Guest Blogger: Minkyung Cho
Writing is an interactive social act and a form of communication that involves negotiation between readers and writers. According to Direct and Indirect Effects model of Writing (Kim, 2020), perspective taking, one’s knowledge of their own mental and emotional states and inference about others’ mental and emotional states, is one of the skills that contributes to the meaning-making or negotiation process in multiple ways. Perspective taking is hypothesized to be important to establishing depth and coherence in writing via understanding the goal of the writing task, considering the needs of the audience, and developing a deep understanding of the source texts (Cho et al., 2021). In fact, the skills to express such complex thinking in writing becomes more crucial in the developmental stage of early adolescence, as transcription skills (e.g., spelling, handwriting) become increasingly automatized, allowing for one’s mental resources (e.g., working memory and attention) to be readily available for higher order thinking. Thus, for the majority of adolescents who developed fluent transcription skills, their cognitive resources become more accessible for complex reasoning processes such as perspective taking.
Does perspective taking matter in text-based analytical writing, a common genre taught in secondary schools?
In our study based on data from 195 seventh grade students’ text-based analytical essays, we examined how various perspectives were portrayed in their writing. We found differences in the extent of perspectives taken in writing by gender and English Language Learner (ELL) status. We observed that female students were more likely to incorporate different agents’ perspectives than their male counterparts. We also found that ELLs had comparable performance with their non-ELL counterparts in writing from others’ perspectives, although ELLs showed fewer instances of writing from their own points of view. Most importantly, we confirmed that, even after accounting for demographic differences in perspective taking, an essay written from multiple perspectives was more likely to be rated as high-quality writing than those written solely from the writer’s own-side perspective.
What does it mean to take no perspective, own-side perspective, dual perspective, and integrative perspective in a text-based analytical essay?
Based on prior literature, perspective taking can be seen as existing on a spectrum from no perspective to integrative perspective. We determined students’ perspective taking in text-based analytical writing by 1) breaking down an essay into T-units and 2) identifying whose mental and emotional states each T-unit was presenting. Here are the criteria we used for coding the T-units:
After identifying each T-unit in their level of perspective taking, a total perspective taking score was calculated. Akin to a widely used approach in a short constructed response where different weights are assigned as a function of precision of the response (e.g., 0 for an incorrect response, 1 for a partially correct response, and 2 for a precise response), we generated the perspective taking score by adding the number of own-side perspectives multiplied by 1, the number of dual perspectives multiplied by 2, and the number of integrative perspectives multiplied by 3. This way, the score reflected a greater weight for the higher or more complex perspectives and was used as an index to represent students’ perspective taking skills in writing.
What are some instructional practices that are helpful for enhancing perspective taking in writing?
Students in secondary schools may benefit from instructional attention paid to perspective taking in writing. Teachers can provide opportunities more explicitly and systematically for students to understand multiple perspectives and incorporate them into writing. For example, when teaching text-based analytical writing (read more on reading and writing connections), teachers can engage in quality discussion on different agents’ mental and emotional states (e.g., perspective of the author of the source material, perspectives of the different characters) represented in the source text. Teachers can also explicitly discuss the goals of a specific writing task (Nussbaum et al., 2005) and the needs of the intended audience (Midgette et al., 2007) and associated strategies to address them, such as providing background knowledge, defining key concepts or terms. Read more on Strategies for writing and Strategy Instruction in the WRITE Center blogs.
Interested in the behind-the-scenes theory? Here are the three proposed mechanisms through which perspective taking is portrayed in writing.
Theory of Mind
Perspective taking draws on the concept of Theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others’ mental and emotional states and predict their behaviors. Theory of Mind has been shown to be related to reading comprehension and written composition (Wollman-Bonilla, 2001).
Perspective taking is associated with one’s development of epistemological understanding (read more on Three Levels of Reasoning). This developmental progression reflects how people consider their own as well as others’ perspectives when constructing their knowledge base. The three developmental stages served as the basis for the three levels of perspective taking we identified.
Perspective taking is also related to how writers consider their audience in their writing. Experienced writers set goals and continually evaluate their writing to communicate better with their anticipated readers. In a way, audience awareness is one form of perspective taking, as writers adjust their language and content according to their expectations of their readers.
Cho, M., Kim, Y. S. G., & Olson, C. B. (2021). Does perspective taking matter for writing? Perspective taking in source-based analytical writing of secondary students. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 1-21.
Kim, Y. S. G. (2020). Structural relations of language and cognitive skills, and topic knowledge to written composition: A test of the direct and indirect effects model of writing. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(4), 910-932.
Midgette, E., Haria, P., & MacArthur, C. (2008). The effects of content and audience awareness goals for revision on the persuasive essays of fifth- and eighth-grade students. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21(1/2), 131–151.
Nussbaum, E. M., & Kardash, C. M. (2005). The effects of goal instructions and text on the generation of counterarguments during writing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 157–169.
Wollman-Bonilla, J. E. (2001). Can first-grade writers demonstrate audience awareness? Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 184–201.
Interested in guest blogging for the National WRITE Center? See our guidelines by clicking here.