Notes from Haifa: Planning Holocaust Teaching Units

Prof. Arie Kizel, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa (Israel)

Masters students studying pedagogical development in educational systems in the Department of Learning and Instructional Sciences at the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa (Israel) spent an entire semester developing units for teaching about the Holocaust using one of the graphic novels in the project.

Most of the students are high school teachers who speak Hebrew and Arabic, read the graphic novel and studied the how to use visual elements in graphic novels for teaching. After that, they worked individually, with the guidance of Dr. Nava Bar from the University of Haifa, on developing a teaching units designed for Jewish and Arab students enrolled in mainstream or special education programs in Israel.

The students relied, among other things, on Prof. Billie Eilam’s book on visualization in education:  Teaching, Learning, and Visual Literacy: The Dual Role of Visual Representation (2012). In her book, Eilam quotes researchers claiming that teaching, learning, and visual literacy – such as printed or spoken words – hold a privileged place in education. The growing consensus among educators is that the concept of literacy should be broadened to include visual representations such as illustrations, photos, animations, and videos. Eilam claims that when teachers increase their visual literacy, they improve as teachers because they are better able to select, construct, and use appropriate instructional communications that include visualizations. They improve as learners because they can better sense contacts that have visualizations.

Eilam claims that the term “visualization” can be used to describe the external representation, such as a graphic that is presented to a learner or the internal representation, such as the learner’s mental representation of the graphic in working memory. She claims that an essential role for teachers is to understand how students process visual representations, convert them from external to internal visualizations, and help students do so more effectively. Her research shows people learn more deeply when they learn from words and graphics rather than from words alone. Moreover, people’s performance on tests is more than one standard deviation higher when graphics are added to a purely verbal lesson. After reading the theory of visual representation, the students in Haifa started planning their teaching units.

Among the topics that the students developed, the following issues stood out: Human rights and freedom during the Holocaust; The Need and Justification for Breaking Rules as a Means of Surviving the Holocaust as Expressed in the Graphic Novel; A graphic novel as a time tunnel: From child to teenager – coming of age in the Holocaust;  How “life on the run” during the Holocaust is presented in the graphic novel; The dismantling of the traditional family unit during the Holocaust, as expressed in a graphic novel; “Free choice” during the Holocaust as described in a graphic novel; The fear of children in the Holocaust as reflected by the graphic novel and The Attitude Towards the Other/Stranger as Reflected in the Graphic Novel and others.

In conclusion, the students reported that the experience was meaningful. Both at the level of reading the book and discussing it and at the level of planning and adapting the teaching unit to different education sectors in Israel at different ages.

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