Thursday, March 31, 2011

Extra Credit Video Assignment

Because I am an English teacher and only teach the Holocaust in conjunction with teaching the memoir, Night by Elie Wiesel, I do not spend as much time on other aspects of the Holocaust as I would sometimes like, especially with snow days. So, to provide students with an opportunity to learn a little more about the Holocaust on their own, I allow them to watch a Holocaust video for extra credit, using the attached list and assignment qualifications. I do always try to preface the extra credit opportunity by saying that some of the selections are a Hollywood portrayal of the Holocaust and may have some inaccuracies. The students must write about the movie, making connections to what we have learned in class and reviewing the movie’s “credibility.” So, the extra credit opportunity also requires the students to practice some of the good writing habits that they are supposed to be developing in class.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Front loading vocabulary

Over five years ago, my high school brought in a reading specialist, Bill McBride, who talked to us about how to help students engage in reading across the content areas. While I teach communication arts/ language arts/ English, I am by no means a reading teacher, especially at the high school level, so this workshop was very helpful. Among the advice he gave us was to always “front load” the vocabulary we would be working with in a particular unit. He was kind enough to give us all a worksheet that we could take and implement in our classrooms for this purpose. I call this worksheet the “Predicting ABC’s” and have taken it and adapted it to use to introduce Holocaust vocabulary at the beginning of the Holocaust memoir unit I teach to freshmen.

I have the students think of as many terms as they can that they know about the Holocaust and write them on the chart alphabetically, and then we share out their responses. Then, I always have some that I tell them that I want them to know for the unit and test, and these are listed on the back of the worksheet. Some I already provide the definition for and others I make them take down as notes. This has been a great tool to help students know the terms that we will use during the unit, and the worksheet can be adapted for any unit in any content area.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teaching about Rescue

Teaching the Holocaust in middle school can be tricky. On one hand, the students have had little, if any, exposure to the topic and are eager to learn everything they can about it. On the other hand, they are still a bit young to hear all of the horrific details, and they can get very sad about it very quickly. I have found it to be very important to teach the facts, while also trying to teach some of the more inspiring aspects of the topic. One of these aspects is the subject of rescue.

Many middle school students read The Diary of Anne Frank. This is a great chance to teach about rescue. Once they have read the story, you can then teach them about Yad Vashem and their Righteous among the Nations honor. All four of the Frank rescuers are on this prestigious list. You can find information about the list and a discussion of the main forms of rescue during the Holocaust. You can then discuss how the Frank family helpers fit into this list.

Another person to study is Chiune Sugihara. There is a short story written about him, included in some middle school literature textbooks, called Passage to Freedom. You can also find his story on the Yad Vashem website. This can be a great chance to talk about stereotype as well. Most students only know of Japan as being our enemy during WWII. Learning about Sugihara can illustrate to the students that not all Japanese were “bad,” and that people from many countries and of all different races did what they could to help, even risking their lives. After studying his story, you can show a short video about him and his family, including primary resource photographs and an interview with his wife.

Once students have learned about a few rescuers, you can then have them explore the actual list of The Righteous Among the Nations and choose one to write about. The website also includes rescuers from other genocides, so it could be a jumping off point to teach about these other events. Another fantastic resource for learning about rescuers is the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. This is an organization that helps those rescuers who are still alive. Their website has the stories of many of rescuers, sorted by country. This would also help students understand that people from all over Europe tried to help. Writing about a rescuer can be a great way to cover many different curricular objectives, including research, paraphrasing and character study.

While it is important for students to understand that the Holocaust was a horrific event, I think it is also important, especially for the younger students, to see that there were people, although few in number, who risked their lives to help those who could not help themselves.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dr. Seuss, Hitler and Human Rights

Many teachers celebrate Dr. Seuss during the week surrounding his birthday- March 2. I am an inner city school librarian working with mostly minority students. Due to my students’ poor test scores regarding nonfiction, I pledged to spend this school year on nonfiction. My middle school students shared with me their excitement about the upcoming Dr. Seuss birthday celebrations. As a librarian, it’s imperative that I collaborate with teachers in order to support what is happening in the classroom, yet I did not want to lose our momentum studying nonfiction. I work to have Holocaust studies a major part of what we learn. How do I celebrate Dr. Seuss, continue our nonfiction studies, and incorporate the Holocaust into one unit?

Fortunately, a year ago, a Cadre colleague, Cathy, shared a great text with me- Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, by Richard H. Minear. I created a lesson plan about political cartoons for high school juniors and seniors. But, middle school?

I began by guiding a student discussion making text-to-text connections with the works of Dr. Seuss that the students are familiar with. I guided the students to seeing the larger themes of his works, such as the equal rights message of The Sneetches and Other Stories. A couple of students were aware of the larger themes for his books, and they enjoyed sharing their knowledge with others. I also shared with them Dr. Seuss’ own brushes with antisemitism. He was German. Due to that and that he had a larger nose, many students at his college thought he was Jewish, and he was not accepted by a group (fraternity) that he wanted to join on campus, so he redirected his interests in to the campus paper.

I asked them what issues were important to Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). The students were impressed that he was addressing equal rights well before the 1960s. We examined his cartoon of a man sitting at an organ while another man watching tells him he has to use the black keys, too. We then moved to the pressing issues of the late 1930s- isolationism and Hitler’s growing power. Students chose one of his political cartoons addressing Hitler/ antisemitism, and wrote a reflection on the cartoon.

The most gratifying comment made in the post discussion was that one can impact many. I was thrilled; teaching our students to want to make a difference is my mission.