An Application of Empathy Development Methodology for Use by Teachers

Practical Strategies

Prater, Johnstun, Dyches, and Johnstun, in their work Using Children's Books as Bibliotherapy for At-Risk Students: A Guide for Teachers lay out a ten-step program for developmental bibliotherapy. The steps are as follows:

  1. Develop rapport, trust, and confidence with the student
  2. Identify other school personnel who may assist
  3. Solicit support from the student’s parents or guardians
  4. Define a specific problem the student is experiencing
  5. Create goals and activities to address the problem
  6. Research and select books appropriate for the situation
  7. Introduce the book to the student
  8. Incorporate reading activities,
  9. Implement postreading activities
  10. Evaluate the effects of bibliotherapy on the student

This resource aims to assist with steps 4-10.

The specific problem in this case is developing empathy, though this can be done in conjunction with other goals. It is important to set explicit goals to avoid causing harm to students by leaving things unresolved. (Prater, 2006, 7)

Selecting texts can be done in tandem with your school's librarian or counselor if specific issues are needing to be addressed. However, as many teachers are required to choose from a predetermined list of texts, on the next page we explain how to orient canonical texts for bibliotherapeutic purposes.

Introducing the book to students is an important step because it allows students to have a stake in the activity. Give students a voice in the work they do, what they read, and they will engage more fully. (Morrison, 53)

The next page provides more concrete information regarding reading and post reading activities, but the general idea is that reading alone will not engage students in the discourse that needs to be had. Different activities and discussion models can be applied to keep students interested and learning. This is where CBT and DBT can be introduced to stimulate the development of empathy.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention, you may simply reflect on the work students conducted and observe how you could change your proceedured to better meet the students' needs and to engage them more fully. You may also implement the use of pre and post tests and observational assessment metrics if you want your evaluation to be more complete. Regardless of how rigorous your evaluation is, it is important to always reflect on your intervention before repeating in order to improve as an educator.

Discussion Models

One of the key aspects of bibliotherapy is discussion; this can take a myriad of forms, from Think, Pair, Share groups to the Grecian Paideia. Below are instructions for creating a discussion plan to use as the starting point for the conversation as well as a list of discussion models to try in your classroom.

When following this methodology, the most important aspect is what kinds of questions get asked.

When creating a discussion plan it is important to choose which aspects of the story to highlight and focus on. In our examples, we have chosen to highlight race, class, gender, orientation, and ability all as possible vectors by which to conduct discussion.

Focus on questions that challenge students to acknowledge their point of view and to recognize others. At the end of the day, only you know your students. Challenge them, but use your discression when choosing and writing questions.

These are the some scaled down questions that are frequently used in developmental bibliotherapy. These questions can be rewritten to suite the reading level of your students:

  • Are you like any of the story’s characters?
  • Do any of the characters remind you of someone?
  • Who would you like to be in the story?
  • Is there anything you would like to change about the story?
  • How would you change the characters, what happened, or how the story ended?
  • What is your favorite part of the story?
  • Did anything in the story ever happen to you?
  • What do you think will happen to the characters in this story tomorrow, in a few weeks, or a year from now?


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