Elementary Education and Perspective-Taking: Developing a Writing Rubric to Nurture Creativity and Empathy in Children

Elementary Education and Perspective-Taking: Developing a Writing Rubric to Nurture Creativity and Empathy in Children

Taylor Crowe, Tracey S. Hodges
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8287-9.ch017
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Empathy is an emotion that can be cultivated in childhood; as society moves more and more to the online word, however, empathy is needed as people are entering a global economy with people from various backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. The researchers in this study provided a writing intervention to third grade students in order to promote perspective-taking skills that are displayed through their writing. The researchers developed a rubric to accurately determine the effects of the intervention on student writing and whether or not the students developed empathy for the characters studied. This study informed researchers that above all children make connections with all types of people, despite their differences. In addition to learning about the students, the researchers found that educators would benefit from professional development in order to help them teach students about different cultures and further promote perspective-taking.
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“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

A middle-class child from a rural neighborhood in Alabama may not seemingly have anything in common with Malala, but that is one purpose of literature: to bring these two very different perspectives together. Underneath the labels of these two children, there are thoughts and feelings, experiences and hardships, triumphs and joys, that both children share (Djikic et al., 2013). Even when these people, or characters, do not have many things in common, students are still learning perspective-taking, through mirrors, windows, and sliding doors (Bishop, 1990). Students are learning to think creatively and critically about their own experiences and the experiences of others.

How is it logical to expect adults to have empathy and compassion if these traits are not learned in childhood? Adults tend to reason that children should be sheltered from the trials of the world: racism, sexism, stereotypes, economics, the list can go on and on. However, children are eager to learn about the world around them and the issues they may need to or already considering. Malala Yousafzai exemplifies this curiosity and advocacy, using her experiences as agency (Baker-Bell, 2020; Brophy & Allemen, 2008). She survived an attack on her life and, even then, refused to be silent. She went on to write books, participate in movies, and advocate for the education of girls and women. This story is detailed in Malala’s Magic Pencil, one of many diverse children’s books, exploring challenging topics that the researchers read to elementary children to foster perspective-taking, empathy, curiosity, and critical thinking. Reading diverse books about the world may foster empathy, the ability to understand and interact with the emotions of others (Mar et al., 2006; Oatley, 2011).

More and more, society is awed by the candor of youth, who eagerly work to establish equity and justice. The world has watched as adolescents stand at the forefront of movements such as #BLM and #MeToo, even creating their own movement, #GirlsToo. Black Lives Matter is being supported in early childhood education programs and young activists are organizing their own marches to support the movement (Baker-Bell, 2020). The voices of these same children are also being broadcast in their writing; teachers only need to pay attention.

Creativity can emerge through critical thinking, reading, and writing, as children convey complex ideas and teachers stimulate students’ thinking through instruction (Mar, 2018). Creativity is a term that brings to mind the most intriguing art, music, dance, architecture, and writing that human nature can evoke. While people often correlate creativity with a specific type of individual and focus on the arts, creativity is present in all aspects of education and in all students. Creativity radiates through a writer’s voice in their works - this is the same for young writers in elementary classrooms.

This focus of creativity through instruction is called pedagogical creativity (Mar, 2018), which is a process by which teachers develop their instruction in ways that foster student choice, agency, voice, and ultimately, creativity. Rather than instruction and tasks that are focused on correct process or single option responses, pedagogical creativity fosters an environment in which the process is more important than the outcome and multiple pathways to achievement are valued.

Pedagogical creativity and critical thinking, additionally, are two key components of diverse literacy instruction that promotes skills such as social-emotional learning, perspective-taking, fostering empathy, critical reading, and writing. These concepts led to the creation of a reading comprehension and writing intervention in elementary classrooms. Through the intervention, teachers read-aloud diverse books, asked children to engage in dialogue about character perspectives, and asked children to write about their character’s perspectives. For the focus of this chapter, the authors highlight the writing component, allowing children to use their voices to understand perspectives, empathy, and think critically and creatively about advocacy. In this proposed chapter, the authors:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Writing Process: The process writing approach is the writing process, often identified as the stages of prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

Early Childhood Writing Instruction: Writing instruction for children from birth to grade three.

Virtual Instruction: Instruction that occurs through and with technology predominately and does not engage instructors or students in traditional, in-person settings.

Writing Development: The developmental trajectory of writing beginning with preliterate and ending with fluent writing.

Creativity: Applying knowledge in new or innovative ways, connected to critical thinking.

Writing Instruction: The pedagogical approaches and techniques used to teach students how to write.

Elementary Writing: Writing specific to students’ foundational skills.

Writing: The act of generating and revising text based on rules or conventions to communicate an idea.

Feedback: The methods of giving students feedback on their writing to help them develop their skills.

Critical Thinking: A student’s ability to evaluate, apply, construct, and use knowledge.

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