- How can I better incorporate primary sources into my class?
- How am I going to teach the skill of primary source analysis?
Well, the most obvious thing is this: I need to make it a priority. I need to build it regularly into my lessons, and I need to incorporate it into assessments. So that suggests two rules:
- Do primary source reading, analysis, and discussion in at least every other class
- No major assessment that does not include primary source analysis in some way
Of course, those will be hard to follow, but at least they'll provide some guidance. What follows from them?
First, I need good primary sources for every unit. This shouldn't be too difficult. I've been teaching for years and have built up a pretty good store of documents by now.
But second, I need to use them effectively. Here I turn to a recent article in The History Teacher, "Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents' 'Reading Like Historians,'" by Jeffery Nokes. There's a lot there, and it's worth reading the whole thing if you can find it. Here I'm just going to put down a few key points that I pulled out of it:
- Explicitly teach students about the nature of history, and how historians go about their work. This means making sure students understand that "History is not the record of the past; it is the argument about the past." It means making students explicitly aware of historians' arguments, and how they resolve them (or try to).
- Model the analysis of primary sources: I need to explicitly teach the process, show how I do it, and continually remind students (maybe even post a summary of the steps for analyzing primary sources on a classroom wall!)
- Choose texts that contradict each other and/or that tap into real historiographical questions. This just reenforces the point that students need to know historians' debates.
- When necessary, provide students with additional secondary background reading
- Use reciprocal teaching to help improve student comprehension of texts.
- Use graphic organizers or other strategies to help students synthesize multiple texts. I particularly like the idea of having the students read one text and summarize it, read another text and summarize both of them, read another and summarize all three, and so on. I-Charts also look promising.
- Make sure to include analysis of primary sources into assessments
As I said, there's more, and more detail, in the article, but that's plenty to start with.
So I need to start the school year by explicitly teaching the process of analyzing primary sources. Then I need to do it regularly in class, using classes that effectively require students to use those techniques I've taught. I need to provide support, particularly early on, through strategies and structures like reciprocal teaching and I-Charts. Finally, I need to include primary source analysis in assessments on a regular basis.