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Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

Produced by Barb Jepson, 1990

Goals:

One of my main goals in teaching is to make the students aware of the world around them - be it what happened at the McDonalds on DeSoto, or what's going on in Washington D.C., or why the miners in Georgia, U.S.S.R. are striking. I have been amazed at what some students do know and flabbergasted when a 9th grade student couldn't find Canada on a map of North America. When I say that I want the students to be aware of the world around them, I don't mean just geographically, I also want them to be aware of other religions, cultures, values and traditions. This is often easier said than done. I have found that what I take for granted that they know, they have no idea of. Not only do I want them to be aware of what is happening in other parts of the world, but I also want them to have an understanding of the values and beliefs of the various cultural groups in the U.S., not to mention the various ethnic groups in the classroom. To address this I spend some time talking about racism, scapegoating, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Through discussion on these subjects hopefully I am able to induce the students to question their values and traditions as well as others throughout the world.

Which brings me to my other main goal in teaching, which is to get the student to think critically, not only about historical events but also about their everyday lives. I feel that if they are introduced to critical thinking skills, and they learn to use them, they will be able to question occurrences in their lives, whether it be politics, what college they are going to go to, or how they should act around their peers.

The world is set up in such a way now that it is virtually impossible for a person to be isolated from the rest of the world. For instance, the crisis in the Persian Gulf caused oil and gas prices to go up which effected the stock market which then effects the price of gold which effects the jeweler in the local mall. Students need to become aware that, what is happening in other parts of the world has an impact on their everyday lives. They need to be made aware that this global interdependence is becoming stronger all the time, and will play a much larger part in their lives than it did in the lives of their parents or their grandparents.

My main goals in teaching are then to make the students aware of the world around them, and to critically think and question those traditions and values that surround them in the world today and those from the past. (Obviously I have other goals in teaching, but I think these two are the most important at this time.) It is easy then to see how my goals and philosophy of teaching coincide with some of the global education goals, i.e., diversity, multiple perspectives, and critical thinking.

When teaching any unit I would like to accomplish certain objectives such as introducing the student to various perspectives on the matter. It is important that the students are introduced to different readings on the period, or else they go through history with a very one-dimensional view. For instance when teaching the students about the American Revolution, it would be very difficult to use only the American version of what the motives behind England's actions were. In teaching about the Russian Revolution I hope to give the students more than one perspective on the time period. Another of my objectives then is to provoke the students into questioning why historical events happened as they did. Such as why was the time right in Russia to have a revolution in 1917? How was the Russian Revolution similar or dissimilar to other world revolutions? Why Communism? Can the Soviet Union be called a communist state or should it be called a socialist state? How important were the personalities that were involved in the Russian Revolution? These are some of the questions that I would like to raise to the students, and I would like them to come up with themselves.

Implementation:

I like to use various methods to implement my goals, obviously different methods work better for certain topics and historical periods. In the next few pages I would like to give some ideas that I would like to use when teaching the Russian Revolution and an introduction to Stalinism.

Through other units in World History, the students would have been introduced to what a revolution is, particularly from studying American, French, and English history up to the 20th century. I do like to remind the students that revolution comes from the root word of evolution, and I think that enables them to keep in mine that revolution is some kind of a change, usually faster rather than slower. To introduce this unit I would play the Beatles song "Revolution" for them, then give them a copy of the words and discuss the song. Hopefully, the students know who the Beatles are (though you never know). I do this in hopes that it will bring history closer to their everyday lives, or at least closer to something they can relate to.

The students have been refreshed in their concept of revolution. The students will then be asked to write questions that they would like to have answered on the Russian Revolution, hopefully they will come up with some of the questions that I mentioned before. At this point it becomes necessary for the students to do some reading on the period, and for a lecture or two presenting historical information and political theories. I have found the history books lacking when it comes to the philosophy of Karl Marx. I may ask the students to do some investigating of Marx in groups as a cooperative learning exercise. I also have a hand out on communist principles that I could use at this time.

