Part V: Teaching with Primary Sources and Skills Based Assessment

This article is part V of a five part series

Analyzing sources can be difficult for students, but a surprising amount enjoy the challenge. Despite the enthusiasm for a challenge, students will also groan and ask questions like; “can we just do a worksheet?” Or, “can we take notes like we did in last year’s social studies class?” Even though some students say this, especially the students accustomed to doing well in school, they will make the attempt to analyze sources and try to perfect their analysis skills. If done all year and used for weekly and semester assessments, I found that students were highly motivated to perfect their ability to analyze.

Students are taking notes while listening to how a source is analyzed.
Students would write down their opinions on board that the entire school could see.

Other than receiving immediate grades. additional motivators should be used, especially ones that connect to later learning or an assessment. If a student knows that their primary source analysis can be used on future tests, then they will stay motivated to take good notes and complete good analysis. Showcases of the students work are also great. After my students would complete their examination of a source, I would ask them to write their analysis into their answers for future discussions. Some discussions were in class, others were in Youtube comment sections, and others were on a community white board where everyone could see their answers.


The First History Lesson of Mr. Ramirez

While students were working on their analysis, Mr. Ramirez was walking around the classroom with a class roster. As long as Mr. Ramirez observed the students working on the analysis and attempting to create an original answer, he marked them as reaching the first level to mastery, which he titled “trying.” When Mr. Ramirez came across students who were struggling, he had them talk about their thoughts and helped guide their thinking. Sometimes he would bring an entire group together in order to use his time efficiently and let students hear each other’s thoughts. This oral exchange was sufficient for the assessment goal Mr. Ramirez made for his students. If students could voice their ideas, then he gave them marks for “trying.”

Once students had time to complete the assignment, Mr. Ramirez told students that the notebook for U.S. History should be kept safe because students could use the notes and their analysis for future assessments and projects. If students wanted to add detail to their assessment, then they could later using the resources Mr. Ramirez posted on Google Classroom and the classroom website. Mr. Ramirez also told students if there was a time when students were absent, then were expected to find the materials online and complete before the next class period. 

Mr. Ramirez reiterated, the notes could and should be used on tests. Mr. Ramirez would give small formal assessments where students were expected to show mastery of the skill, and the only resource they could use would be their notes. Also, Mr. Ramirez told students that they would have a discussion tomorrow about the way movies and T.V. shows depicted Native Americans and students would use their analysis as part of the discussion. There discussion would be shared with the school, parents, and some parts of the community.

This lesson would have taken Mr. Ramirez more than one 50-minute class session. This Pocahontas lesson was the first lesson, therefore many procedures would need to be introduced and reviewed, sometimes several times in a single class period. Hopefully you enjoyed the story of Mr. Ramirez’s class and his use of primary sources and skills based assessment.

Final Thoughts

This lesson comes in five parts, and this article concludes the series. If you would like to read the series from the beginning, you start with the first part at Part I: 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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