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TC Doctoral Student in C & T Wins NCTE Award

Joan Ruddiman, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, is the winner of the Paul and Kate Farmer Writing Award.

The award was established by the late NCTE President Paul Farmer, who was president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and his wife Kate, to recognize outstanding articles published during the previous year in the English Journal.

The journal, which is highly recognized in the field of English education, was established in 1912 and is published by NCTE.

Dean Karen Zumwalt is working with Ruddiman as her dissertation sponsor on a study of how non-engaged classroom behavior relates to students' thinking. In November, Ruddiman was honored at the NCTE convention in Nashville for her article, World War II: A Research/Presentation Project for Eighth Graders.

The author of the article provided strategies and resources for teaching World War II, which she considers "the defining period for the twentieth century."

In an interview, Ruddiman said, "The English Journal is aimed at practitioners-middle and secondary reading and language arts teachers-and I wanted to share what I found to be a stimulating unit with other teachers and their students." She recalled that as an undergraduate she was required to subscribe to the English Journal and now, she says, "The award from NCTE is a benchmark in my life."

A reading teacher on an eighth-grade team at West Windsor Plainsboro Middle School, New Jersey, Ruddiman describes her school as "multicultural, represented by more than 50 different languages and dialects."

In her article she writes, "most history curricula do not touch on World War II in the elementary grades…middle school students, though have a fascination and intense interest in what this was about, particularly the Holocaust." Ruddiman decided to tap that curiosity and develop a unit that included a variety of readings and interviews by the students with primary sources, for example, someone in a student's family who had been part of the World War II era (whether an infantryman at Normandy or a survivor of Auschwitz).

Each of her classes involved in the unit had between four to six different teaching groups and the focus of the lesson was taken from an aspect of the World War II that the primary source shared with one member of the group. Because of the diversity of Ruddiman's classes, each teaching group had a very different focus. "For example, she writes in her article, "in one class we learned about the Russian front…from Kate's family" and "The Blitz on London from Felicity's grandmother."

The goal of the project, according to Ruddiman, was not to cover every front or theatre of war but rather to provide her students with a personal account of "this watershed moment in the world's history." She writes that the greatest benefit of adding the unit to her reading class was that "it builds tolerance."

Ruddiman notes that there is "a concern today about incorporating values education in the classroom." Nevertheless, she sees evidence that the unit on World War II helped her students delve into important issues. "Asking students to critically think about the consequences of the war and to relate those events to today encourages awareness of human behavior, both heroic and evil."

The NCTE honoree calls her unit "rewarding for students and for me as a teacher." She adds, "We all were aware that this unit made a difference in our lives... They (students) were able to relate history to their families and to the world today…In the process, they explored ideas that ultimately made them better people."

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