In my work with the San Antonio Writing Project, I needed to spend some time with student groups on paired texts. The necessity of doing this work now is, of course, related to the dratted test, but I made the decision not to use pre-fabricated testing materials to teach students about how to negotiate two related texts. I went in search of texts that were relevant, interesting, and (ever and always) likely to evoke an emotional response.
In the March 30, 2015 issue of Junior Scholastic magazine, Abby Grissman interviews her grandfather about “Life in Germany During World War II.” Since I’ve been to Germany myself recently, I decided to write a related article about my visit to Dachau Concentration camp. After we’d read both articles, we answered some questions comparing and contrasting the two articles. I have included my article below. Please feel free to use it with your students. However, an activity like this will have much more appeal to your students if you write the work yourself. Here’s how a teacher model paired with published texts will benefit your students:
- It helps them see the connection between reading and writing. You wrote it, and they will read it.
- It shows students that you are willing to be vulnerable enough to let them see what you’ve written. Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect or not. Their writing won’t be perfect, but if they see you try they will be more likely to try themselves.
- It will provide you with an avenue for further exploration and inquiry about the topic. I was able to follow up on this work by showing students some pictures I had taken and answering some of their pressing questions about the time period.
I gave the students my three tips for reading more than one piece of text at a time:
- Read and complete work on paired passages FIRST if you are taking a test. Do this difficult task while you are wide awake and able to focus best.
- Read the passages TWICE.
- The first time through I always recommend reading both passages at the same time, just like chapters in a book, without stopping. I include the questions and answer choices in this first read. I tell students not to worry too much about what they don’t understand on the first read. Folks disagree with me about this, but I think it is critically important for the students to have a chance to enjoy what they are reading, even if it’s part of a high stakes test.
- On the second read, I ask students to interact with the texts. I DO NOT ask them to write the key word or main idea of every single stinking paragraph. Talk about a joy killer. I just tell them to write down what they are thinking as they read.
- Think about how the passages are alike and how they are different.
When this time of year rolls around, it’s good to balance the students’ need to understand test formatting with a judicious dose of authentic literature, and that includes something you’ve written yourself.
Here’s the article I wrote:
Dachau- Germany’s First Concentration Camp
By Joni Koehler
On March 24, I visited the first concentration camp that the Germans established during World War II. This experience changed the way I think about the events surrounding the war, and the role that the German people played in the war.
It’s an eleven minute train ride from the city of Munich to the stop at Dachau. My fellow tour members and I emerged into a brilliant sunny day in downtown Dachau. As our guide, Steve, spoke about the town of Dachau, I put on my sunhat and shed my jacket. While we waited for the bus to take us to the camp, Steve said something that surprised me.
“When the camp was established in 1938 as a place for political prisoners, it was even more isolated than it now is.” Many of the citizens of Dachau did not know what happened to the prisoners at the camp, because it was so far away from the city. I had never before considered that the atrocities visited upon those in the camps were well away from the view of the average German citizen.
Steve spoke to us about what happened when the Americans arrived at the camp and took it over at the end of the war. They found 36,000 people in the camp. Many of them were starving, and many had diseases that threatened their lives.
One of the first thing the Americans did was to go to the city of Dachau. They made all German citizens of the city ride back to the camp with them. Many citizens were shocked by what they saw— so many people were crowded into a camp that was meant to hold only 2,000. The men of Dachau stayed to assist the American soldiers with burial of the many prisoners who had been killed right before the camp was liberated. Because the German government had hidden their acts of murder from their citizens, the leaders of all the concentration camps were ordered to kill every prisoner before they could be overrun with the American victors. They wanted to hide the evidence of their terrible crimes. Thank goodness they ran out of time before every prisoner could be exterminated.
World War II was a terrible time in the history of Germany. But through my trip to Dachau, I learned that you can’t judge every German citizen for the acts of a few. I think the citizens of Germany still feel ashamed of what happened in their country during the War, and have an honest wish that these horrific acts will not be repeated. That’s one of the reasons every school child has to attend a concentration camp during their years in public school. It’s a law that will keep the phrase, “Never again,” fresh in the minds of the German public.
What about you? What have you written and shared with your students? I’d love to hear about it.
I think my inability to comment on your blogs is sorted-for now. I’ve made comments on several of your blogs. Let me know if you don’t get them.
the first thing we do—
Line ourselves into categories.
Labeling you lessens your humanity,
Removes you once from me,
Justifies how we use
One another as grist for
Clinking against tea glasses
Our tailoring, our tales, our wars.
