A Word From An Educator…

October 13, 2019

Christina Cone

This week our blog is hosting one of the 2019 Abdelkader Prize for Educators winners, Christina Cone from New York. In this post, she will explain how she implemented Abdelkader into her lesson plans for her students and its impact on her classroom.

It was easier than I thought to incorporate the teaching of the life and legacy of Abdelkader into my World History classroom, as his experiences and context align beautifully with the historical developments, themes, and general content of the course. The first lesson that I designed focused on reactions to the French in Egypt and Algeria. This added to my unit of study examining how discontent with imperial rule and nationalism contributed to anti-colonial movements. In addition, through an excerpt from In the Shadow of the Sword, it also served to reinforce earlier learning about beliefs and practices of Islam. The goal of the lesson was to have students work with documents using the skills of historians. Students were able to answer the questions, make connections and comparisons to the themes of the time, and have the documents talk to one another.

For the second lesson, I wanted the students to learn more about Abdelkader and therefore had them read the full version of In the Shadow of the Sword/Rumors in Damascus.  This similarly aligned with the thematic and content goals of the course, but also served to provide practice with working with secondary sources, another useful skill. This lesson employed choice for the students. After reading they were charged with the task of either writing a “Ten Term Rundown” or designing a poster. If they chose the “Ten Term Rundown,” they were to select ten of twelve terms provided and use them to craft a summary paragraph.  The directive for the poster selection was to create an awareness poster that would teach others of the role of Abdelkader in resisting the French. The poster needed to have a slogan, a picture, and three facts. Students really enjoyed making the poster and their choices of what to highlight really represented the character of the Emir. For example, some of the slogans on their posters were “Abdelkares,” and “Abdelkader: A Scholar, A Warrior, and a Savior.” Some sentences from their Ten Term Rundowns that were impressive were “Abdelkader had a lot of courage and decided to fight the French and renew the Islamic culture, restoring their faith in humanity.” Another example was, “Abdelkader had the courage to speak up and be a symbol of what God represents. Abdelkader told mobs of people that what they were doing was wrong and he saved 5-10,000 people.  He spoke the word of God to them to end the violence.”

The third lesson was about remembrance and legacy.  Students were to debate whether Abdelkader should best be remembered for failing to win Algerian independence or as one who inspired others. I used the Structured Academic Controversy model, a teaching approach that encourages students to take on controversial issues – geared toward creating consensus rather than winning or losing.  To prepare for the debate, I selected resources and put them together in Google Slides for the students to read and view at their own pace. Students were assigned which position to support and there was a debate preparation sheet to fill out. The next day, students were set up in groups of four, two students supporting that Abdelkader should be remembered as failing to win Algerian independence, and two who were backing that he should be remembered as an inspiration to others. Day one of the Controversy lesson went well and students were focused and finding evidence.  I was worried that the “failure” side would have trouble, and, while some said it was a little hard, they still got the job done. The controversy debate itself went well, but the students did find it harder to argue the failure side (but that was the point, after all!).

I was so happy with how the lessons worked and with what the students (and I) learned about Abdelkader.   After implementing the lessons, a student reflected that, “It was interesting to learn about another historical figure that has not been included in textbooks.” I could not agree more.  Going through this process was such a great learning experience for me. I researched and read so much about the Emir and can easily see how his story connects to the curriculum and his character is a model for all.  I found myself having trouble stopping at just three lessons. After reading his NY Times obituary, I thought of how students could write their own obituary for him as yet another activity. I like that the lesson online already compares Abdelkader to Gandhi and Mandela and feel that could be implemented and/or modified to fit NY State curriculum standards of writing an Enduring Issues Essay.  Long story short, this is a man who impacted many and deserves to be taught about. I have to highlight a concluding response from a student who I thought completely got the point of these lessons.  They said, “he (Abdelkader) genuinely was an inspiration and he really pushed humanitarian views which I think is super important.”

We would like to thank Christina for her willingness to discuss how she has incorporated the values of Abdelkader into her work and life. Keep an eye out for more blog posts from our 2019 Abdelkader Prize for Educators winners to hear more about how they have introduced their students to the legacy of Emir Abdelkader.