Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tips for Teaching the White Rose Essay in Middle School

I have found that my middle school students (I teach 8th grade advanced) have a very hard time with a research paper when they have unlimited sources, like the internet.  Last year, I decided to narrow their sources down to a very small set.  I found this to be remarkably successful, and much easier on my end as well.  Here are some things I did:

·       Before we ever looked at the documentsfrom MCHE, I taught them the basic information they needed to know about the topic we were covering. 
o   I tried to break down the topic as much as I could to help them understand the events leading up to and the historical context of the event or situation.
o   I printed off articles from USHMM and created guided notes pages for them.  They read the articles knowing what they were supposed to learn from them and completed the guided notes both in class and for homework.
o   They had to complete the notes in order to move on in the project. 
o   These website pages became part of every student’s works cited page, since I knew every one of them at least learned information from the handouts.
·         While my students have a hard time with the vastness of the internet, they also have a hard time finding a book that works for their topic and then trying to glean only the information they need out of the book.  Therefore, I had them all use the same book as their print source.  I borrowed a class set of “Tell Them We Remember” from MCHE.  This is a great, simple resource created by USHMM.  I had the kids use the book to add at least 10 facts about the topics we had already covered in class.  This also was added to every student’s works cited page.  

Once we had this base information covered, I then introduced the actual White Rose topic.  I went through and showed them the various documents they could use.  *With this year’s topic, I may not give them ALL of the documents, as some of them are perhaps a little too graphic or over their heads at this age.  Or, I may only give them parts of some documents.
They then were able to choose the documents they wanted to use and begin the note taking on those documents.  Again, I gave them guided notes pages so they knew what they were trying to get out of each one.

After we had all of our notes gathered, they then chose the specific person’s story they were going to use.  I only gave them the websites from MCHE, but this is where they went online and did some exploring.  I gave them a more generic guided notes page that worked for all of the stories.
Once they had all of their information gathered, I gave them an outline to follow for their essay.  I allowed those who were comfortable and capable to veer from the outline, but most students stuck with the basic format of:
o   Intro paragraph, ending with a thesis statement.
o   Paragraphs explaining the historical situation, including in-text citations
o   A paragraph about the specific story they researched
o   Their final paragraph, addressing part B of the essay and concluding the paper
I have also found that works cited and MLA format is quite difficult at this age.  So I made a works cited page for all of them. 
o   I included all of the internet sources and the book sources that we all used.
o   I included all of the documents that we studied and all of the choices for the personal stories. 
o   The kids uploaded the document from our server and saved them for themselves.  Then the cut out the documents and the personal stories that they didn’t use.  They were left with the actual sources they did use and it was already formatted and in alphabetical order.  This saved time on both their parts and mine when grading.
Once the first draft was typed, I had them turn them in.  I didn’t read them, however.  I attached a personal editing sheet for them to go through and check for the common mistakes kids make.
I actually read their second drafts and gave feedback.  I didn’t edit them though.  This cut down on time grading.
I then read their final draft for their grade.

By following these steps, I ended up with papers that were much better than the years before, on the whole.  While I did find that they were all quite a bit alike, the structure and formatting made them better quality papers.  I made sure they learned the objectives from our curriculum, like good research techniques, note taking, what a works cited contains and how to do in text citations.  But I made it so that they were able to be successful without learning a hundred new skills on top of that.  It was much less stressful for all of us!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Witness to Fate: The Auschwitz Album

In an incredibly chilling way, The Auschwitz Album, which is among the several choices of documents to be used as resources for this year’s White Rose Essay Contest, is one of the most concrete forms of evidence we have of the Third Reich’s attempted genocide of all of European Jewry. The album was used during testimonies at the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt, in the 1960’s. The images bear witness to the deportation of Hungarian Jews from the Berehova Ghetto, some wearing the Stars of David on their coats, to Auschwitz-Birkenau during the spring of 1944.  Also pictured is the “selection” process on the ramp off the newly built train track spur, designed to bring the rails inside the camp, enabling a more efficient movement of larger crowds of people closer to the crematoria in a shorter amount of time.  And perhaps most haunting is the evidence of groups of individuals who have just been sorted and are on the actual walk to the crematoria, some waiting outside the gas chambers, in a grove of birch trees which gave Birkenau its name. Included as well: documentation of imprisoned workers sorting through truckloads of clothing and personal items, confiscated after euphemistic “delousing showers.”

