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Empathy and Writing (for and from)

I'm often struck by the empathy students develop when learning to write.

Take this week, for example, where a couple of my middle school students were reading "Story of an Hour."

They analyzed how a Victorian woman experienced her husband's death. They noted how her grief was complicated by a new-found sense of freedom: "years that would belong to her alone." These students were thinking in detail about a time, gender, and age they have never experienced.

Although she was fictional, they were empathizing with her. 

However, it isn't only literary analyses.

Empathy is practiced in persuasive writing as well. For a student last week, this meant thinking about the logical and emotional appeals that would most likely convince her parents to buy a dog for the family. She knew that her best writing (and outcome) would come from knowing--maybe feeling--her parents' concerns.

Likewise, in creative writings, students imagine their descriptions and narrations from their words alone. They work to get outside of themselves--to experience their writing as a reader inexperienced with the topic. In other words, empathy makes them more effective at painting in their readers' minds.

In my view, it's not only that empathy gives our kids an incredible advantage as writers but also that the writing process itself is one which teaches this vital skill.

But what do you think? Are empathetic students better writers? Does writing teach empathy? Is it only cognitive, or is it felt?

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