STEP INSIDE: THINKING ROUTINES TO FOSTER PERSPECTIVE-TAKING

SUMMARY

Perspective-taking is about seeing a situation or understanding a concept from an alternative view point, such as that of someone else. It is a skill that needs to be encouraged – particularly in children.

Your brain has to work quite hard to get good at perspective-taking. And in the opposite direction of what it is hard-wired to do – which is to place YOU at the centre of everything.
Engaging in perspective-taking means moving away from this starting point in order to understand others.

THE GOOD NEWS is that like most things, it gets easier with practice and our perspective-taking skills do improve.  In today’s episode I’m going to introduce you to 4 thinking routines that are specifically designed to foster this disposition. You can  use these thinking routines with artworks to create discussions that consider multiple solutions to a problem and look at situations or people from multiple perspectives.

WHAT IS PERSPECTIVE-TAKING?

It’s the ability to take another person’s point of view.
It’s about seeing a situation or understanding a concept from an alternative view point, such as that of someone else.
Perspective-taking is about examining things from different perspectives to look for bias and develop a more balanced take on issues, ideas and events.
Empathy – which is our ability to recognise, feel, and respond to the needs and suffering of other people – is often the result of perspective-taking
Perspective-taking is also about understanding and valuing your own perspective. Knowing yourself is a necessary step towards developing the ability to detect other people’s viewpoints – particularly those that may be different from your own.
Artworks and objects are great at helping people consider multiple solutions to a problem and look at situations from multiple perspectives.
Perspective-taking is a skill that needs to be encouraged – particularly in children. and according to Ellen Galinsky in her book ‘Mind in the Making’ It involves several distinct socio-emotional-intellectual skills – such as:

Working memory – remembering how others might respond;
Inhibitory control – inhibiting our own thoughts to understand the perspectives of others;
Cognitive flexibility – viewing situations in different ways ;
and reflection – considering the thoughts and feelings of others.

In other words your brain has to work quite hard. And in the opposite direction of what it is hard-wired to do – which is to place YOU at the centre of everything.
Our brain literally places us at the centre and gives everyone else supporting roles.
This is why we naturally refer to our own experiences, opinions and perspective as a starting point.
Engaging in perspective-taking means moving away from this starting point in order to understand others.
So it’s not an easy process and does require some hard work on the part of your brain. BUT THE GOOD NEWS is that like most things, it gets easier with practice and our perspective-taking skills do improve.

WHY DOES PERSPECTIVE-TAKING MATTER?

  • Empathy and perspective-taking are often poorly defined, poorly understood, and rarely taught. We can address that gap through engaging discussions with art, objects and ideas. As facilitators and educators we can create a safe place to explore other points of view, cultures, and histories.
  • By putting people close to other people’s experiences, the objects from their cultures and their stories, we can awaken participants to different realities & multiple perspectives
  • In order to work effectively with people, it’s important to engage in perspective-taking. We need to be able to understand how someone else might see the world to be able to communicate effectively, work together and show empathy. As adults, perspective-taking is a crucial skill for all types of relationships – both professional and personal.
  • I believe we have a responsibility to encourage perspective-taking – In doing so, we might not only serve our audiences better, but also model a kinder society.
So we know what perspective-taking is and how it must be encouraged, We know why it’s important too. So how can we foster perspective-taking? 
We can use thinking routines that are specifically designed to foster the disposition of perspective-taking. And today  I’m going to introduce you to 4 different thinking routines here that you can use to foster the disposition of perspective-taking – either as an individual or with groups.

STEP INSIDE

We covered Step Inside in Episode 6 of The Art Engager podcast – which was about 6 essential thinking routines you need in your repertoire.
This routine used to be called Perceive, Know, Care About and this is evident from the three questions:
  1. What can the person or thing perceive ?
  2. What might this person or thing know?
  3. What might the person or thing care about ?
Step Inside is a wonderful thinking routine that I return to time and time again. I have used it hundreds of times with a variety of images, objects, situations, or things to invite perspective-taking and alternative points of view
It asks you to imagine yourself ‘in the shoes’ of the person or object that you’re looking at and to think about what that person might perceive, know, and care about.
It’s a great routine to pair with an observation thinking routine first – so that you see and notice all the details in an image first before thinking about the 3 ‘stepping inside’ questions. It works really well with self-portraits, portraits and group portraits and also with objects too.

