‘We are the Shoes’ – Teaching the Holocaust

Trainee teachers studying on our (Secondary) English PGCE and (Secondary) Religious Studies PGCE recently spent the day exploring the Holocaust, critically examining how they might use fiction, poetry and film to teach the topic. The day emphasised the importance of cross-curricular work in secondary schools.’

Students had just returned to university after successfully completing their first phase of school-based training. The session was part of a two-week programme packed with inputs and workshops around professional and education studies where trainees are able to reflect on their progress so far and explore more complex areas of the curriculum and teaching.

The day began with input from a guest speaker who teaches history in a secondary school, setting the context and enduring relevance. This was followed by experiential learning, exploring possible teaching approaches via personal stories.

Based on the theme of Yiddish poet Moishe Shulstein “We are the Shoes”, trainees were asked to consider the lives of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust through personal artefacts such as shoes, suitcases, spectacles and photographs. Trainees discussed what their shoes said about them, how it would feel to lose treasured possessions and so encouraged empathy. The aim was to restore humanity to the victims and recognise the stories that objects might tell about the people they belonged to and the lives they led.

One trainee said it was “a great session that dealt with the issue really sensitively and offered practical lesson advice”.

Anne Denmead, course leader for English PGCE said “Teaching the Holocaust is an important session for the trainees as it allows them to consider how to address challenging material by trying out activities for themselves”.

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