Lessons in Empathy in the English Classroom: Developing Character and Exploring Meaning with Children's Literature

Abstract: 

Amidst a flourishing culture of self-absorption and ready-made answers, the enormous capacity of the English classroom to be fertile ground for character development and the exploration of meaning is more apparent than ever. The English teacher is only too aware that more than just being a venue for learning how to make subjects and verbs agree or how to structure sentences properly, her classroom can be a place for engendering values, such as empathy, as well as students’ facility for meaning-making. This workshop explores the potential and possibilities of children’s literature as a tool for developing character, particularly students’ ability to empathize with others – to perceive, understand, experience, and respond to the emotional state and ideas of another person (Barker, 2008, in Gerdes et al., 2010) – as well as their ability to construct a variety of meanings, by encouraging them to imagine how other characters might think and feel and by providing them with opportunities to formulate concrete and measurable responses.