The Empathetic Writing Classroom


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Recent surges in technological innovation connect educational communities worldwide, and have certainly changed the face of learning. Through various forms of media, we are each consumers and producers of stories that serve to connect us with others. This new wave of expression drives us to become not only informed learners, but empathetic global citizens.

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The Empathetic Writing Classroom

  1. 1. Students Who Care Write With Flair! The Empathetic Classroom Caitlin Krause ELMLE 2014 B E R L I N
  2. 2. Where is “home”, and how is it defined?…
  3. 3. Each student entering a classroom carries with him/her an individual identity: a history, a set of hopes; a set of fears. Think back to your own student experiences, and to a class that you enjoyed: What are traits of this class that made it memorable?
  4. 4. “a positive place” “recognized me as a person” “gave me sense of belonging” “challenged and encouraged me” “made me laugh” “made me feel as if people cared” “was a safe space to take risks” The best classrooms seem to stand out for reasons beyond cognitive skill development– building empathy makes a difference.
  5. 5. The first step for students is to feel they belong, they each have a voice, and they are drivers, not along for the ride. The classroom can become a place of intimidation and judgment in a heartbeat. Community comes first! That is the true core.
  6. 6. Empathy is the (missing?) link Em (in) Pathy (feeling) “Empathy enables us to reach out and connect with others in our human condition, and it is a crucial need for our species, having an intrinsic evolutionary and neurological basis for development.” (
  7. 7. First Steps in Writing & Sharing When giving in-class empathetic “quickwrites”, consider using a short reading that students can respond to in writing (poem/ quote/ news/ scenario). Write alongside students; they will see you writing and take cues from you. Make sharing optional, without too much critique in beginning– just sharing, appreciating, postulating, moving on (and, you can share!).
  8. 8. Sharing is optional… yet, encouraged! from Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger
  9. 9. Arguments for Empathy in Education: Daniel Pink and the Conceptual Age, need to: “create artistic and emotional beauty… to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention…, to empathize, to find joy in one’s self and elicit it in others” (p. 51, A Whole New Mind).
  10. 10. Howard Gardner, photo by Peter Gregoire, Edutopia Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences: Interpersonal intelligence is the “capacity to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people.” (Gardner, 2003, p. 43)
  11. 11. Statue of Piaget in Geneva, photo by Roland Zumbühl Lev Vygotsky, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky’s research, “constructivism” revolution in learning theories: children are unique learners, actively constructing knowledge based on previous experiences– not passive learners, not “sponges”– they are actively engaged and driving their own learning!
  12. 12. Students self-reflect about writing, journals, and various styles. They have voice: Claire: Katherine: Roos: Kevin: Ties:
  13. 13. WRITING = RISK-TAKING: we want everyone to clamor to debate, engage, and tell his/her story! = community = sharing! Eliminate fear + + You set the tone as a writing mentor, yet students are the true leaders in the classroom
  14. 14. “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” “Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive.” - Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach
  15. 15. • Building empathy takes time, care and patience… teaching listening and responding • Writing is not a lonely activity; the process thrives on interaction and understanding of others (empathy). • Give credit to the difficult task of writing!  " Easy-to-read is hard to write."       - Pam Zollman
  16. 16. Empathy and Mindfulness: As we seek to understand others, pausing to be mindful of ourselves and the surrounding world is fundamental.
  17. 17. Pause for Mindfulness: Are you aware of yourself, and your 5 senses? How can you describe the space around you? Is there enough “empty space” for free flowing thoughts? “Music is the space between the notes.” -Debussy Keats’ Negative Capability
  18. 18. Play music as background for students, for example: Write whatever comes to your mind– a story, reaction, or other, when you hear the above. Just let it happen… Write without edits. Mindfulness in Education Invites the Writing Voice to Speak; Links to Empathy
  19. 19. Beginning with a community of sharing, risk-taking, self-reflection, and students owning their own writing allows the classroom to bloom. In fact, there are no “walls”; no fixed classroom space. Freedom is key. We could extend to contexts that included local community, outside influences and global connections.
