Poetry, charcoal and a requiem: an interdisciplinary approach to teaching the Holocaust to primary students

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Recent findings of teaching the Holocaust in secondary schools in England are that a high proportion of students learn about the Holocaust in primary school (Foster, Pettigrew et al 2014:74). In Scotland, the first teaching resources that were commissioned by the Scottish Executive to accompany the introduction of a national Holocaust Memorial Day in 2000 were for primary students aged 10-12 years (Cowan and Maitles, 2015). Previous research into teaching the Holocaust in the primary teaching context in Scotland has focused on teachers' attitudes to Holocaust education in the primary school (Cowan and Maitles, 2000), the impact of the establishment of a national Holocaust Memorial Day (Cowan and Maitles, 2002), and the short and longer term impact that a study of the Holocaust has on students' values and attitudes (Cowan and Maitles, 2005, 2007). These findings identify resources that primary teachers use, but provide little insight into actual teaching approaches adopted.

This paper investigates the practice of one primary teacher who taught the Holocaust over a period of six weeks to primary 7 students (aged 11-12 years). Evidence is based on teacher's lesson plans and daily notes, line manager's review of teacher's served lesson, and students' written work and topic evaluations. This paper demonstrates the application of interdisciplinary learning, an integrated approach to learning where a number of disciplines are used to develop student understanding of a subject or topic by students making connections between these disciplines (Boyle and McKinstry, 2014). In this study, History, Poetry, Art and Music are integrated.

This paper: reflects on teacher preparation prior to teaching the Holocaust, in terms of classroom ethos, teacher knowledge and attitude, and student-teacher and parent- teacher relationships; identifies several features of good practice; and concludes that interdisciplinary learning is an effective means of engaging primary students in their first encounters with the Holocaust, and in developing their historical knowledge and critical thinking.


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