October 23, 2020

Through the Eyes of Others: The Impact of Collaborative Reading

Why and how do you read? To seek news and information? Or for escapism and pleasure?

There’s a difference!  Research tells us that your relationship with reading changes when your objectives change.

Reading can be transactional - where you read to take away specific information.

But reading can also be sensory - where the experience of reading itself carries you to a new place, or evokes memory or dreams. Sensory reading happens when you become an “armchair traveler” or when you shed a tear over the circumstances of a character.

The late scholar Louise Rosenblatt explains the different effects of transactional and sensory reading: “someone else can read the newspaper or a scientific work for us and summarize it acceptably. No one, however, can read a poem for us.”

At Reflection Point we subscribe to a third approach to reading - a collective approach.

We gather groups of colleagues in a setting where all bring their individual life experiences, emotions and sensibilities to create a new relationship with a story.  It is a collaborative approach that moves beyond one reader experiencing a story to include a group of readers, each of whom approaches the same story with different ways of understanding and absorbing it.

When you encounter other readers with a wildly different experience of a story, you learn not only from the story but from the others too. You step into others’ shoes to see the story reflected through their eyes, ultimately expanding your understanding of the world through others.

This is one of the most magical – and practical – elements of Reflection Point.

Two participants, staff members in a large research university, experienced this joint learning. Discussing a young male character in Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, one participant judged him and the other identified with him. The difference caused the first to examine her reaction more closely, to explore her initial response through the lens of her colleague’s point of view:

“I really have to open my mind and think: Just because I would feel that way in a certain situation doesn’t mean that somebody else will feel the same way. This made me try to see things through the position of this young boy who is clearly different from me and accept that as being just his way of doing things.”

This collaborative approach to reading permits a reader to “live” a literary experience, but then to relive it through the eyes of other readers, to expand the impact of the story.

The learnings come as much from the others as from the story itself. What Rosenblatt describes as a bilateral relationship between a story and a reader becomes a multilateral (and transformative) experience that enriches both the story and those who share it. This experience develops valuable skills to navigate the complexities of the workplace and the world, to see everyday issues through other eyes as well.

Another participant emphasizes this effect:  “The discussions helped all of us see [the stories] in a different light from what we read on our own. And you take those conversations and you bring them back into your work environment, you look at something and, then you discuss something with your team, and you [realize], ‘Oh! I could look at it this way also.’”

This collaborative approach to a shared experience – a story – contributes to an inclusive, empathetic work environment that values diverse skills, insights and experiences. And it's productive: building on this diversity unleashes ideas, drives innovation and creates value.

Image Credit:
Vincent van Gogh via WikiArt
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