Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How to combine fiction with character education

You may be wondering why Entelechy Education, LLC chose fiction rather than nonfiction to advance children’s knowledge of STEM topics, character education lessons, and literacy learning.  Initially, it was because we thought it would be more fun for young readers.  Now we see that strong research backs this decision!
Here is the abstract from a PLOS ONE research project conducted by P. Matthijs Bal and Martijn Veltkamp, published January 30, 2013: The current study investigated whether fiction experiences change empathy of the reader. Based on transportation theory, it was predicted that when people read fiction, and they are emotionally transported into the story, they become more empathic. Two experiments showed that empathy was influenced over a period of one week for people who read a fictional story, but only when they were emotionally transported into the story. No transportation led to lower empathy in both studies, while study 1 showed that high transportation led to higher empathy among fiction readers. These effects were not found for people in the control condition where people read non-fiction. The study showed that fiction influences empathy of the reader, but only under the condition of low or high emotional transportation into the story.
What are the implications for young readers? 
  1. We see that empathy is a key personality trait that leads to a caring and peaceful personality at home and in the classroom.  When children can empathize with others’ problems, they are better able to understand and accept differences. 
  2. When children empathize with fictional characters, they feel a connection to the content of the book, whether that content advances intellectual, moral, or literacy lessons.
  3. When children read about fictional characters and events in an imaginary setting, they tend to become transported into the story.  When that happens, they learn to change their own personalities as a result of becoming one with the story.
  4. Children learn through building on prior knowledge.  Fiction usually presents a world in which children feel comfortable – there are houses, trees, and other natural phenomena that are familiar to them.  By using the emotional connection to a familiar platform to introduce unfamiliar lessons, children will assimilate the knowledge more easily. 
Think about this in your own life.  The last time you read a fiction book, you felt a connection with the characters.  You probably wanted to join them in the plot, showing them where their logic might have been flawed.  When you had finished that book, you wanted the story to continue.  It is that continuation logic that makes fiction so much more educational for young readers.  It will carry over into their everyday lives.
Now think about a nonfiction book you might read, let’s say it was a biography of Alexander Graham Bell.  You learned about his life.  You identified with his need to help his hearing-impaired wife.  But you probably did not empathize with his plight.  Why?  Because nonfiction does not elicit the feelings of empathy that fiction creates.  It merely presents the facts.
The lesson learned here is that the EnteleTrons ™ characters help children learn because they are part of a fiction-based series that presents STEM topics, character education, and literacy learning in each book.  Order your individual and classroom sets now!
Reference: Bal, P. Matthijs and Martijn Veltkamp. “How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation.” January 30, 2013:

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