I was ready to walk out the door, alone, to go on a tour of Dachau Concentration Camp. Breakfast, first then. I picked up a book to take down to breakfast. I had time to come upstairs and brush my teeth and put my book away before I left.
Then I thought not today. Today, I’ll be naked. It’s just me, there in the cafe. I’ll stay open today, I’ll be absorbent.
In the café my server, Mandy, greeted me with a cheerful, “Guten Tag.” I sat facing the Munich train station, dainty cup of coffee pressed to my lips. Watching people press out of the train station. Listening to the men sitting next to me; one hadn’t slept all night. He had a stomach ache. The other, chatty, perky. He traveled from Hong Kong, and spoke of his children in tones of affection.
I wondered what this area around the train station was like during the War, when the soldiers and supplies wove through. Did they spill out of the exits in every mood like now? What did the women in the houses across the street wear as they went about their daily chores? Did they push open their windows and smoke while the radio played in the background?
Standing outside of the guide office; I was early, but so were the others. The nervous milling that we do when we’re not quite sure. A group of college students. I surmised they were on holiday together from the states. Tall, thin bodies, perfectly straight teeth. Lots of jockeying for position. A boy, wishing he could get the girls to pay attention. The girls, granting him tentative status in the group, on its outer fringes.
The guide. A man from England, about my age. He anticipated the story he was about to tell. I knew much of what he’d say, because I’m an adult. The students, whose high school prom pictures still line their parents’ walls, they didn’t know what the guide would say. They hadn’t begun to guess the story of the first Concentration Camp in Germany.
Eleven minutes on the train to Dachau. The train, like the rest of Germany, clean and efficient. As if the memory of all that transpires on them is swiped by a night crew. The bus ride to the camp, which is well outside the city of Dachau itself. The green-eyed college girl who approached me and said a bold hello as we walked to the camp site. She was from Iowa. She knew I was alone, and she didn’t want me to remain alone.
The guide, Steve, holding us at the entrance to the camp. His explanation of how the camp started, the gaps he filled to help us understand how the Germans were able to justify racial cleansing. The unanswered questions he tried to address in the hour he had us as a captive audience.
The broad sweep of dirt ground where the prisoners stood for roll call each morning. How my pictures didn’t replicate what my eye saw, the sheer size. The knowledge that this was one of the small camps. Imagining the vast space taken up by prisoners. Steve pointing to the entrance gate, saying that this is where they made prisoners stand while they tortured them. The wide green eyes of my Iowan friend as Steve spoke of torture. Her eyes, filled with unspent terror and an echo of the fear prisoners must have felt as they entered this place. The widened eyes of youth, and how I contrasted her shock with my own jaded response.
The first room we entered. Steve said, “This is where the choices began. This is where prisoners entered the camp. This is where they were stripped and stood naked, waiting for their disposition.”
Some of the prisoners, Steve said, began to organize. Got in good with the guards. Traded for needed items when they left the camp to go on work details. Created a backhanded network to make their lives bearable, the lives of their fellow inmates. How some inmates made the choice to continue to rage against the injustices visited upon them in this hell.
He went on to say that some prisoners became sadistic killers in order to distance themselves from the victimization. Of everything Steve said, this was the most atrocious, the most unexpected. Something I hadn’t considered, maybe I had never considered in my whole life. Why make the choice to become as brutal as one’s captors? The freedom of will each prisoner experienced when standing naked and imprisoned of body. In shackles, the soul still chooses.
I walked the grounds, I looked at the ovens, the gas chamber. In the back of the grounds, behind the ovens, the pistol range for executions. Markers, like stepping stones, litter the ground. “Graves of unknown dead,” they said. A lone marker, covered in pebbles. I felt the tears well up, thinking of school children picking up what they could find, placing the pebbles one by one on the grave that could be as deep as the earth’s core. A testament. I was here. I picked up a pebble and placed it on the gravestone. Then I turned to leave. I had to turn and leave.
I walked, alone, back to the entrance. The memorial sculpture stood high, black in relief of the blue day. The sculpture– bodies, naked and mangled. To one side of the sculpture, the art installation. Colored triangles layered upon one another, stripes, circles. Steve had told us about the shapes. Triangles to categorize; political prisoner, homosexual, gypsy, Jew. Stripes to warn; number of attempted escapes, repeat offenses. Round, red circles to target; sewn over hearts, groins, kidneys, small intestines. Circles to neaten the kill. Clean, efficient.
