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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Encouraging empathy through home economics and the buddy project : an action research inquiry Edstrom, Colleen Allison


This study is primarily concerned with the development of empathy and caring behaviors among a group of high school students in the context of a Home Economics class. The significance of this research is reflected in the weakened social fabric of modern day life and the call for rebuilding a caring community — a civil society. Motivated by studies conducted in classrooms on this topic and the need for an educational response in preparing this generation of youth for living in a caring community, this study seeks to deepen our understanding around the central research question: Can the Home Economics curriculum serve as a vehicle to encourage empathic and caring behavior? This study draws principally on the work of Noddings (1984), Eisenberg (1992) and Baumeister and Leary (1995) that provides a theoretical framework for the development of empathy and caring. It is in the intersection of theory and implementation and practice that The Buddy Project, and this study, is located. High school students in a Home Economics class were partnered with kindergarten children. They were engaged in a series of structured learning tasks designed to promote pro-social behavior over a five month period. Action research (classroom research) was the mode of inquiry selected for investigating the effects of participation in The Buddy Project. This study involved three cycles of inquiry and reflective practice. Throughout, the writer (researcher) collected, analyzed and interpreted an array of qualitative data that informed the ensuing cycle of planning (task design), action (observing) and reflection (interpretation/ theory construction). The data included images (photography), student response journals, student narratives garnered through semi-structured interviews, student questionnaire, and the writer's field notes/journals. A predetermined framework for the data collection was not assumed, rather, the data were analyzed to note emergent and recurring themes. Clearly discernable patterns emerged, generating a theory upon analysis of the data.. Among the findings, the following are especially noteworthy. Through participating in the Buddy Project the students perceived of themselves as becoming better people; they became more caring and giving toward others; they saw themselves as role models for the youngsters in their charge; and they came to a better understanding of the child within — the child they once were. Further, students can reflect critically and identify within themselves the development of empathy and caring behavior. The findings lead to the conclusion that empathy and caring behavior as reflected above, can be taught and learned. Critical features of instruction in the Home Economics classroom include the intentional and purposeful design of structured learning engagements for the high school students, and the on-going (one-on-one) partnering with kindergarten children. Opportunities for the partners to get to know one another, teacher modeling of praise and encouragement (i.e. "catch them being good"), and identifying and focusing on empathic and caring behaviors through shared readings of children's literature can lead to the development of empathy and caring among high school Home Economics students.

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