Little is known for certain about the album’s creation, but its re-discovery is an incredible story.  Lilly Jacob, one of the victims pictured on some of the 56 pages of over 190 black and white images still remaining, was liberated from Dora, a sub-camp of Nordhausen, after the war. At the time, she weighed no more than 80 pounds and had to be lifted on a stretcher.  Lilly stumbled upon the album in a deserted SS barracks where she was being temporarily detained 400 miles from Auschwitz. These photographs were around May 26, 1944.  When Lilly found the album months later and hundreds of miles away, she leafed through the photographs and recognized first, her rabbi; then she spotted family members and pictures of herself among the crowds of individuals taken from their community of Bilke, near the Carpathian mountains of Hungary. She kept the album for several years, and eventually sold some of the glass plate prints to the Jewish Museum in Prague, for passage to the United States. 

Once in Miami, news spread of the rare collection of photographs. Survivors began to arrive to examine the images, to see if, by chance, their loved ones were among those pictured on that day in May of 1944.  On the rare occasion that people would be able to identify themselves, or a family member, Lilly would give them the photo.  Recently, one of these has been donated back to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel.  Serge Klarsfeld, a famous Nazi-hunter, convinced Lilly to donate the album and all of the remaining prints to Yad Vashem in 1980.  A database of the information on each photograph was created and conservators at the museum restored the suite. Each image was digitally scanned in 1999.  These reproductions are considered to be in the public domain, and can be accessed on the Yad Vashem website and USHMM’s websiteA PowerPoint with select photos and information about the entire album is available on MCHE’s website.

As a photography teacher, I use a specific tool to engage students in an aesthetic scanning activity to analyze individual photographs.  There are 3 columns: what this gives me, what this is made with, and possible reasons for making this. When talking about these incredibly unique photos from the Auschwitz Album, I don’t have any concrete reasons for creating this collection of photographs.  There is speculation, and it is thought that they were made by one or both of the “staff” photographers at the camp, who typically spent their days taking “mug shots” of the prisoners as a record of the few individuals whose lives were prolonged through labor in the camp.  If that is the case, Ernst Hofmann and/or Bernhard Walter immortalized these several hundred souls. When using the images as a resource, feel free to use the attached tool, designed specifically for photos from this one-of-a-kind album, to assist students in talking about what they see.  Have them fill out the forms before a class discussion, or use this 2-sided analysis sheet as a guide for a DBQ based on a single image. Questioning strategies might begin with reading this Elie Wiesel’s quote based on his personal experience in deportation from Hungary: 

“Every yard or so an SS man held his gun trained on us.  Hand in hand we followed the crowd. ‘Men to the left. Women to the right.’ Eight words spoken, indifferently, without emotion.  Eight short simple words. For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sister moving to the right. I saw them disappear in the distance while I walked on with my father and the other men. I did not know that at that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and my sister forever.”

Follow by asking –

  • Do you think this image/these pictures from the Auschwitz album present(s) an ordinary day of unloading prisoners? 
  •  Do these photos seem to be staged or planned, set up in any way?  What specific things do you see that make you believe that? 
  •  What would be the advantage of taking so many different pictures, from so many angles? 
  •  Did you see any of the same people more than once?  How did you recognize them?  Again, what would be the advantage of having multiple images of the same people at different times? 
  •  Do you see any pictures that look like they were taken one right after the other?  Which one happened first?  How can you tell? 
  • How long do you think the whole group of pictures took to shoot?  What clues do we have? 
  •  What do YOU think would be the reason to make such a detailed, visual record of this day?

