Friday, November 6, 2015

Primary Sources in Primary Grades

When we think of using primary sources,  I would guess that most of us assume that's in the realm of middle school and high school research. However, Tom Bober, a teacher in residence at the Library of Congress, set out to challenge that assumption.

We began by talking about primary sources - what are they, defining different types of sources as primary or secondary. Next, he shared some great resources that people (especially at the elementary level), might not be aware of, mainly from the LOC.

Among the resources offered are:
Primary Source sets, which include detailed teacher guides to go with each set
A wonderful primary source analysis tool that guides students through the process
Idea Books/Resources for teachers 
Chronicling America, historic newspapers through 1922
Student Discovery Sets
Lesson plans 

There were also resources from the World Digital Library and the Internet Archive .

In terms of using primary sources with the youngest students, he recommended using images, because they're easy for kids to relate to, they help personalize history, and they don't require any reading skills. Students should work in collaborative partnerships to analyze images to deepen their understanding and learn from each other, which I loved. He suggested that whenever possible, link to the original source and have this analysis be done online so that students can zoom in on the image, but with really young students, he puts the image up on the SmartBoard/ActivBoard and then uses the annotate tool to record their questions and observations.

What was really eye-opening for me is that the use of primary source images doesn't have to relate just to social studies. He described giving students a picture (that we got) of students at a Thanksgiving parade in 1911, which was used as a jumping off point to talk about their own Thanksgivings. With 5th graders studying Black History Month, students looked at the image of Ruby Bridges being walked out of school by the marshals, and it helped them respond to it on a deeply personal level. Another assignment, done with either 4th or 5th graders, saw the traditional "write as though you were on Columbus' ship" assignment replaced with a comparative analysis of Columbus' diary entries with later depictions of his arrival. They even used primary sources to teach students about the planets - students were given historic images of the solar system and asked to examine the pictures to see if they could discern the meaning of the words geocentric and heliocentric. They then had to justify their conclusions by referring back to their image.

It was a great presentation that has left me filled with ideas about how to inject primary sources into the elementary library. 

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