New Teaching Method Addresses Student Interpretation of Diverse Perspectives
By David Pollock
Piaget showed us that until about age 4, children are cognitively incapable of taking the perspective of someone else (see this video example
). Children of this age assume that others see things exactly as they do. As children mature and experience the world, they begin to understand that others have a different point of view. In the case of Piaget, he demonstrated this by showing that children could not understand that others see the physical world differently if they are in a different place.
But the concept applies to much more than understanding that others literally “see” the world differently. Psychologists tell us that taking the perspective of another person is a fundamental part of social interaction—an important skill that adults cannot do without. Without the ability to understand that others have a different perspective from our own, we cannot compete well with others in games or business (“what might his next move be”) nor can we do very well in relationships (“why does she feel that way?”). But these examples just tap the surface.
Why do other people, or groups of people, do what they do and say what they say? The rest of the world, indeed, everyone that is not me, sees the world differently than I do
. If I cannot at least make an attempt to understand others’ perspective on things, I could not possibly hope to work well with them to solve problems, come to agreements on how to proceed on a task, or understand why they are motivated to do what they do. It seems, unfortunately, that some people never make it out of childhood and into the adult world of perspective-taking.
In the latest revision of IDEA’s Student Ratings of Instruction, a new item was added that addresses this important interpersonal process. In the new instrument, students are asked to rate how often instructors: “Helped students to interpret subject matter from diverse perspectives (e.g., different cultures, religions, genders, political views).”
This “intercultural competence” as it is called in the AAC&U Value Rubric
is a key feature of an educated person. The ability to see issues, history, politics...everything from the perspective of others not only helps you understand others, but it helps you deepen your understanding of the concept itself. And it has been called a necessary capacity for citizens of a democratic society. Helping students to see subject matter from other perspectives, then, is an important part of what instructors do.
Creating opportunities for students to see things from the perspective of others can be a scary proposition for instructors. How do you build a safe classroom in which other perspectives can be shared? How exactly do you move students from a self-perspective to an other-perspective? Jim Winship at The University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, provides a thoughtful place to start for those interested in incorporating diversity into their courses: https://www.uww.edu/learn/improving/aboutdiversity/approachdiversity
Look for more resources on this topic here at IDEA in the future.