When viewing the pictures, taken individually, or in a series, I am always a little hesitant to look for very long; but simultaneously, I want to pore over them. There is at once a pull and an instinct to leave these people alone, for the last few moments of privacy they will ever have with their loved ones.  There is an inherent intimacy here. I don’t belong. I have information they do not.  I know what will happen to most of their bodies soon after these pictures are taken.  And I don’t want this information. Not while I am looking into their eyes. Yet, in some inexplicable way, I am drawn in, against my will by some vestige of hope that by participating, by receiving the likeness, I will assist in perpetuating a potentially unending chain of witness. I experience an emotion I don’t have while viewing any other photographs. I want the power in the photo to stop time. I feel, in every sense of the word, a new definition of the verb we often use for creating photographs - they were taken: from the then present, in a very mater-of-fact way, as witness; taken as slices of time, from life; taken from families; taken from what in a few minutes will be this existence; taken from culture and the promise future brings.  And this robbing changes everything. As we peer into the past and lost futures, simultaneously, we are taken, transported, away from a time of being civilized.

While I am reluctant to speculate about the reasons these photos were taken, at the same time, I am incredibly grateful that they were, to bear witness.  In an age of easy photo enhancement and photo shopping, I know the incalculable value of these pictures to speak the truth about the depths our inhumanity can reach. A few years from now, no human being alive will have actually experienced these atrocities.   But will these photos be enough of a witness?  One hundred, two hundred years from now, will these prints still exist?  If someone still has possession of the glass negatives, from plates that would have been used in large format cameras placed on tripods, apertures often deliberately stopped down to keep everything in the picture plane in focus, we would have even stronger evidence, more credible testimony.  Hopefully, the glass plate negatives were not broken, like the storefronts windows of so many Jews on Kristallnacht, marking for many the beginning of the tragic end so clearly evidenced by these haunting documents.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Surviving Hitler through Common Core

Last school year the middle school language arts departments in my school district were allotted money to purchase instructional materials. Our directive was to fill gaps between the materials we were currently using and the increased demands of the Common Core Standards – particularly in areas such as non-fiction. One of the texts my colleagues and I chose for our 8th grade students was Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren. I just began teaching this “new” book last week.

Surviving Hitler is a biography by Andrea Warren, a Kansas City area author, about JackMandelbaum, a Holocaust survivor who rebuilt his life in the Kansas City area after WWII. Incidentally, Jack is one of the co-founders of the Midwest Centerfor Holocaust Education. The book has won many awards including the William Allen White Award and Children’s Choice Literature Award; it also was named an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book. It is available in print, e-book, and audiobook form. Teaching materials and classroom sets of the bookare available from MCHE (registration required). The suggestions in this teaching guide are helpful but were created before the implementation of the Common Core Standards; they are probably in need of an update. Jack’s video testimony is available from MCHE and he is featured in the DVD The Holocaust: Through Our Own Eyes produced by MCHE.

In addition, Andrea Warren has recently written The Author's Guide to Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps and its Alignment with the Common Core Standards. It is available as a paperback for $9.99 through and Barnes & Noble. It is also available everywhere as an e-book and retails for $9.99. In her Author’s Guide, Warren explains the process of writing the biography and decisions she made as a writer. Throughout her guide Warren addresses Common Core Standards from the writer’s point-of-view; I found it invaluable.

As I prepared to teach the book, I needed to think about how to align my instructional methods with the Common Core Standards. In the “old days” I would have started a biography of a Holocaust survivor by giving the students lots of background information and pre-teaching vocabulary. However, that doesn’t seem to be best practice under Common Core. I felt like a duck out of water for a while; I just didn’t know how to begin. I found a way through my problems in a book titled The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathew J Perini. This slim, 86-page volume published by ASCD is a research-based guide to six instructional strategies grounded in the Common Core. I decided to let this be my primary toolkit as I teach Surviving Hitler this year.

