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Methods

Logistics
My 40 minute playwriting classes occurred at the end of the school day on
Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Wednesday, as an elective course, which
means my students chose
to take this class. I had 14 students enrolled, and several of

these students had taken a playwriting course with me in the past, or participated in a
playwriting project that I conducted embedded inside a Humanities class I teach.

Empathy Quotient Test


For my initial survey, I gave students the Empathy Quotient survey developed by
Simon Baron-Cohen. This survey is a self-report questionnaire typically used with adults
of normal intelligence. The test contains 40 empathy items and 20 filler/control items
and on each empathy item, a person can score 2, 1 or 0.
The maximum possible score is 80, and the minimum possible score is 0. I chose
the Baron-Cohen test over other similar surveys because of its shorter length and its
easy administration. I did not want to take up the entirety of a class period in order to do
something like the Empathizing/Sympathizing questionnaire, even though that may
have yielded some other interesting data for analysis.When I first administered this test
and revealed my action research project to my group, one of my students said, Hey- we
should take it at the end too. This was exactly my plan.

Open Ended Empathy Survey


During my initial survey, I also gave students an open ended survey that I
developed based on some of the Empathy Quotient survey questions as well as on some
of my observations of student discussions in class.
I drew inspiration for the first question based on number 28 of the Empathy
Quotient Survey:
If anyone asked me if I liked their haircut, I would reply truthfully, even if I
didnt like it.
My purpose in drawing out this statement into a longer prompt that was
open-ended was so that I could see students written responses to some of these various
situations that resulted in only a numerical value in the Empathy Quotient test. The goal
of my project was to develop students empathy and the primary way I planned on
measuring their empathy was through their writing, so it is was important to me to
collect an initial piece of writing. This is what I drew the above Baron-Cohen statement
into for the open response:
You see a student walk into class who has been in your class for most of the
year, but she is not someone you have talked to very often. She comes in, and
her head is down, and she seems to be avoiding eye contact with everyone. She
has gotten a new haircut and it doesnt quite suit the shape of her face, and you
think her old haircut fit her better. She sits down next to you, and she asks you,
What do you think about my haircut? What do you do or say next and why?
Try to be as detailed as possible.

Number 42 on the EQ Test is:


I get upset if I see people suffering on news
programs.
For the open response, I asked students to respond to the following prompt:
You hear on the news that a building has collapsed in Dhaka,
Bangladesh. Hundreds of people have died in the collapse, and on top of
this, most of the people who were inside the building were working on
less than minimum wage and were living in houses that lacked
insulation. Someone during the school day mentions that they also heard
the news segment. What do you do or say next when this person mentions
the news segment? Why? Try to be as detailed as possible.

For the last open response question, I wanted gauge each students emotional
engagement and ability to connect. I found that these two things were very important
traits of empathy when I was reading relevant literature, so I posed the following
question:
Describe a time that a friend of yours was in trouble. Who was this
friend? What did you do about their troubled situation, if you did
anything at all? Why?
This initial survey would then be repeated at the end of the course to measure
both a quantitative number (the EQ test) and a more qualitative piece (the open
responses). If you would like to see the exact hand-outs of both qualitative pieces (both

the initial survey and the ending survey), please see Appendix 7. The ending open-ended
questions reflected similar situations but not the same storylines as the initial questions.
During the playwriting course, students were asked to write responses to various
activities inside their notebooks which are stored in the classroom. Further, each
student planned, drafted, wrote and revised a one act play.
I read each of these pieces with an eye for the three traits of empathy that I have
narrowed down my research to in my literature review: 1) The Ability to Connect 2) The
Art of Observation 3) The Imaginative Capacity. These may appear in these writing
pieces in a variety of ways. For example, responses to the third open response question
that are lengthier, with more vivid detail, may indicate a heightened ability to observe
and imagine the other persons experiences. Responses that likened the friends
situation to the writers own experiences may indicate a heightened ability to connect.
Throughout this process, I analyzed the data in front of me from the lens I know
the best: a literature teacher with a critical eye. While I see poetry in everything my
students do, it was my hope that these methods would allow me to shine a light on the
important subject of empathy and how we can cultivate it in our students through a
creative process.