Incorporating into my unit the theory of multiple perspectives, comes the use of literature. I have two authors in mind at this time, one being Boris Pasternak and the other being John Reed (I may use Robert Rosenstone's biography on Reed, instead of reading Reed). I like the idea of using Pasternak, because he is a Russian writer which would enable the students to get a Russian perspective, and it also opens the door for using a different kind of media in a video to tie everything together. I would like the students to read excerpts and then see a portion of the movie, which would bring it to life. The same goes with Reed, in that he was an American citizen who witnessed the Revolution and wrote about it. Again this enables the student to see the action on a video, granted "Reds" is not the best movie, but parts could be extracted (and at least they may know who Warren Beatty is).

To really bring the multiple perspective into global view I would like also to incorporate writings/readings from world leaders during the Revolution. Sometimes it is too easy to take what the history books say for granted, and the students begin to believe everything they read. By introducing other world perspectives this will also induce the students to question what they read. As junior historians I want them to question everything, and by giving them readings that vary in their theories will force them to do some critical thinking, at least I hope so!

Fourteen and fifteen year old students should be forced to become aware of what is going on in the world around them. As they are studying the Russian Revolution, I would like them to be aware of what is happening in U.S.S.R now, and to do this I would ask the students to do a current event in the form of a news panel. What this entails is 4 or 5 students using the newspaper, television, or a news magazine to find information out about the U.S.S.R., there are two newscasters, one entertainment person, one sportscaster, and one weather person. The students would pretend that they are in Russia, so that one newscaster could give world news while the other gave local Russian news, and the other three people would give information about the Soviet Union. They could be as creative as they would like, naming their station, calling each other by Russian names, etc.

The last aspect of the unit would be an exercise to tie in together all of their learning. At this point I would break the class into four groups, and their assignment would be to write a play. They would have to create dialogue between characters that were involved pre-revolution, during the revolution, or post revolution. Historical information must be correct, but they could pretend that characters that didn't live at the same time, met and discussed historical events. They could use some actual dialogues that took place, but there must be fictional conversation also, and they could make up some of the characters as well. The assignment would require outside class research and practice, though they would be able to do some of the work and rehearsals in class. Costumes would not be required, and they could make their own props if they desired. Each play would have to have a title. This kind of exercise gets the students involved in actual history, and into thinking like the various characters would have thought. It also gives different kind of learners an opportunity to shine. I think this could be a very good cooperative learning lesson.

Throughout the last couple of pages I have given some of my main ideas for this lesson, I have not gone into great detail on the everyday lesson, such as lectures, reading assignments, vocabulary, quizzes, etc. Hopefully I have given the impression groups would have to grade each other. Peers often can be much more critical than the teacher is. Also there is incentive for the other news panels to listen to each others newscasts, and think about what worked well and what didn't, storing this away for use when they do another similar project.

The other major project in this unit was the play that the students were to have written and presented to the class. The students would receive two grades for their work, one being for their presentation ( if this part wasn't graded some of the students would have a tendency to fool around), and the other for the dialogue that is handed in. The dialogue would be graded for creativity and for historical accuracy, they may have Gorbachev discussing the future of the Soviet Union with Lenin or Stalin.

I think that whenever a teacher does any kind of teaching they are constantly doing some sort of evaluating, they need to find out if they are getting the points across. Sometimes I have thought I have done a wonderful job of explaining something, but when I start to ask questions, the students are really lost, but they wouldn't tell me, so it's back to square one. Not only does this evaluate the students' knowledge, but it evaluates my effectiveness as a teacher. I may evaluate the day's lesson by asking the students to tell me one point that I just made or they may have a written assignment.

Another form of evaluation of course is the objective test at the end of the unit, which I would use, but in addition to this test I would have the students write possible essay questions covering the unit. We would then pick the 3 best questions and the students would be assigned to pick one of them and to write an essay at home answering the question, the next day the students would come in and write another essay on either of the two remaining questions. One they would have been able to use their books and notes and the other they would have had to do from memory. The students would have felt that they had a hand in their own educational process, by being allowed to write their own essay questions. Through the above processes I would feel that my effectiveness would have been evaluated as well as effectively evaluating the student's performance. One last thing that I need to mention is that after the last essay question was handed in I would have played "Back in the U.S.S.R." by the Beatles, just to tie everything together, and for the heck of it!

Center for European and Eurasian Studies