Thursday, December 10, 2015

Building Empathy Through Interviews

7th graders are all over the map when it comes to emotions. So, on one level, you might think that it isn't hard to get them to develop empathy. But how many of your students, at any grade level, have conducted interviews to gain knowledge of their interviewee?

My first semester at Meridian school is winding up and I am still getting used to the timing of projects. That led to a two week period between the Thanksgiving break and final exams.

I knew that I wanted to introduce an interview process soon. I also wanted to include either the 7th grade ELA teacher or the PE Coach with a project early in the next semester. And then it hit me - 6 Word Memoirs.

As the name implies, students write about themselves by using only 6 words. After checking with the ELA teacher I found that she had just completed a unit on memoirs. And, after talking with a few students only a handful had done a 6 Word Memoir (6WM) in the past. And so it began...

On the first day I gave the students a post on interviewing like a pro. It doesn't exactly apply but I wanted them to think about what the pros think about before, during, and after an interview. To minimize time on the article I had them do a jigsaw and we discussed things they learned about what to do before you go to an interview; what you do during an interview; and what things to think about after the interview.

Then I paired them up (key word there, "I" paired them up).  Many were with people they don't normal hang out with so getting to know them became a harder task. I gave them 10 minutes to come up with a set of questions to use as openers. And, I instructed them to go down any path that became an obvious interesting topic that might be used to write a 6WM.

To help them think, I gave them a list of topics that might be good places to draw from for questions.
The trouble is I forgot about how the 7th grade brain works. Because I put a list in front of them, they couldn't come up with imaginative questions or question sequences to go deeper on any other topics than the ones I presented to them. I actually heard one boy ask another "Have you ever been married?" When I heard that question I asked why he had asked it. He said "because I had included "marriage" on my list of possible topics." Silly me; I was thinking that maybe there might have been an interesting wedding that they might have attended.

By the end of class I actually was pleased with the results from most of my students. They had asked good questions and had made good recommendations to their interviewees on what they should write their 6WM about.  Very few ended up needing help in understanding the process and how to make a relevant recommendation.

Before the next project starts I will be able to draw from this experience as we discuss interviewing to gain empathy. Because when the next semester starts (after our holiday break) I will be having my students interview clients or other pertinent people before they start brainstorming ideas. I feel better about their interviewing skills and I believe they will be better at identifying the needs and desires from those that they interview.

To finish the 6WM, I am having them go through a critique rotation today. They are writing their 1st draft and are presenting it to their small group. The small group is tasked with recommending at least one word to be changed to make the 6WM stronger. Then the students rotate to different groups and go through the process a second time.

They will be turning in an 8.5 in. by 11 in. paper with their 6WM on it, that has been decorated to help tell the story. These will be placed on our classroom wall so all of my classes can see what the others have written.

Sometimes a quick 2 week assignment can bring out a lot of learning. In this case my students have learned about how to be a good interviewer. My students have also learned more about their classmates. And, I have learned more about all of my students. Sounds like success.