George Lucas Educational Foundation
Critical Thinking

Modeling Perspective and Empathy, Readers Learn to Make Meaning

June 22, 2017 Updated June 14, 2017

Readers do not learn to make meaning with perspective and empathy through a lecture or an explanation.  Rather, when teachers model the authentic act of thinking perspective and empathy aloud, and then coach students to do the same while they read independently, this is when our growing readers most effectively develop their reading intelligence.  

"One powerful way to teach empathy [and critical thinking] is through reading. When readers aim to understand characters’ feelings and struggles, when they identify and consider different perspectives, or when they have an emotional response to reading, they are building their capacity for empathy. Empathy in reading leads to greater engagement, interference, and interpretation. Two parts of the reading curriculum that lend themselves well to teaching empathy are reading aloud and text sets."   Anna Gratz Cockerille, Coauthor of Bringing History to Life

It is natural that we think as we read, but when we can name our thinking with a common language and shared understandings (i.e., perspective and empathy), we are empowered to become intentional about developing and exercising our thinking skills as a habit of mind.  

Thinking with perspective and empathy is one of the most powerful cognitive processes, which that we may refer to as the ABCs of critical reasoning. Exercising perspective and empathy, we better understand complex situations, generate solutions to problems, and nurture new insight.  And, when we reflect upon our cognitive processes and how we have used perspective and empathy to making meaning, aiming to self-evaluate and improve our cognitive processes, we grow as readers.  We refer to this as meta-cognition (thinking about thinking).

Having just read a page half-way through Mr. Lincoln's Way by Patricia Polacco, I model perspective and empathy for my students gathered on the carpet for a interactive read aloud:

"Hmmm.  I think I have a sense of how Eugene is feeling.  He shows up to school almost every morning in a bad mood, but then wonders why none of the other children want to work with him. Then, he becomes even more angry and starts to bully the other children.  He's feeling angry and alone.  Wow!  This brings me back to the big question I generated earlier, 'What makes a bully a bully in the first place?'  What do you think?  Turn and talk with your partner."

Show, don't tell.  Help our students become readers who make meaning!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Critical Thinking
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • pinterest icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia is a free source of information, inspiration, and practical strategies for learning and teaching in preK-12 education. We are published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Edutopia® and Lucas Education Research™ are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.