On the train home, I cornered Steve and peppered him with questions. The main one. Why is this so important to you? Why, Steve, do you tell this story every day? He answered that he’d grown up in Hell Fire Corner in England, near the city of Dover. The area was heavily shelled during World War II. Twenty years after the war, he rode his bicycle through the ruins that remained. He listened to the words his grandfathers didn’t say about the War. As much as the green-eyed girl from Iowa, as much as me, Steve just wanted to understand.
I’ve thought a lot about what there is to fathom in genocide, in cruelty, in all of the evil in the world. As I wandered through the camp, and sat on the plane home, and relaxed on my back porch, typing in the cool of the morning.
As the prisoners were naked in Dachau, so are we all. We will all find ourselves stripped bare of outer shell, looking into the faces of our oppressors, the faces of those we mean to oppress, or just looking into the mirror. Men with stomach aches, and green-eyed girls from Iowa, and men from Hong Kong who love their children, and waitresses named Mandy, and German school children, and I. All.
When faced with injustice, with cruelty, with chains, we must face our true selves and make a choice. We can, like the guards at Dachau, or the sadistic prisoners that Steve spoke of, give in to fear and hatred and become captors. Or we can, like Kayla Mueller, a captive of ISIS who died in February of 2015, choose to live by her statement, “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal.” Even if we are captives, we can rage against captivity.
Or we can be bystanders. Not choosing is perhaps the most dangerous choice of all. Not choosing indicates that we haven’t learned, that we must repeat suffering’s lesson in order to internalize it. Not choosing means more lessons learned. Lessons written in round, red, circles of blood.
Last Saturday, our rambles took us to the San Antonio Book festival and San Pedro Park.
I love buying books at festivals because I can meet the authors up close and personal. I love saying, “Are you a local writer?” Someday I would love to be the person standing behind a folding table, signing my own books and saying, “Yes, I live just down the road.”
Gods Of Arcadia:Daughter of Athena by Andrea Stehle, mainly because her former student, now a college freshman,sold me with her unvarnished praise, both for her teacher and this title. If she likes it, then the students I work with might like it, too.
I’m also a sucker for art/text pairings, so I purchased Dare to Dream, a collaboration between local artist Thom Ricks and author J.L. Stauffer. I will be using this book in a classroom sometime soon, I’m sure. This colorful poster now graces my office wall.
After we went to the book festival, we took a short drive to San Pedro Springs Park. Neither of us had ever been, so we took a quick look. The springs were dry, but I found a few picture worthy subjects.
Last weekend, we stayed around home, walking in our neighborhood and at the huntin’ lease. The wildflowers are still around, and we had a good rain this weekend, so we have another week or two before everything starts to dry out. I am enjoying practicing my camera skills.
Super Husband thinks the picture above is of some sort of agave,although he doesn’t think it’s the type produces tequila. He said his father always called the plant below black brush, because the leaves become dark after the bush blooms.
I missed the mark on this picture somehow. The cows and bluebonnets were just beautiful, but I don’t think the composition of this photo works. What about it, photographer types? What can I do differently when I want to take a picture like this in the future?
Super Husband took this photo of the neighbor’s tractor. I think the little white wildflowers are every bit as beautiful as a manicured garden. I hope your week is full of beauty, and that you take the time to notice it. Have a great one.
[At home, one week before the trip, my German Phrase Book and Dictionary arrives…]
Me: (Reading aloud) “The letter ß is not a letter ß at all—it’s interchangeable with “ss”.The ö has a sound uncommon in English. To make the ö sound, round your lips to say “o,” but say, “ee.The German ch has a clearning-your-throat sound.”
Super Husband: Do you need to take some medicine?
Me: No, I’m trying to say my ch’s in German.
SH: Good luck with that.
[Waiting to check in to our hotel room on our arrival in Munich, we order sausage and sauerkraut at the Augustiner in the town square. The waiter returns with our credit card after we finish our meal…]
Waiter: Here you are. Danke schon. (Looks at us expectantly for a reply)
Me: (Thinking– What do I say now? I thought I was the one who was supposed to say Danke. And what does “schon” mean? That wasn’t in the guidebook. Oh, no, he’s waiting. He’ll think we’re rude! Say something. Now! ) You’re welcome. (Waiter acknowledges me and turns to leave. I speak to his back.) and Danke. (softer) Danke.
