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Classroom Close-Up: Diverse Perspectives on World War I
Posted 03/12/2019 04:40PM

One in an occasional series that shines a light on teaching, learning and classroom life at St. John’s Prep

Susan Bavaro Subject: AP European History

Teacher: Mrs. Susan Bavaro (in partnership with St. John’s Digital Learning Specialist, Julie Cremin)

Topic: Diverse perspectives on World War I

The Approach: Working in collaborative teams, small groups of students research and publish digital newspapers that reflect the point of view of one country from either alliance bloc involved in World War I—the Allies or the Central Powers. The weeklong project includes one day of training in the Adobe Spark design app (the publishing platform for their newspapers), two days of research, and two days of editorial production. Every class member contributes one news article and one additional piece of content, like an advertisement, an editorial, a political cartoon, a letter to the editor, or even poetry.

How Students Benefit: The goal is for students to become more familiar with the divergent multinational influences and mindsets that impacted the course of The Great War. As the basis of their research, class members use primary and secondary sources from select websites as well as country-specific databases available in the A. E. Studzinski Library. By creating editorial content intended to advance a particular nation state’s political interests and global outlook, students gain both a broader and more nuanced understanding of the forces—large and small—that changed the course of history at the beginning of the 20th century.

Teacher Takeaway: “To paraphrase Napoleon (who was a shrewd propagandist and created his own newspapers chronicling his military victories), the truth of history is that it’s a fable people have agreed upon. I think he meant that each country has its own ideas and shared beliefs, and its people and press tend to see events through that lens. It’s important for students to understand those various perspectives and realize that events and outcomes are a matter of interpretation. Views can be based upon gender, class, or ethnicity. A nationalist point of view. A liberalist point of view. An exercise like this fosters critical thinking. The hope is to encourage students to reflect more broadly. The core question is: how do you evaluate what you read? Who’s writing it? What’s their level of expertise? What’s their agenda or bias, and is it conscious or unintentional? When was it published? I think students come to understand that you should never read only one publication or expose yourself to a single point of view.”

The Student Experience: “This newspaper is unlike any project I have done before, and it’s been eye-opening,” said Jake Katz ’21. “I love how we are able to apply history and hard data while turning it into something creative, where we’re not being tested on something we read in a textbook.” Andrew Orfaly ’21 adds, “I really enjoyed this project. Putting myself in the shoes of a person from a specific country, with a specific political viewpoint, and from a specific time period allowed me to better understand why people experienced World War I in distinctly different ways. I also found value in presenting the information through creative means, such as political cartoons and memes.” Dallon Archibald ’21 said that including multiple points of view in a joint project helped him and his classmates better understand both pro-war and pacificist perspectives of the time: “I wrote a letter to the editor from a Russian farmer who despises the general mood for war in both Russia and Europe, while the rest of my group’s content reflects a pro-war position. I think the project helped us appreciate the war’s impact on the lives of everyday people beyond the stories of soldiers, and gave us a sense of cause, effect and how ideas change over time.”

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