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    How Can I Develop Children’s Empathy through the Implementation of a Fictional Literature Programme?

    O'Farrell, Helen (2018) How Can I Develop Children’s Empathy through the Implementation of a Fictional Literature Programme? Masters thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    Inspired by my values for care, empathy and social justice and the deeply transformative power that I believe literature has the power to yield, this study grew from a personal interest to juxtapose these areas and hence improve my practice. The manner in which children’s exposure to literature in my classroom was, for a time, largely permeated by surface-layer, basal understanding called for a radical change in my practice. I envisaged that deeper interactions with literature would broaden the world of the children and allow them to encounter different perspectives and empathise with the lives of others, consequently propelling social change. This change, I believed, would simultaneously allow me to live more closely in the direction of my values too. This self-study action research project focuses on my experience of implementing a programme of fictional literature designed to enhance children’s empathy. Empathy is a concept linked to a range of prosocial behaviours – such as altruism and a reduction in bullying behaviours. A range of literature, both prose and picture books, is employed in tandem with a number of interventions. Data deriving from this is gathered by means of questionnaires, observation, and my own, self-designed data gathering method. It is subsequently bolstered through consultations with a critical friend and validation group. Importantly, as is synonymous with action research, a reflective diary – imbued by reflective practice - is a paramount data collection tool also. Qualitative data is subsequently analysed thematically, with quantitative data analysed through exploratory data analysis. Emergent findings from the data suggest that my literature programme successfully generates characteristics of empathy, like taking the perspective of another and feeling an emotion with them. My theory intimates that the most effective interventions at doing so are Role Plays and Dramas, Making Connections, Lingering Questions, Post your Senses and Diary Entries. Vitally, I also observe that each of these are underpinned by the choice of literature and an adherence to a strict policy of vetting, particularly with regard to selecting culturally diverse literature. A further finding of my research points to the prowess literature has to create a formidable empathy which can transform held beliefs and assumptions. For instance, children begin to have a greater empathy for the emotions of others and an understanding that nobody is binary. Additionally, through exposure to literature that focuses on diverse groups – such as refugees - feelings of ‘otherness’ and perceived impenetrable difference are eroded by a paradigm shift and children can instead begin to see the sameness of the human condition. Importantly, these findings and my subsequent claims to knowledge are bolstered and validated by their openness to public scrutiny through the presentations I have given, the publication of this thesis and dialogue with my critical friend, validation group and peers. The results of this study have a range of ramifications for me personally, in that this research process, in addition to my allegiance to reflective practice, has enabled me to live significantly closer to my values than I had been hitherto and create a Living Theory of which I am proud. Furthermore, the ramifications it has regarding changes that should arise in policy, theory and the practice of other teachers is discussed.

    Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
    Keywords: Develop; Children’s Empathy; Implementation; Fictional Literature Programme; Froebel; Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education
    Item ID: 13717
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2020 10:06
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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