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!