I have been fortunate to work with the ISSH Grade 10 English teacher on a unit project which combined the learning goals of both the Pre-AP Grade 10 Russian Revolution Unit and his unit based on Animal Farm . This project has evolved from one that Adam Seldis, Adam Clark and I collaborated on in 2012. I first tried this project in Theory of Knowledge and blogged about the results. However, after redesigning the project based on my first experience, I found this version of the project much more useful and the results were much better.
The Russian Revolution Unit Project assignment sheet and rubric are included here.
The assignment was introduced by showing two short sample videos in which opposing sides were shown of the same historical topic. All of the information was based on historically accurate materials. In English class, the teacher taught students propaganda techniques that they would then use in the videos. Students were given one double period each week for three weeks to work. Their projects were presented on the final Thursday. We divided the students randomly.
We offered several topics related to the Russian Revolution Unit from which they could choose. Each team chose a topic, like Lenin or Stalin. They then partnered with one other group and then took a positon, Pro-Lenin or Anti-Lenin, for example.
This project went well.
We wanted the students to think critically about how to use digital media to create a piece of propaganda based on historical research. We instructed the students that they should use either a Google Doc, Diigo, or another resource where they could compile and store images and articles. We believed that the strongest propaganda pieces could use the same images as the opposition but slant the interpretation of the images using music, voiceover, text, and placing the image within a swquence of other images. To support this, one class period was designated as time for collaboration between two groups with the same topic. There were healthy, ongoing discussions as to which images the two groups would agree to use. It was stipulated that the images could not be photoshopped. However, students could use almost any other editorial method to shape the meaning of an image. The two Lenin videos included above show how students made the most of these tools.
Based on their editing, selection of images, music, text, graphics and pacing, Grade 10 students are aware of the methods used by advertisers and entertainers to communicate with consumers. These projects demonstrated that students can selectively and cleverly adapt what they have seen and heard for their own purposes. This project should help students to take the next step and be able to cognitively organize what they know by using the terminology of propaganda.
We wanted students to see these historical actors and events from the point of view of a Soviet citizen or leader who would want positive representations. On the other hand, the same historical actors and events could also be seen from the point of view of a Western government or a Soviet dissident. Further, both points of view could be in play at the same time but to different audiences.
I liked this project as part of a Pre-Advanced Placement (AP) or IB course. This further prepares students to look for additional layers layers of meaning when they are evaluating primary and secondary evidence.
In AP History courses, historical analysis questions like this are common and the best students can see each piece of evidence from more than one point of view. In AP United States History (APUSH), historians frequently spar over the contributions of figures like Andrew Jackson, Robber Barons and Richard Nixon. While in AP European History, we must assess the legacies of Martin Luther, Klemens von Metternich and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others.
We also wanted the students to review Fair Use and Public Domain from the first semester.
From the student surveys, we are learning how to make this project better for next year.
One area that I would especially like to work on is how to effectively include the bibliography and Fair Use credits in the project. Students have tried including this information in the credit roll at the end, but it is hard to read. Some groups have inserted this information in the summary box that goes with each Vimeo video, but that takes too much space away from the thumbnails for other videos. I will need to ask colleagues who assign similar work for advice.
The second area for reflection is which images and film clips are appropriate. One or two groups used a few images which might have been from Germany instead of the Soviet Union. I think that, in the future, students should be required to use images that they are reasonably certain represent the topic and time period.
If you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along.
Garry Leroy Baker