Academic journal article English Journal

Moving Interpretations: Using Drama-Based Arts Strategies to Deepen Learning about the Diary of a Young Girl

Academic journal article English Journal

Moving Interpretations: Using Drama-Based Arts Strategies to Deepen Learning about the Diary of a Young Girl

Article excerpt

Few canonical texts have received proaches of teaching as The Diary of a Young Girl. Assorted editions of Anne Frank's diary and the numerous texts that have been based on this work all provide particular perspectives on how Anne's words and life ought to be understood and what Anne's legacy is or should be. Examples abound that describe problematic ways in which The Diary has been framed in middle school English language arts (ELA) classrooms. In general, scholars of Holocaust studies mark two instructional tendencies that should be avoided, but have prevailed nonetheless. To give students a sense of the horrors of the Holocaust and to contextualize Anne's story, some teachers and texts present students with graphic images depicting shocking scenes from concentration camps. In some settings, simulations are used to encourage students to develop an appreciation of what it might have felt like to be in hiding, like Anne and her family were in the Annex (Abramovitch).

On the other end of the spectrum, some teachers and texts emphasize the hopeful messages embedded in Anne's words and use these messages to examine contemporary social issues on which Anne's words might shed light, which can lead some students to appreciate Anne's horrific context in overly sentimental and inappropriately positive ways (Spector and Jones). Despite the well-i ntentioned efforts of some ELA teachers and textbooks to situate Anne's diary during this disturbing historical period, students may leave such instructional engagements with broad misconceptions about Anne's life and narrative and the Holocaust (Juzwik). Because The Diary represents for many students the first and perhaps only instructional encounter with the Holocaust, the consequences for misrepresenting Anne's words and life are too severe to overlook (Magilow and Silverman). Instruction about the Anne Frank narrative demands the most ambitious of curricular approaches.

In this article, we describe how an embodied arts-based approach to teaching the story of Anne Frank enhanced eighth graders' experiences in three middle school classrooms. We begin by framing the theories that guide our perspectives on embodiment and drama-infused instruction to promote literacy learning. We follow this theoretical framing with an overview of the Anne Frank: Bearing Witness project from which these samples were derived. Next, we offer three drama-based strategies to highlight the ways in which movement engaged students' minds and bodies: using an instructional tool called the cordel, inviting students to sculpt each other's bodies to better understand the meaning of the Anne Frank diary, and dramatizing a poetic text from the historical period to deepen a growing empathetic stance. By engaging in these and other arts-based strategies, eighth graders and their teachers took intellectual risks and produced moving interpretations of the Anne Frank narrative and associated paired texts. The strategies created "thick air" around the topic and elevated the likelihood of eighth graders committing themselves to the work. They promoted students' empathetic perspective taking and embodied meaning making. We encourage ELA teachers to consider how these arts-based strategies could enhance their teaching of Anne Frank's diary and other challenging and meaningful texts.

Embodiment and Drama-Based Literacy Instruction

We emphasize in this article the integral role of the body as text and tool in fostering literacy learning. "Embodiment . . . describes teaching and learning in acknowledgement of our bodies as whole experiential beings in motion, both inscribed and inscribing subjectivities" (Perry and Medina 63). Embodiment in the ELA classroom reimagines what it means to comprehend and compose texts by engaging learners-i n body and in mind-i n processes of transmediation, what Marjorie Siegel characterizes as the recasting of meanings across sign systems. Eighth-grade learners used images, gestures, and movement to interpret texts related to the Anne Frank narrative. …

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