For me, this week is one of the most important weeks in the entire semester of English 10B. The reason? We begin to delve into a gamut of complicated, yet crucial human rights issues. To be honest, there is very little that I am more passionate about than social justice. And from what I’ve seen from this generation, for many of my students this is the “stuff” that matters… I teach to show my students that the bystander effect is lethal, often on a scale beyond our imagination.
So what is the vessay? It’s a VoiceThread persuasive essay. It will require a thesis that can be argued, transition words to make their writing fluid, and evidence from the text to support their point. Then they will need to find pictures to represent their argument and, finally, record it as a voicethread. I have no doubt in my mind that for many of my students this will be difficult. Forging into new territory can be hard work for all of us.
One of the defining moments of this exhibit day was when I led this couple to the Eugenics display. One of my students started to explain the program, and she mentioned a particular doctor’s name who was involved with the experiments. The Jewish woman said, “ahhh, that is the doctor who experimented on my sister for 8 months.” Shock, and silence, from everyone. She then proceeded to tell us the story and teach all of us. All of a sudden the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the eugenics experiments, became very real.
Many teachers who attempt this type of thing might do it once, but with all the difficulties never try it again. I can see why that would be so. But I will teach every unit I can this way. It’s only in doing it the first time that you learn what you need to change about your teaching role. And it’s only by pushing through the hard “first time” that your students learn how to deal with difficulties. The strength and growth that I’ve seen in my students this past month is truly amazing.
This is the sixth time I’ve taught a unit on the Holocaust. In the past, my students learned most of the information via lecture, notes and videos. Because I was responsible for distilling the information, I learned much more than they did. This semester they’re doing it all themselves.
This process involved a lot more silence and waiting on my part than I would have thought. Inquiry learning is not a familiar experience for them. Instead, by grade 10, my students have learned that if they wait long enough, they will be rescued. Not anymore.