Like Atticus Finch, I believe that one of the most important things we can teach our students is to try to be more understanding and tolerant. It’s because of this that I start every tenth grade class with the inquiry questions: where does intolerance come from? How can we become more tolerant?
We use these questions as a guide for most of what we do in the class, especially our reading. I always start the semester with six weeks of reading and writing workshop and then we turn our attention to full class texts: To Kill a Mockingbird and a book club selection that explores similar themes from the perspective of authors of color. Each of these offers students some clues for their inquiry.
This year, I decided to step it up a notch with our reading workshop. I’m requiring students to choose a book with a character who is different than them in some way. Proponents of the reading workshop model may say this takes away choice, one of the pillars of workshop, but I disagree – there are so many great books available that provide students with ample opportunity to crawl inside the skin of another person so they can learn from them.
So, in the hopes of giving my students a good head start with their inquiry, I made a plan:
Create engaging lessons & activities to teach the concepts
First off, I need to make sure my kids understand the concepts of point of view and perspective; more importantly, I want them to understand how they work together. It can be a little dry just to drone on about first person, second person, etc. plus I want them to understand the concepts beyond just parroting back the definition.
We spent a couple of days discussing how we form our opinions and that they are based on a lot of things like our background, experiences, values and beliefs. I begin with an exercise that I wrote about here. It’s one of my favourite exercises to get kids to understand others.
Next I gave each student a pink and teal post-it. I told them to write, on the pink post-it, the first word that would pop into their heads if they met someone who had bright blue hair. Then, I asked them to pretend they were their parents and do the same with the teal post-it. They put the notes on the wall and a pattern was clear: the pink post-its had more positive tone overall, while the teal ones had a more negative or surprised tone.
We discussed why that might be, and the kids had lots of theories. One insightful young lady pointed out that they interact and are friends with students who dye their hair crazy colours and know that they are just like everyone else, while their parents may not have that experience and so they don’t get the chance to learn that. At that point we talked about how our experiences can affect our perspective of things, and if we want to understand others’ actions and reactions (and possibly change them), we need to also understand their perspective.
Give students opportunities to look through someone else’s eyes
After a few days of delving into point of view and perspective, we talked about how it is tied into point of view. I gave them some notes and some examples to illustrate that even a third person narrator is affected by perspective.
Today, we are going to do a group writing exercise to further illustrate the importance of perspective. Groups were given a photo prompt — some had the same photo, but a different description that directed them to look at the picture from a certain perspective.
For example, one group got the picture that you see on the left, with a caption underneath that reads: The younger man is very happy to be in the moment playing chess with the older man. In the space below, brainstorm the thoughts in his head at this moment (beyond his next move).
I gave the kids time to brainstorm ideas; then, each team got a big post-it note to write the thoughts of the character they’d been assigned. Finally we posted the notes throughout the class, and the kids did a gallery walk to guess what each group was trying to capture.
Have students apply what they’ve learned to their reading:
Now, in order to make sure they really understand point of view and perspective — and to dig into our inquiry questions — I want them to practice what they have learned. I instructed them to choose a novel with a character who is different from them in some way — whether it’s age, gender, race, interests, socio-economic status, etc. We will be working on other things as they read, but we’ll be taking a close look at the perspective of the characters they have chosen, as well as how narrative point of view is used in each text. They are going to have several short writing and research assignments in conduction with this unit, and I hope that by the time we are done, they will have learned something about not only author craft, but also another perspective.
If you’d like to use this lesson for teaching point of view and perspsective, it’s all organized and ready to go. You can check it out at my TpT store here.