Empathy in the Classroom Workshop

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” – Oprah

In my last 11 years in public education, there has been a general shift in focus and a genuine change in attitude toward the importance of the non-cognitive skills or ‘soft’ skills.  Classrooms, schools, and districts are noticing the importance of preparing our scholars for the overwhelming demands of ‘college and career readiness’ with the explicit instruction of empathy.  Our students will move through grade levels and the demands of  assessments by connecting and learning from others, gaining perspectives that will prepare them for a future in our diverse world.  They must experience the empathy in a safe environment of your classroom before they feel comfortable and protected to do so outside the classroom.

In my last post, Non-Cognitive Needs that Promise Student Success, I talked about classroom practices and the Hand, Head, Heart strategy that can help our students succeed and dive into text beyond initial comprehension. Explicitly teaching empathy is not formulaic, but it can be systematic with just a few tweaks. So,  How exactly does it fit into the Readers and Writers Workshop model?

Add Empathy in Your Readers Workshop

  1. Practice empathy through an interest survey
    1. Donalyn Miller has a wonderful interest survey in her book The Book Whisperer
  2. Add different perspectives through Book Talks
    1. Penny Kittle’s Book Love shows how these can impact your classroom readers
  3. Book Choice and student autonomy
    1. Once students are allowed autonomy in their book choices, students are driven toward their expertise and are more willing to share their perspectives.
  4. Model and Showcase mentor texts that showcase empathy
    1. Be prepared to discuss this message with your students
    2. a great strategy to use is Tug-o-War from Making Thinking Visible
  5. Ask for student feedback
    1. ‘How can I help you understand this text better?”  “What skill are you struggling with while reading this text?”
      1. Instead of always sharing the student’s next step, allow the reader to guide your facilitation.

Add Empathy into your Writer’s Workshop

  1. Practice empathy through an interest survey
  2. Think of the Writing Process as phases and NOT steps                                                       *    Ralph Fletcher talks about how writers find their own process in his book How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You
  3. Explore RAFT or FMMO writing

Role, Audience, Format, Topic

Forms, Modalities, Mediums, Outlets

  • Writingfix.com can assist a new teacher in this process

4. Introduce new mentor texts and model writing that provides different perspectives

  • Maria Jose Botelho’s book Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature; Mirrors, Windows, Doors assists teachers as they look closer at children’s literature and their use in the classroom.
  • I truly believe Children’s trade books provide a multi-dimensional way of supporting students’ perspectives as they become more empathetic to our changing world.

Here is the even bigger question: How to bridge the Autonomy of the Workshop model and the formulaic structure of the standardized assessments?

  1. Learn to gather different perspectives of data
    1. standardized data from state assessments
    2. district assessment feedback
    3. annotated records of workshop conversations
  • The analysis of all 3 of these data points will provide you (the classroom coach) with important information on your scholars’ strengths and weaknesses

2. Assess portions of the student Writing AND allow them to practice the standardized test format

  • for example: If you are working specifically on compound, complex sentences with a student- assess this in their next writing piece ONLY.
  • Just like Driver’s Education courses- we allow our drivers to practice in the real world under supervision.  – allow students to practice the format of the state assessment throughout the school year as well – treat this type of writing as another Format.

3. Use the Qualitative data from Standardized assessments to help you decide whole group instruction through mentor texts/sentences.

  • Jeff Anderson’s Patterns Of Power provides a comprehensive collection of mentor sentences that focus on standardized grammar skills that all of our students need.


Categories Teaching

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