Monthly Archives: January 2022

How would you improve student learning and skills with primary sources?

Hello classmates!

As I reflect on activities that we have completed in class, my mind ponders on what the most effective ways of assessing the proficiency of student primary source analysis skills. As a class we chose objects of our preference and analyzed them in four parts: 1) meet the artifact; 2) observe its parts; 3) try to make sense of it; and 4) use it as historical evidence. Through this process, we made inferences by carefully examining the physical appearance of the object and hypothesizing its purpose.

We also learned how to analyze, especially compare and contrast, between different primary sources, such as an image of King George and an image of George Washington. We carefully examined what objects and symbols were included in the image and why those objects may have been included. This way, we inferred what message the illustrator was trying to deliver.

I have been thinking about how else students could show that they are proficient in their primary source analysis skills, and I thought of something I found pretty interesting and creative. Instead of having the students use primary sources to make inferences and develop and understanding by a repeated “observe and think” process, I think students can benefit from creating their own creative primary sources. By this, I mean students can tackle on writing letters or poems in the eyes of a critical historical figure or a commoner of any status. For example, after learning about Abraham Lincoln and his relevance to the history we learn today, a student could write a letter to a fictional friend and explain his thoughts/feelings on the topic at hand. Not only will students be able to identify and understand what happened, but they will also gain the opportunity to use advanced skills in understanding the emotions/intentions behind primary sources.

My question for you all is can you think of any ways of incorporating primary sources or just building on primary source analysis skills without necessarily providing an actual primary source? Be creative:)

Teaching Primary Sources: The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

Protestors, July, 1963

Hi all,

As I’ve been working on my bibliography for this week’s digital toolbox assignment, I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenge of working with primary sources in the K-6 classroom — where to find them, how to adapt them, and how to teach them. I’m particularly interested in figuring out how to pull together a collection of documents that will sustain a class through an entire unit.

The topic I chose for my bibliography is racial segregation and the rise of Jim Crow laws (USII.4c), typically taught around 6th grade (I think), and I came across a resource that speaks to many of the above questions. The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University is home to a large collection of lesson plans and teaching materials, as well as artifacts and primary source documents, that not only cover the Jim Crow era, but slavery and the Civil Rights movement as well.

What I particularly love about this resource is that the museum’s collection goes in-depth into both the history of Jim Crow racism (the section on origins is fantastic in terms of the range of documents — though you, of course, want to choose your documents with awareness and sensitivity and adapt them for the classroom accordingly), and the history of resistance to Jim Crow. The Battling Jim Crow section contains work by artists who respond to, critique, and re-contextualize the images of the Jim Crow era, and I can imagine any number of creative lesson plans that could be developed using the art highlighted there. There’s also a very thoughtful post on how the museum’s staff feel about working with objects that are hateful; the post brings into view the work of curators and museum educators, and I think it could be really cool to talk about that kind of thing in the classroom.

Anyhow, this is just what I’ve been reading this week. I’d love to hear about any primary source resources you’ve found while working on your bibliographies. What topics have you chosen and where have you found the best teaching materials?

Why Is It So Hard to Pick Those Five Words??

There is so much content to teach but so little time. As we did the “George Washington, Spymaster” activity in class, I had difficulty picking only five words that I THOUGHT should be taught to a fourth-grade class. As Professor Hunt said, some teachers are lucky enough to be placed in a school where they are given the vocabulary that they need to teach. But others, not so much. We were given three paragraphs to pick those five words from. Just think about when we get a whole unit to sort through! Did you also struggle with the activity? How did you decide what words you thought were the most crucial for learning? 

The whole activity got me thinking about the different ways that we as teachers can get those essential vocabulary words remembered by our students. Growing up, I remember learning vocabulary every week by taking a worksheet home full of that week’s vocabulary and a dictionary. I would have to write down each word in my notebook and then find the definition in the dictionary. I would do that every week, which was not beneficial to me! How did you learn vocabulary in elementary school? Is it something you would bring to your classroom, or have you learned a new helpful way to teach vocabulary? 

I found this website done by two social studies teachers, and it has some great ways to teach social studies vocab to your students! Very interesting to read and poke around in. Mr and Mrs Social Studies – Social Studies Vocabulary Activities

Are we all biased?

Talking About Race: Bias

“If you are human, you are biased.” Howard J. Ross

Who writes the textbooks?  Who edits the trade books? Who are the “fact checkers” for educational materials that teachers use to teach history?  How do we know who we can trust for accurate information? What role do teachers play in educating students on understanding the importance of considering the source of their information? Ultimately, what role does bias play in history education?

As discussed in class and in the assigned homework, teachers are charged with the task of  not only teaching history, but more importantly creating critical thinkers. History is not merely a stagnant time-line or document for students to memorize. Instead,  history is a dynamic, living reflection of research, interpretation, and human experience, all of which are influenced by bias. In the classroom, students should be tasked with fact checking and considering the source of their information.  What bias might exist? From what perspective is the information derived? How does bias affect perspective?

Take a look below at the article, “BIAS” from The National Museum of African American History and Culture in connection with the Smithsonian Institute and think about how bias affects each and every one of us.  More importantly, think about how we, as educators, need to recognize our own biases and overcome them to become the positive influence we all strive to be in our students’ lives.

In the TEDx Talk below, Jerry Kang explains what the Harvard University Project Implicit Study reveals about human nature and society.

Answers to Your Questions – Week 2

Here are answers to some of the questions you asked this week. If your questions were related, I addressed them together in my response.

