One of my best friends and I sat down to discuss her WebQuest. It's a Holocaust WebQuest and I'm wondering how are we going to focus this one so that it steps out from the crowd. She's working with the local Holocaust cadre here in our town. I've been giving her a hard time that she can't let this be another WQ on this topic...it has to distinguish itself by asking students to do something with the lessons of history. It has to ask them to take history and do something with it. OR something other than just read about.
As I look over the roles and the research worksheets, it just looks too generic. Broad sweeping questions that don't drive students into the heart of the questions of "so what". If this is to get them to really ask the questions that force them to consider why this matters in a deep way. Generic won't cut it.
So I ask....this is focused on Poland and you want these roles to consider different perspectives in designing a Holocaust monument. So what is the Big Question that you are going to have them need to wrestle with? It can't be a generic kind of quesiton. So that is where we began our afternoon. I really don't know anything about the topic...certainly not in the detail she does. So I'm the perfect one to put her through all the paces because I keep asking her more and more questions about "so what"? Why should I care? Why is this important?
I learned tons. I learned that it was the intent of the Nazi regime to wipe out Polish culture so there wasn't any trace of it left. I learned an incredible amount about Gypsies. Didn't know that the Nazi party didn't know what to do with them initially...they were considered Ayran "brothers" so they didn't treat them the same as the Jewish people, yet they still wanted to kill all of them. In the end they really did, 1 out of every 2 Gypsies were killed in the camps...a staggering number of that segment of the population wiped out. Gone forever. The Polish Jews were enslaved, forced to turn on one another and herded into Auswitch ...considered to be one of the most deadly camps of World War II.
Every role she picked had compelling information like this. But initially her generic worksheets didn't drive students to consider these questions. It left students to serendipitously find it on their own. So instead what we tried to do was create scaffolded worksheets that more efficiently drove students to more selected reference passages with directed questioning....there they had to puzzle over the passages to suck the information out. Once they have the information they have to begin to create meaning from it. Sometimes using a graphic organizer, sometimes by writing a poem, sometimes by looking a photograph and considering how they could write a caption that would summarize all the information they had just read. All in the hopes of beginning to synthesize this horrific, incomprehensible information.
Believing that once they had this information they would come together with their group to define a monument. One of the most interesting questions is if it is legitimate to include non-Jewish people in the monument since there are other interpretations of what defines a Holocaust victim. Other people's perspectives are that the Gypsies were victims, the people who felt guilty because they survived the war as simple farmers or the citizens of the Polish countryside should also be included....even the people from the concentration camp who didn't die.
All these perspectives can be included in this WebQuests for students to discuss and consider. There really isnt' any one right answer, I suppose because it is really a matter of who you are and what you want the monument to symbolize. Regardless there is a bounty of rich discussions to be had, especially if you direct students to the best of resources, don't waste time in wild goose chases in web surfing and build structures that make them stretch in their thinking.
Ironically right I happened to be reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. There are definite parallels between the oppression in 1980s Tehran and 1940s Poland. As I reading and eating dinner I came across a passage that made the hair on my neck stand on end. It was if it was meant for me since I had been working on the Nazi Holocaust. In the book, the author just met a friend for coffee and in the shop the owner was required to post a sign in large black letter RELIGIOUS MINORITY. "All restaurants run by non-Muslims had to carry this sign on their doors so that good Muslims, who considered all non-Muslims dirty and did not eat from the same dishes, would be forewarned." Two hours before I was sitting on my friends' sofa talking to her about the WebQuest and now I'm reading this passage....blew my mind.
Sort of gave new meaning as to why students need to study history. Maybe a read aloud to open class one of the days of the WQ? Drawing a thread to connect to students of 2004 to the events of sixty years before. They could even pause a write a reaction to it?????? Hummmmmmm.
Yes, I think this WQ has the possibility of stepping out from the crowd of Holocaust WebQuests. I don't think the WQ's gotten it all the way there but we're getting closer and the conversation's is going deeper. In July we might arrive. :-}