Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Teaching Anne Frank

I have begun teaching Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl with my 8th graders.  I did my typical pre-reading activity.  One that I like to do with most of the historical literature that we read- a mini-research project.  I ended up not having the students write expository papers, as I originally intended, but instead make a visual display (powerpoint, prezi, poster, etc) about the topic that they chose.  I had a list of topics that would help the students understand the history of World War 2 in order to better understand and engage in the book. Although this method merely gives students a glimpse into a time period and set of events that they still don't fully understand, I feel it is enough to pique their interests.  Here is the list of topics that I have the students research:

Conditions in Europe leading up to World War II
Hitler's rise to power and his political beliefs
The Nazi Party in Germany
Concentration camps and death camps, esp. Bergen-Belsen
Jewish religious holidays and the Star of David
The S. S. and the Gestapo (the green police)
Restrictions on Jewish-German life in the 1930's
The invasion of Holland and the treatment of the Jews in the Netherlands
 The Resistance movement during World War II
 Anne Frank and the people with whom she went into hiding &
The Secret Annex (the place in which the Frank family hid)
Hitler's defeat and death
The liberation of the concentration camps

The students will also be studying this topic in Social Studies class, but we read the diary slightly before they get to it in Social Studies.  As part of the unit, we also take a trip to the Holocaust museum.  This helps bring their understanding full circle.

Last year was my first year teaching the book, and I felt as though it wasn't as drenched in the history as I expected it to be.  Don't get me wrong, there is the obvious oppression of the Jews in Holland, as seen by the fact that the Franks had to go into hiding in the first place, but this was more about Anne's life in the Secret Annexe.  I decided to do some research about the diary as a piece of literature.  Anne Frank was obviously a gifted writer, but I wanted to somehow bring our study of this book out of the, "So that is what life was like back then" mindset.  I did a google search for, "Anne Frank literary criticism" in my initial attempts to find something helpful.  What I found was, in my opinion, a gold mine.  Francine Prose has published a book in which she delves into this exact topic- Anne Frank as literature.  It is enlightening to read more about how this diary was created.  It was the first time that I learned, as Prose puts it, "She [Anne] decided that she wanted the book to be published, and she went back to the beginning and she re-wrote all the entries she wrote as a 13-year-old, except of course now she was a 15-year-old." From that perspective, Anne was more than a girl writing her diary.  She was a writer.  She made choices about what to include in this "re-written" version.  After having discovered these resources, I decided the lesson would be better to do with the kids at the end of the book.  Throughout their reading, I will encourage them to look at Anne's word choice and use of figurative language.  However, I would like this discussion to come after they have read the whole book, as it did for me.  The links are below so you can check them out.

(the interview)
(an excerpt)
(Otto Frank's letters)

I have now created and taught this lesson twice, and I did it under the overarching question, "Is Anne Frank Literature?"  I gave students some background information using excerpts from John Johnson's document "What is 'Literature'?"  We then simplified the ideas down to the following three-
After creating this list, students are challenged to decide if they think Anne Frank's Diary is literature.  Another aspect of the discussion, from Johnson is "are all three traits required for something to be literature?" so we discuss that as well.  In the conversation, we talk about the fact that Anne edited her diary and planned on it being a published book.  It is quite interesting to see students' ideas on all of these aspects of literature and Anne Frank.  I do this lesson with my 8th graders, and it is a little bit of a struggle for them to grasp the initial concepts, but by the end of the lesson, students have had a rich discussion about Anne Frank.  One other difference from my original post is that I don't wait until we have finished reading the diary, but I do fit this in somewhere near the end.