Holocaust workshop offers trainee teachers new ways into the subject
School of Education colleagues from led trainee teachers studying on the University’s History and English secondary PGCE courses through a day-long workshop on how to teach the Holocaust.
The workshop forms part of a two-week programme of inputs and workshops around professional, subject and education studies which allows students – who have recently returned to university after successfully completing their first phase of school-based training – to reflect on their progress so far and explore more complex areas of the curriculum and teaching.
Monday’s training focused on using sources such as autobiography, fiction, poetry, images and film to teach the topic within different subject specialisms. Gabrielle Rowles, PGCE Route Leader History (secondary), began the day by setting the context and enduring relevance of the Holocaust. This was followed by three sessions involving experiential learning led by Anne Denmead, PGCE Route Leader English (secondary).
In one of the sessions, based on the theme of Yiddish poet Moishe Shulstein’s 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 and how it would feel to lose treasured possessions, before taking off their own shoes to encourage empathy and restore humanity to the victims.
For Nick Brown, studying for a PGCE, this was a highlight of the day. He said: “We often use experiential pedagogy, so this would be a good way into the subject, especially with key stage 3 pupils. It was nice to have a practical example of how we might make it come alive for them.”
The cross-curricular approach to the topic also proved popular with the trainees. Ed Baker, a History PGCE student, noted that, despite teaching the Holocaust before to a Year 8 class in his first placement, this was the first time he’d considered the cross-curricular opportunities. “I went in teaching it without actually having much knowledge of how they teach it in English or Religious Studies,” he said, “so to have that knowledge and the three different disciplines was really useful and very interesting as well.”
Nick Brown added: “It was really nice to have three different disciplines in the room and to see what we could achieve if we worked together. Certainly, in terms of going to our next placement schools, those conversations might be helpful to have with other departments, so this training was also good in a practical sense.”
The lecturers, too, found unexpected benefits in teaching across specialisms. Gabrielle said: “It’s the first time I’ve taught this session and I really loved the way that we did it,” she said. “It was very interesting to set it up first of all as a safe space to ask difficult questions, and to hear what the trainees were thinking about, and then particularly to learn from each other’s subjects. All three of us bring something very different, and then we have to think about the whole, about what the students are receiving.”
The day ended with trainees reflecting on key questions regarding effective Holocaust education:
- Why should we teach the Holocaust?
- How might your specialist subject contribute to teaching the Holocaust?
- From today, what are the key principles for good Holocaust education?
- What do you think are the main challenges in teaching about the Holocaust?
Anne 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.”