They came from as far away as Oregon, North Carolina and Rhode Island. Some have been teaching with testimony for years and others were only introduced to IWitness recently. But for the last three days, a dozen teachers came together to advance their skills in IWitness as part of the first-ever IWitness Teaching Fellowship.
The participants were chosen following an application process, and included several teachers who traveled to Poland with the Institute in January on Auschwitz: The Past is Present, an IWitness educator from Rwanda, a graduate of the Institute’s Master Teacher program, and others who attended IWitness workshops in their hometowns.
From Wednesday, July 8, to Friday, July 10, the teachers worked with USC Shoah Foundation education staff on the USC campus in Los Angeles.
The agenda included overviews of USC Shoah Foundation’s mission and theories of content development, and the main objective of the week was for each teacher to construct his or her own activity using IWitness’s activity-building tool. Each teacher also constructed a testimony-based mini lesson, or “Micro Quest,” which is the newest and shortest type of activity in IWitness. Eventually, these activities may be published in IWitness for all users to access.
The participants were given ample time to work independently and also collaboratively on their activities and lessons. They consulted frequently with staff and peer-reviewed each other’s work. On Friday, they each presented what they had made to the group and reflected on the experience, what they had learned and next steps.
For the teachers, the fellowship was an opportunity to develop their own ideas for their specific classroom environments as well as collaborate with like-minded colleagues on ideas and best practices for teaching with testimony.
Rob Hadley graduated from the Master Teacher program in 2010 and teaches history at Clackamas High School in Oregon. During the fellowship, he noticed how much IWitness has evolved and changed for the better since he first tested it five years ago. IWitness makes survivor testimony feel relevant to students’ lives, he said.
Being able to feed off the other fellows and hear their suggestions has been very powerful, he added, and it enhances the IWitness experience.
“The community and dialogue that happens face-to-face can’t be replicated in the virtual world if you don’t have the work we’re doing here now,” he said.
English and history teacher Laura Pritchard Dobrin, from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy in Virginia, agreed that one of the best aspects of the fellowship was seeing everyone else’s ideas. No matter what differences there are between them in terms of where they live, the subject they teach or their own unique points of view, IWitness enabled all the fellows to unite and work toward a common goal.
The IWitness activity she built this week examines the complexity of taking action against injustice and how one person can make a difference.
Kris Collins, language arts teacher at Shrewsbury High School in Massachusetts, worked on an activity about forgiveness. In addition to testimony clips, she wove in the novel The Kite Runner, a quote by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, and the famous photo of a boy hugging a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
She said the fellowship has shown her how IWitness can go beyond the Holocaust.
“The most exciting thing I’ve learned is how to really use survivor testimony to teach almost anything,” Collins said. “I would never have thought to do that unless I was here.”