By Dr. Carol Horn
K-12 Program Coordinator Department of Instructional Services
Fairfax County Public Schools
Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from Horn’s upcoming book, “The 10 Big Ideas: How to help your child think bigger, imagine more, and do better in school”
Everyone has a viewpoint. Kids, adults, writers, politicians, and teachers, too.
Learning the role of viewpoint—and understanding that each person has a unique point of view—is one of the most important thinking skills that a child can acquire.
It is not only important for children to become comfortable sharing their own viewpoint, they must also be willing to listen to and learn from the viewpoints of others. They will also learn that their own viewpoint is stronger when there is evidence to support their thinking.
This thinking skill takes practice.
However, over time, children will learn that knowledge and ideas can be examined from many different points of view and by considering different viewpoints, they will gain a deeper understanding of situations, issues, and beliefs.
Learning to examine various viewpoints will increase their willingness to consider the ideas of others and help them understand that their own point of view is subject to change. Gradually, with practice, they will be able to listen to and learn from others, think critically about their own ideas, and identify areas of agreement and disagreement.
Parents can help their children recognize and appreciate different viewpoints through conversations that encourage a discussion of open-ended questions.
Good questions to ask include:
- What makes a good friend?
- What is your favorite sport and why?
- Movies and books yield additional opportunities to discuss different viewpoints. Ask: Did you like or dislike the movie or book and why?
- If the movie is based on a book, which one did you enjoy more and why?
- How were they alike?
- How were they different?
When children are encouraged to participate in conversations where they have an opportunity to share their viewpoint, they become more confident and comfortable with sharing their thinking and are more open to considering the ideas and opinions of others.
Many children’s books are available that provide children with an opportunity to consider a different viewpoint.
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is a traditional story told from a different point of view—in this case, the wolf’s.
After reading this story:
- Parents can discuss how the wolf’s viewpoint differed from that of the pigs’.
- They can also discuss what they thought about the wolf’s viewpoint and whether or not he had evidence to support his claims.
- Children can then be asked to consider another story from a different viewpoint.
In the story of The Three Bears, good questions to ask include:
- How did the bears view a stranger coming into their home?
- How did Goldilocks view the bears?
- How did their viewpoints impact the story?
Once they are comfortable with the notion of viewpoint, children can learn to practice using evidence to support their viewpoint.
1. If they like a certain book or story, they can be asked to provide examples from the story to support their viewpoint.
2. This gives them an opportunity to experience firsthand the effectiveness of using evidence to support and illustrate their thinking.
3. They learn that it is not enough to just say, “This is my favorite book!” but to add details that will encourage another to read the story as well.
4. If someone disagrees with them, it becomes more than just who is right or wrong, but a situation in which each person has a different viewpoint and they should listen to and understand the other’s viewpoint as they form their own opinion.
Another strategy for sharing varying viewpoints and ideas is the Socratic dialogue.
Named for the ancient Greek philosopher who believed that all knowledge is living and interactive, Socratic dialogue is a method that teaches through questioning. Socrates believed that actively questioning another’s ideas helps that person discover what he believes as well as the basis for his or her beliefs.
The Socratic dialogue provides a safe and engaging forum for students, parents, siblings, and peers to consider multiple viewpoints as they listen to and learn from each other. The questions are a catalyst for lively discussions that lead to a deeper understanding of thoughts and ideas.
To begin a Socratic seminar discussion:
1. The leader (adult or child) poses an open-ended question, for example, “What is potential?”
2. The first question may lead to other questions, such as, “Does everyone have the same potential?” or “What must you do to make sure that your potential is developed?”
3. Participants share different viewpoints, support their opinions with clear reasoning and evidence, consider alternative views, and identify areas of agreement and disagreement.
4. Through this dynamic discussion, children will increase their understanding and expand their thinking in new and meaningful ways.
For more information on Socratic Seminars, take a look at Christopher Phillips’ Socrates Cafe. Known as the “Johnny Appleseed of Socratic dialogue,” Phillips has written several books that provide wonderful questions to stimulate Socratic dialogue. These include the The Philosophers Club and Ceci Ann’s Day of Why.
Family seminars may start out as open-ended questions.
However, they may also be in response to a poem, news article, artwork, movie, or other piece of interest that would lead to a good discussion.
- After reading My Great Aunt Arizona, by Gloria Houston, a story about children who attended a one-room schoolhouse in the 1800s, children in one family discussed, “What were the advantages and disadvantages of one-room schools?”
- Another family read the poem, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost. Afterwards, they discussed the importance of making thoughtful decisions and wondered, “Can you ever really know if you made the right decision as you go through life?”
The flow of ideas that the seminar fosters challenges participants to question and defend their own thinking as they listen to others.
It also provides children with practice in expressing and sharing their own thinking and ideas. Family discussions are raised to a new level when children and parents are engaged in this strategy. Plus, the thinking skills and confidence that a child gains through Socratic dialogue at home will carry over into school and life.
Now, let’s link to the learning strategy we discussed in the November issue of Be Inkandescent magazine: Decisions and Outcomes.
- Students can be asked to express their viewpoints on a decision that was made and its various outcomes.
- Often, their viewpoint will change over time once they experience firsthand the outcome of a decision and have an opportunity to reflect on it.
- They will also gain a deeper understanding of how decisions and outcomes impact viewpoints and what it means to learn from experience.
- As students become actively engaged in using these thinking processes, they learn to test and reflect on new ideas in an environment that nurtures critical thinking and lifelong learning.
Stay tuned for our next chapter in Dr. Horn’s upcoming book, “The 10 Big Ideas: How to help your child think bigger, imagine more, and do better in school”
About Dr. Carol Horn
Dr. Carol V. Horn is coordinator of Advanced Academics Program (former Gifted and Talented Programs) for Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia.
She has worked in gifted education for the past 20 years and has a Master of Education in Educational Psychology with an Emphasis on Gifted from the University of Virginia.
She earned her doctorate in Teacher Preparation and Special Education from The George Washington University and is the 2002 recipient of the Hollingsworth Award from the National Association for Gifted Children for outstanding research study in the field of gifted education.