STEP IN, STEP OUT, STEP BACK

I like to think of this routine as a ‘sister’ routine to ‘Step Inside’. 
Step In, Step Out, Step Back takes Step Inside one step further and asks 3 different questions:
  1. Step In: What do you think this person might feel, believe, know, or experience?
  2. Step Out: What would you like or need to learn to understand this person’s perspective better?
  3. Step Back: What do you notice about your own perspective and what it takes to take somebody else’s?
This routine invites you to take other people’s perspectives e.g. religious, linguistic, cultural, class, generational and so on. 
At the same time this routine also acknowledges that understanding other perspectives is revealing but at the same time it’s also quite challenging.
Participants should choose a person or agent in the material they are examining. 
You could choose an image, object, video, historical event or news article with this routine. 
As an aside, It’s worth ensuring that you have enough information at the start to be able to work with the thinking routine without having to create a fictional character. 
If you are working with a painting, object or photograph in a gallery on your own, the wall label might provide enough basic information to start the discussion. 
If you’re with a group, share enough information to get the group started in their discussions. Think about what is relevant to the discussion they will be having. 
The first step of this routine ‘What do you think this person might feel, believe, know, or experience?’ is quite imaginative and speculative in nature. 
You can choose to discuss one or all of the verbs in the question – perhaps focusing on one or two or if you’re working in a group choose one each to think about. 
The second question ‘What would you like or need to learn to understand this person’s perspective better?’ invites you to wonder about what else you need to know to understand someone and get a broader perspective. You could use this opportunity to look back at your first answers and observe for stereotypes in your initial thinking. 
As you progress throughout the routine, it becomes clear that there is more to understanding another person or perspective than first impressions alone.
The last question asks you to think in broader terms about perspective-taking about what things shape our perspectives about a person or event and what we can do to better understand other people’s perspectives.

POINT OF VIEW

Point of View is an early global thinking routine developed for the Project Zero Connect project.
Who is involved in the situation? Identify various actors in the situation
How does he/ she feel, think or act? Describe thoughts, feelings, behaviours
Why might he/ she think this way? Explain how social relations, cultural values and views of themselves may shape their perspective in the situation.
What else might I need to find out? Reflect on the limitations of one ’s interpretation and the questions that could still be pursued.
The first question asks you to identify various actors in the situation – If you’re in a group situation it’s a good idea for the group to identify all the stakeholders or different perspectives that are involved. 
You can then choose various ‘points of view’ that you would like to investigate further with the second question which is ‘How does he/she feel, think or act?’
The next question ask you to think about why he or she might think that way. Are there any social relations, cultural values or personal views of themselves may shape their perspective in the situation you are looking at?
The final question, similar to Step In Step Out step Back, asks you to think about what else you might need to find out. This is a useful step in thinking about the limitations of your own interpretation and the remaining questions that you could still investigate. 
I’ve really enjoyed using Point of View with photography – historical photography and photojournalism and including the perspective of the photographer in the list of ‘actors’ in the situation. 

CIRCLE OF VIEWPOINTS

Circle of Viewpoints

This routine helps you to see and explore different perspectives and to understand that different people can have different kinds of connections to the same thing. These different connections influence what people see and think.
This thinking routine asks you to forget your own point of view and to look for arguments for a given one. It promotes understanding for other ways of thinking and skills to form compelling arguments.
You can use this thinking routine with a painting, photograph or object. Choose something that invites participants to look at it from different viewpoints. You can also use multiple images of the same object which is a good starting point to think about perspective taking. Or use an object with people around it describing it from different physical points of view.
Circle of Viewpoints asks you to start with brainstorming a list of different perspectives that you can see in, for example, an image. Once you have a list, everyone has the opportunity to choose one perspective and explore it further using any or all of the 3 sentence starters
  • The first sentence starter asks you to think about the image from your chosen viewpoint.
  • The second sentence starter invites you to be an actor and take on the character of your viewpoint. For example: what does the person/think about the event/situation? What are their interests? What does he/she hold to be true/believe? How does he/she/it feel and/or care about?
  • The third and final sentence starter asks you to ask a question from this viewpoint or perspective. Think about what this person might be curious about. What might this person be wondering?
The routine works well with topics and artworks that deal with complex issues. It also works well when people are having trouble seeing beyond two sides to an issue or story.

