Part III: Teaching with Primary Sources and Skills Based Assessment

This article is part III of a five part series.

Students need to see how they can use a method of inquiry to analyze a source. When reviewing a method of inquiry, I have primarily used two methods.

First Approach

The teacher can analyze a source during class while the students take notes. The source would need to be big enough for students to see the analysis, and it would be best if each student had a copy of the source in front of them. To add engagement to this type of lesson, students should be asked to make judgements of the source before the teacher does. If the teacher wants students to make judgements first, I recommend using prompts and questions to guide the analysis. The lessons in the List of Topics and Primary Sources have premade prompts and questions.

Second Approach

The teacher could record themselves analyzing a source, or use a video that is already created. The Pocahontas lesson that I am using in this article has two videos that analyze the source; the first is over the skill “sourcing/summarizing,” and can be found at Video Resource: Primary Source Analysis-Sourcing John Smith’s Journal Entry. This video was my first attempt at recording a primary source analysis and is not as good as my later videos. For example, I do not list the different skills that are under sourcing; also, I examine all seven of the sourcing skills, instead of just one or two. The video about the skill “corroboration” is superior; it can be found at Video Resource: Primary Source Analysis-Corroborating John Smith’s Stories. If you are interested in more of these types of videos, I suggest looking at History Forge’s Youtube channel.


The First History Lesson of Mr. Ramirez

Students have been introduced to the Pocahontas topic, read and listened to contextual information, and have been given a website that contains primary sources. Now it’s time for students to see how a primary source is analyzed using a specific skill. Mr. Ramirez has opted to show students a short video tutorial of himself analyzing a Pocahontas primary source. Mr. Ramirez could analyze the source in class, and often does, but he likes showing students the video because it allows them to take notes and listen to the analysis at their individual pace. Mr. Ramirez asks students to find the video Primary Source Analysis-Sourcing John Smith’s Journal Entry. In the video, Mr. Ramirez analyzes the skill that students need. This was one of my first videos and I did not write notes on a Google doc, and I focused on all of the sourcing/summarizing skills. I recommend watching other videos on History Forge because they have better note taking examples. Mr. Ramirez tells students that they will be tested on their ability to analyze a source and that they will be allowed to use their notes. Although students do not need to copy down notes exactly, Mr. Ramirez encourages them to write down information that helps them understand mastery of the sourcing/summarizing skill. Mr. Ramirez asks the students to start the video and tells them the video will always be available on the school’s website.

I was fortunate enough to be in a one-to-one computer setting and could expect students to watch a video I created on their own devices at their own pace. A teacher could analyze the source in front of the students and have them follow along. Also, a teacher could instruct a small group of students, who then could teach other students. I am sure other educators could come up with different methods to show students how to analyze primary sources; if you develop some please share with us.

One -to-one assists in creating a differentiated environment.

Final Thoughts

This lesson comes in five parts, the fourth part can be found at Part IV: Teaching with Primary Sources and Skill Based Learning. This lesson is part of the Research Part I: How to “Do History”; Finding Student Strengths, Interests, and Desires; Understanding Historical Themes and Concepts. This curriculum map covers my first weeks and sets the stage for the big National History Day project and skill based learning that I teach.

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