With the rise in popularity of graphic novels, have any textbooks changed over to that format instead of the traditional text alone with the inserted text features?

  • I wish I could say that textbooks have improved. Those I have seen in schools are old (at least 10 years) and still follow the traditional format. I’m a big fan of skipping the textbook and using trade books instead. This allows for use of multiple genres of nonfiction, including poetry and graphic novels. That said, there is a terrific history series by Nathan Hale that I love. The books are part of the Hazardous Tales series.

There is little time for Social Studies instruction. Even as we integrate many of these reading/writing strategies during Language Arts time, how do we cover such large amounts of content in such a small amount of time? Also, what are some additional specific strategies for English language learners?

  • Time is the problem every teacher faces. There is never enough time to do everything. It’s one of the reasons why textbooks and worksheets are the norm. Teachers feel like they’re covering content, but students often aren’t engaged and aren’t really learning.
  • I’ll get back to you on the ELL strategies. I hope to share/model some in class.

Would is be alright to deviate slightly from the curriculum or state assigned Language Arts books in order to supplement Social Studies texts due to time constraints?
Are there any restrictions on how often teachers use social studies texts during language arts instruction or is there more freedom in choosing texts for language arts? 

  • There really aren’t any state assigned books for language arts. Most of the decisions are left up to the school divisions. Usually, the specialists in central office offer recommendations on what should be used. Since teaching nonfiction is in the language arts standards, any time you can use a book that aligns with science or social studies units, you should run with the opportunity.

Is it possible to cluster primary source documents to create a coherent unit (painting, letters, maps)? Where can we find examples of primary source driven units that are adaptable and effective?

  • We are going to look at several examples of this in class. It is my preferred way to teach. It does take some time to assemble resources, but the units are so much richer when you do this. These documents can be supplemented with good children’s books.

If any students are like me, I hated when the teacher just had us sit and read page after page in the textbook. Do you have some personal ways to make it fun and engaging other than a worksheet? 

  • I’ll say again how much I dislike textbooks. I honestly don’t think they have a place in teaching social studies. Students will get so much more from learning to work with primary source documents. There are many good resources to guide them through this process. Yes, they are worksheets, but they teach students to analyze and ask questions. The National Archives has a terrific collection of document analysis worksheets. Here’s an example of one designed for elementary students.

How much variety is appropriate to incorporate into the class in terms of using models. Should I try every model like the “H” model, Venn diagram, and others switching every time, or should I stick to getting the students used to using the same model or two. 

  • I like to teach students to use all the models. Practice each one over time and introduce them slowly. Later in the school year, I let students choose which form to use. They appreciate having the ability to choose what works for them and you get to see how they are thinking.

As teachers, should we use the textbooks/informational guides in class as much as we use other sources and activities or balance more activities and discussion rather than heavy informational use?

  • The movement in social studies right now is to teach through inquiry. Students are given documents and primary sources to focus on and use them to answer questions about a person or event. This is a pretty engaging way to teach. At some point in this process, students have to explore secondary source material and texts that summarize these ideas, so informational text will always be used in social studies. As the teacher, it will be up to you to determine what form that takes. There are so many good books, magazines, and podcasts, that I hope textbooks aren’t the first choice for this.

Leave a comment if you have other questions or want me to expand on any of these answers.

Teaching About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This episode of the Teaching Hard History Podcast may be of interest to you.

Teaching the Movement’s Most Iconic Figure – w/ Charles McKinney

“Throughout this season, we’ve been confronting the popular but misleading “Master Narrative,” which revolves around a caricatured version of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To fully understand the movement, our students need to learn an accurate version of Dr. King’s life and activism. In this episode, I talk with historian Charles McKinney about the real Dr. King. “

Thinking About Historical Markers

I read this article recently and have been thinking about it in the context of the reckoning around Monument Ave and Confederate monuments in general.

Racial reckoning turns focus to roadside historical markers

Across the country, historical markers have in some places become another front in the national reckoning over slavery, segregation and racial violence that has also brought downCivil War statues and changed or reconsidered the names of institutions, roads and geographical features.

Do you stop to read historical markers? Do you know who created them and why? Is there a historical marker that you’ve seen that stands out for you?

Where are the women?

This article in the Washington Post has me thinking.

Opinion: In my advanced high school history textbook, it’s as if women didn’t exist

“Once, after second-grade history class, I came home and jokingly asked, “So did women just not exist?”

Ten years later, the question stands. But I’m no longer laughing.”

Where are the women in the SOL? Which ones are named? For a number of years, Eleanor Roosevelt appeared in the first grade standards. She was taken out in the 2015 revision. Currently in grades K-3 and Virginia Studies we find Pocahontas, Maggie L. Walker, Helen Keller, and Rosa Parks. US History to 1865, which can be taught in 5th or 6th grade includes Harriet Tubman, Isabella (Sojourna) Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Clara Barton, and Mary Bowser.

Do you know these women? Are there others that are missing? What women should we be highlighting in the elementary curriculum?

Welcome to the Spring 2022 Semester

I’m excited to welcome you back for the spring semester. I’m especially happy to be working with all of you again.

This blog will serve as a place to extend class discussions, share current news of interest, and further reflect on what it means to teach social studies using pedagogical approaches that encourage critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

Use the menu to navigate to course resources.

  • Hover over the word Assignments in the menu to find guidelines for the work of the semester.
  • Hover over the words Readings and Videos to find links to weekly resources.