This method can be used at the beginning of a subject, after reading a book or seeing a movie. It is especially interesting for controversial or complex topics. It is also helpful in the students´ process of problem orientation and formulating research questions in their research.So that’s 4 thinking routines that you can use with art and objects to explore perspectives. Step Inside, Step In Step Out Step Back, Point of View and Circle of Viewpoints. Which one are you going to try out? Do let me know!

We spend our days asking questions, but most of us never actually spend any time honing our questioning skills.
For some people questioning comes easily. But for the majority of us, we are not asking enough questions AND we’re not phrasing them in the best way.
I feel we’re missing a trick here. The ability to ask good questions is one of the most useful skills you can have. You can instantly engage people, provoke curiosity, find out what people already know and solve problems.
The good news is that we can all become better questioners with time and practice. AND, interestingly, the more questions we ask, the more we improve our emotional intelligence, which in turn makes us better questioners.
To become a better questioner, it’s really important first all to avoid these 10 common mistakes. Which ones of these are you guilty of? I’ve certainly done a few of these in the past! And stay tuned until the end where I’m sharing a follow-up exercise you can do to work on your own questioning skills!

1. ASKING MORE THAN ONE QUESTION AT A TIME

It sounds obvious but how many times have you thought you were asking one question but it ended up asking in many different ways?
I often hear a question morph into several other questions by the end of the very long sentence.
Sometimes we ramble on trying to explain the question we’re asking in many different ways in an attempt to help the group understand what you are asking.
However, by the time you’ve finished spelling out the question(s), the group are confused and not sure what or how to answer and the conversational flow has been lost.
The first step is to think before you talk. Figure about what you want to say before you start talking.
Ask the question and then stop. Allow thinking time (and we’ll get to that in a bit). See what responses come up. You can then re-phrase if necessary if you get zero responses.
Keep it clear and simple – one question at a time! it is OK to be brief.

2. ASKING QUESTIONS THAT ARE NOT PITCHED AT THE RIGHT LEVEL

You need to tailor your questions to the level of the group. There is no point asking questions that are too complex or too simplistic as you will frustrate your group.
Use questions in your introduction and throughout to assess the group’s existing knowledge and understanding of a subject or theme. Find out where they are at.
You can then adjust the level accordingly.
If you have a group with varying levels, try to maintain a middle ground whilst aiming one or two questions at a higher and a lower level.

3. ASKING LEADING QUESTIONS

Leading questions are ones that (subtly) prompt or suggest a certain answer: the one that you, the facilitator, guide or educator (knowingly or unknowingly) wants.
e.g “How would you describe this painting: depressing?’ ‘Do you think that Rembrandt looks remorseful in this painting because of his difficult life?’
Leading questions often provide false answers because the tendency is just to repeat back or paraphrase what the question asker said. They don’t give you any insights into what people are thinking. You won’t get a response that will surprise you or intrigue you or even make you think of something in a different way. It will just be a version of what you said in your leading question.
Be very wary of using leading questions. Watch out for any biases that creep in. Being aware that you are doing this is a really good step to fixing the problem. The next time you ask a leading question, notice what effect it has on the group and what responses they give. Make a mental note to yourself to rephrase your question as an open-ended one that invites a variety of responses.

4. ASKING WHY QUESTIONS

‘Why’ questions can make people clam up because they can appear challenging , provocative and direct.
When you ask a question such ‘Why do you think that?’ you are asking the participant to defend and justify his or her thoughts or point of view.
It’s the ‘why do YOU…’ that’s the issue here. I’m not against all why questions – using the 5 whys in problem-solving is a really good technique for example – but you should avoid asking ‘why’ questions in relation to people
You can easily replace the word ‘why’ with ‘what instead. Try saying ‘What do you see that makes you say that?’ or ‘What factors led you to those thoughts?’
You could also say ‘tell me more’ or ‘tell me about that’ to gather more information. The aim is to be able to learn as much as possible to understand what they see that you don’t see, what they know that you don’t know.

