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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Early Forays Into Empathy (7th Grade)

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Today my 7th graders created questions about "Empathy." This was their first week of school and today was the second day of class for them (they are on an A/B Block schedule). As a Design class I want them understanding the idea of Empathy. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school the students are expected to understand empathy as well. So here's what I did and the results of their work:

Step One - I gave them a quote about empathy from Seth Godin - -->

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"
The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.
Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.  

Step Two - I asked them to experience the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to create questions about the quote that we will explore in the future. The one problem? They had never experienced the QFT either. So we walked through the process - slowly. 

The result (from two of my classes) follows. Considering they are 7th graders and it is early in the year, I'm pretty happy with their questions. See for yourself (the categories are mine and were done after I collected them):

  DEFINING EMPATHY:
1. What is empathy?
2.How was the term “empathy” created?
3.Where did empathy originate?
4.Why do humans feel empathy?
5.Why is empathy so important?
6.Do a LOT of people show empathy?
7.Does this mean that empathy makes you a better person, or not?
8.Is it easy to express empathy?
9.Why is empathy often described as “feeling sorry?”
10.How do we know if someone is expressing empathy?
11. What are the reasons we show empathy?
12.Do animals show empathy?
13.Why do we as human species feel empathy at all?
14.What is the difference between empathy and reason?
15.What is the difference between empathy and pity?
16.Why is empathy so complicated?
17.Why does empathy make a big difference in who we are?
18.Why is it important for people to have empathy?
19.How is empathy different from person to person?
20When does empathy between two people fracture?
21.When does empathy hinder someone?
22.Why is empathy an IB Learner Profile Trait?

B. DIRECTLY TOWARDS THE QUOTE:
1. Who is Seth Godin?
2. What caused Seth Godin to write this?
3. What did Seth Godin want us to learn from this?
4. Why should we be empathetic towards people who are “stupid” or “evil.”
5. Is violence ever the answer?
6. What should the “useful answer” be?
7. Why do people hate people?
8. Why is accusing someone rarely the answer?
9. Why can’t everyone be honest?

C. SYMPATHY VS. EMPATHY:
1. Why is sympathy easier to show than empathy?
2. Is empathy worse or better than sympathy?
3. How many people don’t know the difference between empathy and sympathy?
4. What happens when you combine empathy and sympathy?
 
Many of these questions are closed and can be answered quickly with a little help from Google. But there are some very open questions as well. I like several of them.  For example, the one about whether empathy makes you a better person.

We will be exploring these questions over the next few weeks. Some of the questions may never get totally answered. But I have a feeling these students are on the path to becoming great design thinkers. And that gives them a swinging chance at being a great person. That's my personal goal in every class I teach -> Have I helped my students become better citizens of the world? I'll keep you posted.