Blog Reflection #3 for the Community Field Experience at UBC

Under the guidance of Dr. Andrea Webb, Community Field Experience at UBC teacher candidates used our graphic narratives to create teaching materials for a variety of classrooms. Education that addresses trauma and human rights provides skills and strategies for students to develop an awareness of the value of diversity in a pluralistic society and encourages sensitivity to a diversity of positions. This educational approach connects with curricular priorities including historical thinking and global citizenship, and provides strategies for teachers to support students as they learn about topics such as genocide. 

Each week, we will post a new reflection by students from the UBC CFE Program. 

Reflection by Lars Neufeld

The recent opportunity I had to work on an SSHRC project, Narrative Art and Visual Storytelling in Holocaust and Human Rights Education, significantly enriched my understanding of the role of graphic novels in teaching. As my assignment for the project, I was tasked with developing a mini-unit of lessons for secondary school students in the humanities that could be piloted in classrooms, and I had to use one of the project’s newly-created graphic memoirs as its starting point. The scope and sequence of the unit were left to my own imagination. After reading Miriam Libicki’s memoir of David Schaffer’s life, “If I Had Followed the Rules, I Wouldn’t Be Here,” and Barbara Yelin’s memoir of Emmie Arbel’s life, “But I Live,” I decided to use the former as the foundation for my unit. I was transfixed by Libicki’s use of color and almost fairy tale-like aesthetic choices to convey Schaffer’s childhood experiences hiding in rural Eastern Europe.

I reached out to Libicki over Zoom, and had a fascinating hour-long meeting, during which we discussed the devices and techniques she used in the creation of her memoir, and I took notes on possible methods of teaching them in the classroom. I quickly decided to base my unit on “graphic literacy” – the combined reading and close looking skills needed for students to effectively engage with graphic narratives. I brought together several different activities that could be used to teach the diegetic aspects of the text (those elements of story, character and place that are visible to the characters) and non-diegetic ones (those that are visible only to the reader). Then, I developed several lessons that let students put these seminal skills into practice, giving them the chance to choose from a larger group of primary accounts of youth survivors’ experiences and create their own form of graphic representation of that individual’s character, story, or setting.

My overall aim was to create an interdisciplinary unit that could be used in a variety of classrooms in the humanities, and possibly beyond – from social studies to English to art. Making use of the impressive narrative power of the text that Libicki developed with Schaffer, I hoped to give learners an opportunity to themselves become imaginative, empathetic, and respectful witnesses to the testimony of victims of the Holocaust. I’m excited to see what kind of outcomes teachers across the country achieve when these lessons are piloted. The brilliance of Libicki’s memoir, for me, can be summed up in a resonant splash panel on page fourteen, where the choices, fears, and possibilities of Schaffer’s life are put on vivid, elemental display in the forest. The timelessness of his story has been brought to life.

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