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A Case of Teaching and Learning the Holocaust in Secondary School History Class: An Exercise in Historical Thinking with Primary Sources Open Access

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A study of the Holocaust is a challenging task. Schools often dedicate little time to the study of the subject, and teachers are often largely unprepared in regard to their content mastery of the subject, as well as the appropriate pedagogical tools to help guide students through the study of intellectually and emotionally difficult material. Whereas best practice in the field of Holocaust education prescribes the use of primary sources in the teaching of the Holocaust, few studies exist which explore the ways in which teachers select and implement primary sources in their teaching of the Holocaust and the impact it has on what students come to understand about the event.A case study of one tenth grade World History II classroom provided qualitative data to help explore the ways primary sources were used in the teaching of the Holocaust. This research describes the relationship between the use of primary sources in this classroom and the development of historical thinking skills among students. The data interpreted in this study indicated that the curation choices of the teacher influenced what students came to know and understand about the Holocaust. Additionally, students demonstrated an ability to develop and practice lower order historical thinking skills related to sourcing, as a result of their use of primary sources in a study of the Holocaust. Findings emerged which indicated that the teacher and her students had unique relationships to the content of the Holocaust and to the study of history more broadly. This study offers insight into the intersections of difficult knowledge, Holocaust education, social studies pedagogy, source curation, and discussions of the skills necessary to learn history meaningfully and critically.

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