectations, show good behaviour and begin to recognize their duty to the social
system. Students are very likely to act in accordance to their friends expectations, whether that is good or bad
and be influenced by the expectations of their parents. It is important for teachers to understand the emotional
and mental struggle students are facing due to expectations of parents, friends and society and provide guidance
and support to those students who may be lacking it at home.
As is shown by Kohlberg, students change in their thinking as they grow older and learn about the
world around them. The 5th KSA acknowledges that students learn in their own way and at their own rate. If a
teacher were teaching a grade 4, 5, or 6 class, they may well find that students are at different stages of their
own growth. Teachers must recognise this difference, and tread on with encouragement and patience. This very
well ties into KSA number 6, in the acknowledgement that teachers, when teaching students of different stages
in their life, must vary their plans to accommodate individuals and groups of students. If a student is not
ready, it doesnt mean you cant work with them. Lay the tracks for the train to eventually come. The Hynes
dilemma eventually addresses the concept of the universal principle, which is just another way to think about
the golden rule. In classrooms, teachers may find that the golden rule can be one of their greatest tools in
creating a classroom environment that is safe, fair, and a catalyst for growth. In this sense, the teacher is
embracing KSA number 7, which rightfully demands security for the student in many different ways. The
Hynes example is also founded on the concept of self-analysis. Students, at the later stages, must be able to take
a sober look at the positions of both Hynes and the pharmacist, and be able to assess their own thinking. What
choice would they have made even just a few years ago? What possibly changed their way of thinking? By
encouraging this self-analysis, teachers are achieving the 11th KSA by fostering self-assessment. Finally, by
critically thinking about where they would be positioned on the Hynes test, students are taking a deep look at
what they want their own world to look like and how they wish it to behave. The students world includes the
school, and by knowing how they would behave, and how they want others to behave, they are taking a step to
creating a school environment worth being in. By encouraging growth like this, the instructor is fulfilling KSA
number 14 by enhancing the quality of their school for the benefits of everyone.
Kohlberg has given teachers a more clear understanding of the developmental stages that students go
through in their lifelong learning adventure. By keeping these stages in mind, teachers will be able to guide
students in a proactive and reasonable way regarding the moral stage that the student is likely in.