Tuesday, October 13, 2009

White Rose Student Essay Contest

How do you create a short research assignment that requires students to not only provide a narrative history but also self-reflection? When it comes to the Holocaust this task becomes even more difficult if the assignment is to have any true value. Thankfully the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education created the White Rose Student Essay Contest.
There are a number of advantages to using this contest as a class assignment when studying the Holocaust.

  1. The contest adheres to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust. Specifically, in researching and writing for the contest students will recognize individuals, including victims and perpetrators, as human beings capable of moral judgment and independent decision making. Best of all the essay enables students to translate the statistics of 6 million killed into an individual experience. While the contest theme changes every year it does require students to focus on an individual within the larger context.
  2. Students are challenged to think about what they have learned through the course of their research. The essay includes a requirement that students write a short self-reflection.
  3. The assignment is relatively short at 1200 words maximum.
  4. Students are required to do research. This is a key skill found in both the Kansas and Missouri Social Studies standards. For those worried about what students may find on the internet regarding the Holocaust this can be controlled by using the list of recommended resources provided by MCHE for the contest theme. While not exhaustive the list is provided as a way to ensure students get reliable information. Many of the resources are also available through MCHE.
  5. Students are required to write for a wider audience. Most assignments are only created for the teacher to see. With this essay students need to be aware that they are writing something that others may see and judge. As a result students will probably take more care and deliberation in what they write.

While I teach 12th graders in International Baccalaureate History the essay contest can be used in any History or English class studying the Holocaust. Since I teach advanced students I do not have to take the time in class to teach research. However, this would be a great assignment to use as a means to teach research.

I have used the essay contest in a number of ways over the last 10 years. Initially I used it strictly as an extra credit assignment. Then I made it an option students could choose for their written assignment on World War II. The past few years it has become the required written assignment for World War II. Like most teachers it is difficult to find the time to teach many topics. I know for me the Holocaust is one such topic. While I spend some time teaching aspects of the Holocaust the essay contest enables me to extend that time while students also practice the skill of research.
While I require all students to write the essay, the contest only allows each teacher to send up to ten essays within each division (8th-9th and 10th-12th). I grade all the essays for my class and then choose the best to enter the contest. Sometimes this is the full allotment but often not. Those offered the opportunity to enter the contest can receive extra credit. In order to receive the extra credit the students selected must meet with me to discuss any changes needed to be made to their essay. In addition they must fill out the required paperwork and complete any other criteria by the deadline.

Overall, the White Rose Essay Contest is an easy to use assignment with a great number of advantages. I know everyone reading this can find some way to incorporate it in to their curriculum. You will not regret the effort. All your students will certainly be better off for having researched and written on the Holocaust.


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