I started Surviving Hitler with a strategy described in The Core Six called “Inductive Learning.” Students worked in groups of 2 or 3 for about 30 minutes to categorize and label the following terms pulled from Ch.1 of Surviving Hitler:
Gdynia, Poland
full-time housekeeper
collected stamps
went to the movies
Nazi dictator
hot cereal with milk and butter
entertained friends and relatives
sweet fried pastry with pockets of jelly inside
Baltic Sea
bar mitzvah
big mahogany dining room table
stripped of their citizenship rights
bicycle races
silk dresses
latest styles from Paris
handmade waffle cones filled with delicious, rich cream
twelve miles from the German border
public school
spacious apartment
indoor plumbing

The students were told that they would need to explain the reasons why they grouped terms the way they did and why they chose the labels they did for the categories. Next, they were asked to write at least two predictions about Ch.1 based on the terms they sorted. For example: Do they think the terms came from fiction or non-fiction text? Specific genre? The topic of the text? Setting? Details about main character(s)? Conflict?

During the next class, reporters from each group shared their team’s category labels and predictions. I recorded the predictions for each class on chart paper. We talked about these as we went and made generalizations about them at the end of the group sharing time. The following table shows most of the predictions made by the five sections of language arts with which I did this activity:

·         Jewish people surviving the Holocaust
·         “common luxuries”
·         location near Germany
·         WW II
·         wealthy before war began
·         Ch.1 - before the war
·         historical fiction or non-fiction
·         Jews in hiding
·         in Poland
·         girl main character
·         boy main character
·         speak Yiddish
·         action happens in a concentration camp
·         main character having a bar mitzvah
·         Nazi dictator discriminates against Jewish characters
·         enjoys life before Holocaust
·         during 1930’s – 1940’s
·         family working at a pastry shop
·         near a beach in Germany
·         characters stripped of citizenship
·         pretended not to be Jewish to keep rights


Before we dismissed class the second day, I asked the students how they felt about the book we were about to read – were they curious and interested or not so much? Almost all of them said yes, they were curious – more so than if I had simply handed out the books. I did not tell them the title of the book at this point. At the end of the day, I hung the sheets of chart paper on the wall so that each class could see the predictions of the other classes.
When the students returned to class on the third day, I handed out the books. We took about ten minutes to survey the book – to look over the front and back covers, the title page and photo on the facing page, the table of contents, glance through the book at photos and captions, and read a paragraph or two to get a feel for the difficulty of the text and author’s writing style. As we conducted this survey, we talked a bit about the clues we were gathering about the text that supported or refuted our predictions – now posted for all to see. Then I gave directions for the next step of the “Inductive Learning” activity from The Core Six.  I asked students to create a three-column table with the headings shown below. I have filled in example evidence for one prediction that actually came from one of my classes.

Support – Evidence for

·         pg across from title pg – photo of Jack Mandelbaum, age 18
·         quote from Jack’s son at front of book
·         p. 7 “…Jack recalled, remembering his childhood.”


prediction added at this point - biography

Refute – Evidence against
After working through this example, I asked students to continue looking for evidence that supports or refutes predictions as they read the introduction and first chapter. 

This is all I have to report at this time; my students are still in the midst of this activity. However, my sense is that we are off to a good start. My students have started reading the biography as information-seekers and problem-solvers.

Because I did not start by teaching a whole lot of background information, I am expecting questions to arise as we read. That will give us the opportunity to practice a whole plethora of other Common Core skills. I wrote a framework for myself before I started – subject to revision as I go. I will attach it for your benefit and update it again later. I will also try to post again and let you know how the unit is progressing.

This is my 29th year of teaching. I thought by this point I would have a few things down pat. Instead, I find that I feel like a “baby teacher” all over again. I have to admit that it adds stress. On the other hand, it keeps me learning and trying new things. I guess that is what being a lifelong learner is all about. I suppose if a teacher should be one thing most of all – he or she should be a learner.


CLICK HERE to continue reading and for Laura's lesson plan.