I didn’t know, back in February, as I began teaching “Diary of A Young Girl” by Anne Frank, that my students would immediately have an opportunity to relate to Anne on a very different level.
Reading the entire diary over the course of 3 1/2 weeks was sometimes extremely interesting, sometimes exciting, and sometimes grueling – as is reading anything as full class with 8th grade students. Initially, students were engrossed in the historical context. We created a timeline from 1933 – 1945 and allowed a full day (not enough time for a history lesson, but enough for an overview) to fill in the timeline – looking at maps, briefly explaining laws, and propaganda, and explaining the creation of race constructs. Throughout the reading, students asked questions – some I knew the answer to, some I did not – some we looked up, so we did not. We had the opportunity for so much research, but not the time to complete it. Providing an understanding of the world within which Anne would construct her diary, was some of favorite work around this reading.
As a class, we read, we followed Anne’s transformation in the annex, and multiple students commented that they could never live in such close quarters with the same people for such a long time. Students also made multiple comments about how they couldn’t understand why Margot, Peter, and Anne continued to do “school” work.
Throughout our reading, I attempted to address some of these comments; attempted to instill the human need for learning, and the human ability to adapt to situations, and to highlight Anne’s hope and focus on what her life would be as she got older. Reflecting now, I know I did not spend near enough time on any of these topics; I didn’t choose a main focus during our reading, but instead just briefly covered all these topics (we were already taking longer than the rest of the English department to finish this book), and I wonder now if any of them are remembering Anne Frank.
Our students are now under a shelter-in-place order, unable to go to school, and while legally allowed outside (unlike Anne), many are going to feel a kind of isolation. This current experience of being homebound due to an international pandemic, may be the only experience that might actually reveal to students any part of Anne’s story. A surprising and unwanted experience, but I guess these types of situations are always that way. In light of that, I wish we had taken the time to research similar stories from people who have lived through times of uncertainty and struggle – beyond Anne. I wish I had focused more on the hope and optimism – more on ways to cultivate that hope.
As I move forward, teaching remotely, learning daily what an amazing opportunity we have in this digital age to stay connected while apart – I plan to attempt to engage students in reflecting a little on their own situations. I can already see them beginning to understand the need for learning, as in the first day, nearly 200 students logged on to our optional learning plan.
What are you all doing to engage your students? to engage your families? to engage your minds? Do you have any rhythms, after only 3-4 days, that you are happy with? want to change already?
At home, we’ve implemented a “no screen-time before lunch” rule – unless there is absolutely a need for work – and we’ve made some goals around creativity and reading and cleaning. So far, so good. Hope you’re doing well, too.
Praying for you all through this weird time.