  20. 20. Student Writing about Zeitgeist “The Spirit of the Times”: Students' Zeitgeist 2013 Compilation - published December 11 Google's Zeitgeist 2013 Video - published December 17 Zeitgeist Response When I heard the number of people that had lost their lives after the typhoon in the Philippines, I was unbelievably upset. I guess I am the kind of person who really cares about what happens in the world. Natural disasters like the Typhoon Haiyan have a huge impact on me, and I really do care. The Philippines did not have enough supplies to give to all of the victims, so other countries helped out. The United Kingdom on its own raised 23 million pounds; the Netherlands raised roughly 15 million euros; many countries have donated money and have done fundraising actions to make sure that no more people become victims of Haiyan. – Roos
  21. 21. Student Writing Sample – What Would You Give Up? Response to poem by Marie Howe:
  22. 22. Student Writing Sample – What Would You Give Up? Response to poem by Marie Howe:
  23. 23. Additional In-Class Universal Writing Ideas— ways to infuse writing into any subject, with Essential Questions
  24. 24. Essential Question (interdisciplinary): How does learning about nature teach us something about ourselves? Video Response: View: Begin by writing about this topic for 2 minutes. Your goal is to include as many thoughts as possible, without worry about grammar, spelling and conventions.
  25. 25. Empathetic Quickwrite: 3 nouns, 2 verbs news story Show that action and news hinge on certain parts of speech; good summarizing tool. Stories travel around the room; students find links and connections to be the next speaker. Write from one viewpoint of the story; then, from another
  26. 26. Writing is an engaging, collaborative arena! “It (education) is about respecting children as human beings, and about supporting, not suppressing, their passion, curiosity, and talent.” - Yong Zhao, World Class Learners (p. 256)
  27. 27. In Sum: 1) Freedom to Share & Celebrate 2) Students as Drivers 3) Empathetic Classrooms Span the Globe
  28. 28. "A need to hear and tell stories is essential to human beings, second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter." –Reynolds Price There are stories and perspectives all around us
  29. 29. “I believe in the kind of empathy that is created through imagination and through intimate, personal relationships. I am a writer and a teacher, so much of my time is spent interpreting stories and connecting to other individuals. It is the urge to know more about ourselves and others that creates empathy. Through imagination… we transcend our limitations, freshen our eyes, and are able to look at ourselves and the world through a new and alternative lens.” - Azar Nafizi
  30. 30. Empathy is at the heart of a writing classroom, allowing each member to value one another; to share and learn with authenticity; to extend to the world.
  31. 31. Additional Empathy-Building Writing Prompt: Index Card Introductions (great for a first day “quickwrite”) 1. Full Name, Nickname preferred 2. Birthplace 3. Place Considered “Home” and Why 4. Distinguishing Characteristic 5. Primary Human Emotion: name all four, focus on one
  32. 32. Empathy-Building Writing Prompts: “Pacman” Main Character MAD GLAD SAD SCARED Forced Fusion 5 Card Flickr: Ethos Pathos Logos
  33. 33. Additional Materials and Writing Prompts: Short Stories: VCPDMS Hyperbole/Understatement Rants and Raves Music Thesis Statement Epigraphs Ekphrasis Alien Writing Nature Journaling
  34. 34. Additional Materials and Writing Prompts: Solstice, Equinox and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Poetry Out Loud Universal School Readings Create a Rubric Through Class Discussions Commenting on Poetry:  Sound, Structure, Symbolism, Significance!
  35. 35. Empathy –Related Sources & Websites: Forbes Article “Why We Should Teach Empathy to Improve Education and Test Scores”: Dr. Thomas Lewis, "The Neuroscience of Empathy" as part of the Authors@Google series: Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences “Beyond the Echo Chamber”: How Children Develop Empathy: Empathy Ed: The Morality of Meditation: Northfield Mount Hermon Library Website with Mindfulness Links:
  36. 36. Empathy –Related Sources & Websites (cont.): Music to Write to – Ólafur Arnalds: “Meet Me in Big Sur” – Andrew Julian: DIIGO LIST: MINDFULNESS Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Students How To Start a Meditation Program in Your School | Edutopia The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better Mindful Moment Program at Patterson High School | Indiegogo FOCUS: Mindfulness Resources for educators Mindfulness: The Basics
  37. 37. Useful Websites & Sources: WAC introduction & Q&A, Colorado State: 42 MS writing exercises: NWP National Writing Project: MS Writing Resource “Write in the Middle” PURDUE Overview & Resource (High School Level, yet can be modified for MS): Intro to Rhetoric (Ethos, Pathos, Logos tools, great for writing & persuasion): Shelley Stagg Petersen on Staccato & discovery writing: Six Traits of Writing Video by Adora: HIGH SCHOOL WAC manual: Writing Advice: Sarah Kay TED Spoken Word Poetry:
  38. 38. Caitlin Krause @CKwriter "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." - Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
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