5. ASKING THE SAME TYPE OF QUESTIONS

Repetition means predictability which often causes people to switch off. If you ask ‘What’s going on in this picture?’ at as you arrive to every artwork on your museum tour, is too predictable for my tastes (sorry, for the Visual Thinking Strategies fans out there). Some people might like knowing what’s coming next but others will just switch off.
It reminds me of a German translation class I had at university. The teacher went around the room every lesson in a clockwise fashion asking you to translate the next sentence.
So, you could just work out which sentence was yours and then switch off for the rest of the class.
Predictable = dull in my book, I prefer to add a mix of questions.
Even if I do observation at every stop or art work, I will change up the questions I ask and the way we work together (as a large group, small groups or pair-share, written, drawing or spoken).

6. NOT ALLOWING THINKING-TIME

Ask the question and then stop. WAIT. I so often hear the guide or educator go in with a follow-up question, before the group have even had a chance to properly look at the object or think about the answer. Give everyone the chance to respond to your question. If necessary, count to 5 in your head before even thinking about saying anything. Be patient and comfortable with the silence. Think of it as thinking time!

7. CALLING ON PARTICIPANTS TO ANSWER QUESTIONS

This is a pet-peeve of mine and makes me feel very uncomfortable on a tour or indeed in any group situation. For example, asking everyone to introduce themselves in front of the group. This can be quite difficult for introverts so I prefer to ask each participant a few questions individually (and not too many closed questions either!)
Likewise, some group members may take longer to warm up than others and may not want to offer any thoughts until later in the tour or programme. Pointing at someone for a response will only make that person feel put on the spot and may affect their inclination to speak later in the programme.
Although you shouldn’t let any one person dominate the discussion, equally you shouldn’t pressure anyone to respond. My mantra is: People should feel encouraged but not required to participate.

8. IGNORING OR NOT UNDERSTANDING RESPONSES

If you don’t understand the response, ask for clarification: don’t just nod! Repeat the answer back in your own words (‘So, you believe that…’ or ‘Let me check that I’m understanding this correctly…’) or ask another question to get more info:
‘Would/Could you tell me a little more about…?’
‘I’d be interested in hearing more about..’.
You can also ask for more evidence: ‘What do you see that makes you say that?’

9. NOT KEEPING THE DISCUSSION ON COURSE

Don’t be afraid to interject and re-focus the conversation where necessary. While some participants may offer just a few words in response to your questions, others might go on for ten minutes every time you ask an open question. Part of your job as a facilitator, guide or educator is to manage the discussion.
A good facilitator can steer the conversation back on course by politely interjecting with questions at appropriate moments ‘If I may stop you for a moment….” Most people are rarely upset by an interjection that will let them continue talking. Asking additional questions will make your participants feel understood and valued. Using additional questions to keep the discussion on course, will help you to maintain the control and flow of the discussion.

10. ASKING ‘ANY QUESTIONS’

And finally, asking ‘Any questions?’ at the end of every stop on your guided tour or every 5 minutes does not make you interactive or engaging. Nor will it win you 5 star reviews. Participants have questions throughout a discussion, they should feel that they have the time and space to ask those questions as they go along, not at the end. Besides, one sure fire to forget any questions you did have is to actually ask anyone if they have any questions – you will be guaranteed tumbleweed and silence as people scramble to think of anything to ask. By the time you’ve asked this a 4th time, they will have given up caring. I’ve been on a guided tour where this was aksed 15 times. It got to the point where i was cringing waiting for the ‘any questions’ moment and the inevitable silence that followed…
A better way would be to recap the main points of discussion and remind participants of where the conversation has gone. At the end of your recap you can always ask if anyone has anything further to add or anything they are still wondering about. But generally, remind participants to ask questions throughout!
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought here. If you’d like to seriously learn about your questioning style, here’s an exercise to help you work on your technique:
Here’s a follow up exercise for you to do to improve your questioning skills.

FOLLOW UP EXERCISE

Record yourself leading a tour or educational programme by keeping your phone in your pocket and pressing play on a voice recording app (I like Voice Recorder) or if you’re working on Zoom, just hit record.
Play back the recording and listen out for any of these 10 common mistakes. To keep track, list the above mistakes on a sheet of paper, and put a tick mark next to a particular mistake each time you hear yourself make it. When you’re done, pick an area to focus on and practice using some of the strategies mentioned above.