What Are ALBA’s Workshops Like? A Teacher’s Perspective

June 14, 2017

At the ALBA institute in Springfield, MA. Photo Rich Cairn

Karen Pleasant, History Department Chair at Stoneleigh Burnham School in Greenfield, Massachusetts, participated in ALBA’s two-day institute this spring. A 17-year veteran in the classroom, she teaches U.S. History and several history classes in the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

I am quite embarrassed to say this, but before this workshop I really did not know anything about the Spanish Civil War, beyond seeing the painting of Guernica by Pablo Picasso and visiting the Valley of the Fallen when I was a student in college studying in Madrid. I had not heard of the Lincoln Brigade.

I very much enjoyed the historical content of the workshop: the Spanish Civil War in general—but particularly from the anti-fascist point of view. It was interesting to look at a civil war in Europe from the perspective of American participants. What worked well for my learning style was to have the workshop time divided into lecture, practical teaching exercises, reading time of various source materials, and the hands-on creation of a lesson plan. The source material that we were given was excellent, and so were the digital resources. I was intrigued by the notion of having my students contribute to the ALBA Database, though I am not quite sure how to go about this type of research with a class of high school students.

I was not going to teach the Spanish Civil War, but I am now very enthusiastic to devote four weeks to the study of this conflict.

I am interested in the event of July 6, 1935, which is covered in the film The Good Fight, when a group of American protesters tore the Nazi flag off the German ship the SS Bremen while it was docked in New York City. I am hoping to develop a lesson that revolves around “point of view.” Students would have multiple sources to work with, from multiple viewpoints, to answer the question: “What happened on this day?” I hope that by the end of the lesson, students would realize that answering how and why things happen directly relates to the perspective of who is telling the story and where it is being reported.

I have time to teach one more unit in my IB History Standard-Level class and I have decided to teach the Spanish Civil War. I have the option to teach this within the broader world history topic: Causes and Effects of 20th-Century Wars. Before this workshop, I was not going to teach the Spanish Civil War, but I am now very enthusiastic to devote four weeks to the study of this conflict. There seems to be a wealth of great resources at the ALBA website, and I will definitely use some of the lesson plans in my new unit.