“Touch It Lightly”: Israeli Students’ Construction of Pedagogical Paradigms About an Emotionally Laden Topic

Jul. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 33, No. 3, p. 269–286, 2012.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study is to examine the pedagogical paradigms that preservice teachers construct regarding the teaching of the Holocaust and the identification of trends in the development of these paradigms over their 3-year college program.

This program takes place in the context of a small religious women’s teachers college in Israel.
The program consists of a 4-year academic course, including practical experience during the first 3 years and a paid internship in the 4th.

The participants were 47 Jewish female students, ranging in age from 21 to 30.
Their ethnic backgrounds included native-born Israelis, children of immigrants from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, Europe, and North America.
These students were in the first 3 years of the early childhood program.
The authors used two qualitative methods: narrative interviews and reflective writing.


The findings echo the college’s longitudinal program in Holocaust education, indicating the program’s influence on the students’ construction of pedagogy.

The findings show development and change over the students’ course of study.
The 1st-year students’ paradigms emphasize a historical approach, including patterns of persecution throughout Jewish history, the revival of the state of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust, and the historical development of the Holocaust itself.
These historical approaches mirror the training program in year 1, which consists of two museum visits dealing specifically with the rise of Nazism and the staged effort to annihilate world Jewry, themes reflected in students’ formulations of pedagogical paradigms.

In the 2nd year, the students begin to gain confidence regarding the Holocaust, which may be related directly to their museum visit focusing on children in the Holocaust.
The students themselves make this connection by constructing teaching paradigms that present the Holocaust through the child’s eyes, sensing that these stories are meaningful and age appropriate.
An additional support for their growing self-confidence may be the emphasis placed on the principles of developmentally appropriate practice in their didactic seminar.
The students apply this developmental consideration to Holocaust education, thereby anchoring their thinking about how to approach the topic.
Like their 1st-year counterparts, these students lack both formal and informal didactic guidance.
They construct a paradigm based on their own beliefs and understanding about developmental principles as well as their Holocaust museum experience.

In the 3rd-year, experts teach a specific pedagogic model, which the students clearly prefer in explaining their own approach.
Thus, the emphasis on life instead of death, the focus on overcoming their own fears, and relying on a story about a child grow out of the didactic workshops in which they participated during the year.
The mastery of a tangible teaching model empowers the preservice teachers faced with an emotionally laden task.
Their understanding that teaching the topic is possible in a developmentally appropriate manner is related to their confidence in speaking about Holocaust pedagogy in a decisive manner.

Of central importance in their growing self-confidence is the students’ developing professional identity as early childhood educators.
While the 1st-year novices still view themselves as students who learn by watching, the 3rd-year students begin to see themselves as teachers responsible for their own classroom.
As such, they are ready to consider taking on the challenge of this complex, mandated task.

The emotionally challenging nature of the Holocaust adds an important dimension to the students’ motivation to create paradigms.
On the one hand, this emotional backdrop creates difficulty; on the other hand, it adds salience to the educational endeavor, as seen by the students’ expressions about the importance of teaching the Holocaust.

The authors conclude that emphasizing values through the Holocaust teaching can serve as a model for values education in other realms as well.
As students revealed their previously unformulated pedagogic paradigms, they came to understand the importance of helping them choose between their own ideas and those of their fellow students.
In addition, as students revealed their pedagogic thinking about Holocaust teaching paradigms, they recognized their apprehension about dealing with the topic in-depth in a developmentally appropriate manner in the classroom.

Updated: Dec. 15, 2014