Thursday, January 13, 2011

Essay Contest resources and advice!

Last year was my first to tackle the White Rose Student Essay Contest. The colleagues in my informal PLC, Gay Ramsey from Trailridge Middle School and Jen Jenkins from Westridge Middle School, were invaluable to me. They shared their project plans and calendar. They explained how they taught various aspects of the research process to their students. We solved problems and shared frustrations together. We met at MCHE the day the final essays were due, turned in our students’ papers, and then went out for dinner . When the winners were announced last May, Gay was holding my hand, literally – just as she had held it figuratively through the entire process. Honestly, I could not have done it without them!

This year we added another member to our group, Kristin Ridgway from Hocker Grove Middle School, and started planning at the end of 1st Quarter. The documents associated with this blog entry are a result of that meeting. Many of them have my name in the footer, but they are the result of the cumulative effort of the four of us. Each person in the group reserves the right to make changes as needed for her particular group of students and her school schedule. Some of us spend a bit more time on one step of the process than another. Of course, we all must monitor the learning of our students along the way and make necessary adjustments. Nevertheless, the Project Description and Calendar provide a guide for the teacher and students from the start of the project about the tasks that must be accomplished and the time allotted for completing them. The Topic Approval Form is designed to prevent research project pitfalls before they happen: students who pick a topic that doesn’t truly interest them or about which they can’t obtain enough information.

Gay, Jen, and I decided to begin the White Rose Project this year with an introduction to the Kansas City area survivors. MCHE has provided us with two unique resources for this task. First, The Holocaust: Through Our Own Eyes is a wonderful video that provides an overview of the Holocaust in the length of one class period. It was produced by MCHE and features the testimony of KC area survivors. Second, Mosaic of Memories is a PowerPoint presentation created by MCHE that can be used in the classroom in 2-3 periods. (Gay and I allowed 3 days on the calendar because we talk too much!) Mosaic also tells the story of the Holocaust from the point-of-view of KC area survivors. We think that these two resources will be instrumental in helping the students choose the survivors whom they would like to research for their projects.

The Survivors Chart associated with this blog entry is an adaptation of MCHE's White Rose topic list for 2010-11. Gay and I have added columns cross-referencing the list of survivors with The Holocaust: Through Our Own Eyes, Mosaic of Memories, and The Memory Project (another MCHE publication).

Finally, Gay, Jen, and I feel that it is important for our students to gain a solid foundation of general Holocaust knowledge in the course of this project. As 8th graders, this is probably the first time most of our students have learned anything about the Holocaust. We want them to have facts rather than myths and misconceptions. They will have other opportunities to learn about the Holocaust – in high school English and history classes. We don’t need to teach them everything; we want to teach broadly and leave them curious to learn more. Their White Rose essays – no matter the topic – will be stronger if they understand how their piece of the puzzle fits into the larger picture. An excellent text for providing this general overview of the Holocaust is Tell Them We Remember by Susan D. Bachrach. That is why it is required reading in the beginning steps of the White Rose project. The reading guide that I used with students last year and intend to use again is also attached for your use.

If you are lucky enough to have colleagues in your school district who have participated in White Rose, I urge you to seek them out. Band together and work as a team. It makes the process much less stressful and more enjoyable. If you are alone and tackling the project for the first time on your own, contact Jessica Rockhold at MCHE. There are people who are willing to help you!

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