[The next day, we eat lunch with our new friends David and Vi, who are from Texas, and Aga, who is from Poland. As we make the steep walk to Neuschwanstein Castle…]
Aga: I find that German is easier to learn than French. Even though there are three tenses, and the words are long, they are put together in a way that makes sense.
Me: Yeah, I did notice that the words can be very long. I couldn’t even attempt to put a sentence together. Aga, your English is impeccable. Is that why you came on the English tour bus?
Aga: All school children study English in my country. Besides, I need it for my job.
Me: So you speak Polish, English, and German?
Aga: I’m learning German since I also have business here in Munich sometimes.
Me: I admire you for speaking so many different languages. Now I need to stop and look at the view. I also need to hug this tree for a minute. Not that I’m out of breath.
[Super Husband leaves the hotel room to spend the afternoon at the University for his business meeting. I decide to stay in and rest. The housekeeper arrives to clean the room.]
Me: You don’t have to clean today. We just need new towels and coffee service for the morning.
Me: (Thinking—Bitte? Bitte means please. Does he want me to say something else? Does he not understand me? How do I say I can’t speak German? Think!) Sprechen zie English?
Housekeeper: (Looks at me, dumbfounded) Bitte?
Me: (Thinking—I said it right. I’m speaking German and he still can’t understand me. Even my German has a Texan accent!) Okay, let’s try something else. (I go into the bathroom and point to the towels) Clean towels? (I move to the coffee service and pick up the dirty coffee cup) New cup?
Housekeeper: Ah! Okay!
Me: (Thinking—I’ll tell him I’m sorry.) Entschuldigung.
Me: Sorry. Danke. Danke schon.
Housekeeper: (Leaving the room with the dirty towels and coffee cups) Bitte schon. (Looks back over his shoulder at me and rolls his eyes at his co-worker in the hallway.) Auslanders!
[In the square near the Alte Pinakotek,which is the city’s classical art museum, we find a used book store. When we enter the store, it is piled to the ceiling with books. Some of them are quite old and falling apart. There is a narrow stairway in the back of the room. Old newspapers lay stacked in the stairway. The owner follows us in from the sidewalk…]
Owner: Guten Tag! Hallo!
Owner: (Switches to broken English) We have no English books here.
Me: I know. (Smiling) Is it okay if we look around anyway?
Owner: Ya, Ya. I give you discount. You buy 100 euros worth, I give you 1 book for free!
(SH and I laugh)
Owner: I leave you. You look.
[SH leaves me in the store to look around. I find two books that I want, because I can always find a book I want. I go out to the sidewalk…]
Me: (Showing the books to the owner) How much are these?
Owner: (Examines the two books) This one 10 euros, this one free. How is this?
Me: Yes. That is fine. Pay the man, SH.
(SH pays the owner and we start to leave.)
Owner: Wait! You take one of these! (Hands me a box full of old postcards) Free!
Me: Oh, Thank you. Danke schon. (I pick a postcard and shake his hand.) Good-bye!
Owner: Auf Wiedersehen. Come back soon!
Me: (Linking arms with Super Husband) I could have stayed in that store for a long time.
SH: I know you could have.
Me: He was cool, wasn’t he?
SH: He spoke your language.
Me: He sure did.
Okay people, we didn’t take a walk last Saturday, March 28. We were tired from our trip to Germany. We mowed the lawn and took a long nap.
Super Husband shredded on the tractor and I mowed close to the house. He had a much bigger job than I did, but I kept the laundry going.
We slept that afternoon just like the dog does– with utter abandonment and lots of snoring.
However, since today is Sunday and we DID have an interesting Sunday on March 21, here are some pictures of the “Sound of Music” portion of our trip to Salzburg, Austria.
For those of you who know me personally, I was sorely tempted to sing, “Do, a Deer,” while standing in the self-same locations which Julie Andrews (!) stood while filming The Sound of Music. I squelched myself, because (1) the guide said singing season was in the summer, (2)because I was the only gobsmacked choir nerd in my tour group, and (3) the tour was rather hurried, so I’d have been left behind if I’d have started singing.
In the summer, people appear dressed in their Sound of Music garb and the Mirabelle palace Garden is alive with the sounds of amateur singing troops, professional musicians, and student players from the Mozarteum, an elite music school located in Salzburg, Mozart’s home city.
Now added to my bucket list:
- Acquire Austrian Folk Garb
- Return to Salzburg in the summer
- Sing with the other gobsmacked choir nerds! Sing!
When the children were young, we spent hours every summer bobbing around in our local pool. One of the games they loved was called, “Going to New York.” I was holding Mega Daughter in my arms one day, enjoying the cool blue water when I spontaneously said, “Let’s go to New York.” Then I made motor boat/ plane/ car noises while I carried her to another part of the pool. When we arrived in “New York”, I talked about everything we saw—the tall buildings, northern birds, men in suits, busses, yellow cabs. After I talked my way through “New York,” I’d chug over to another part of the pool and talk about some other exotic locale.
As the children got old enough to join the conversation, we added destinations of their choice, such as the feed store, the deer factory, Grandma’s house, Disney World, and the Queen’s Palace. I doubt if my children even remember this game, because they outgrew it as soon as they were able to leave my arms. When I played the game, I wasn’t consciously trying to teach them anything. However, now that I have hindsight and age in my favor, I hope I affected their ability to anticipate positive events while they visited the “world” from the safety of their tiny reality.
Recently, there has been some interesting research about the power of anticipating a positive event or experience. It seems people gain more happiness from planning for experiences than having the experience itself. Here are some interesting articles about this research:
- The Benefits of Anticipation
- Another Reason to Spend Money on Experiences Rather than Things
- Sometimes Its Good To Have To Wait
I heard about this correlation between anticipation and happiness on NPR just a couple of days before we confirmed our travel to Munich, Germany. Normally, I would have stifled some of my planning impulses for fear of being labeled obsessive, but since I knew it would add to my happiness, I went plan crazy! Here are some of the anticipatory moves which gladdened my heart. I…
- Purchased a Bavarian guidebook and a German phrase book from Rick Steves, my European Sensei.
- From Rick Steves’ website, I also bought packing cubes. I don’t know how I ever traveled without these inexpensive little gems.
- Did an extensive search for a new carry on suitcase, including looking at Consumer Reports.
- Took an afternoon to shop for said carry-on. I pulled on handles and lifted and checked the weights of bags. I finally purchased a 21” TravelPro, because it was the sturdiest and got excellent reviews.
- Watched YouTube videos about what Germany was like, gaining the perspective of people who are much younger than me. I really enjoyed hearing their ideas of what to do and not to do when coming to Germany. Here is the one I enjoyed the most, about the Werewolves and the Zombies.
- Researched and purchased tour tickets to some Bavarian Castles, Salzburg, Austria, and Dachau Concentration Camp.
- Bought a few “Easy Travel,” clothes. I always do this before a big trip, and it’s always enjoyable. This time I didn’t feel bad about it.
In addition to the research stating anticipation of an experience adds to happiness more than the experience itself, I posit the following: when we anticipate an experience, the planning we do actually makes the experience more enjoyable, therefore increasing our sense of happiness over the experience as a whole. I feel this was true for me. Because I did all of the things I wanted to do to get ready for the trip, we were stress-free when we arrived in Germany. I was able to sleep for a few hours on the flight over for the first time ever, and I know my preparedness played a role in my relaxed state.
The other anticipation I made sure to savor was the anticipation of coming home. When I was sitting on the airplane for the sixteenth hour in a row, trying to decide what my next movie was going to be (I watched six movies. Six. In a row.), I anticipated the feel of my bed, the whoosh of the ceiling fan, and the thumping tails of my dogs. I noticed the wildflowers, the cattle roaming across the gentle slopes of hills, and the sunniness of my homeland in the days after our arrival. Knowing that I was coming back to the experience of my everyday life gave me great satisfaction.
Now that I’ve experienced the power of positive anticipation for myself, I want to encourage you, dear reader, to think of an experience you want to have and spend some time anticipating that experience. It doesn’t have to cost money. “Going to New York,” didn’t cost us anything, but it was fun to talk with my children about the magic of faraway places.
And something we said to our children about anticipation must have stuck, because both our son and our daughter made their own trips to Europe in the month of March with their respective spouses. And we anticipated their pre-trip visits and phone calls home, their texts and emails during their trips, and the post-trip debriefings, which will take some time to finish. Our game of “Going to New York, Frankfurt, Brussels, Istanbul, and Paris,” isn’t over, and we anticipate playing it again with great joy.
[Note: What about when we anticipate a negative event? This research suggests our anticipation, or worry, doesn’t change the feelings the negative event produces, and the anticipation doesn’t soften the blow of the negative event when it occurs. It sounds like the only benefit of anticipation is when it’s over something positive. Of course, my Grandma could have told me that over a cup of coffee.]
What about you? What do you do when anticipating a positive experience? How did the anticipation add to your happiness?