Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Primary Source Documents in Social Studies

Primary sources are the building blocks of history. They are not limited to printed documents. They may also be artifacts, places, sounds and images. When primary source documents are used in instruction they expose students to various perspectives on issues from the past. They promote inquiry. Students engage in question asking, critical thinking, inferencing and interpretation. In many instances classes that utilize primary source documents create an environment where students engage in debates about interpretations. They will challenge each others conclusions and engage in a rich dialogue.

Instructional Value

Students who analyze and discuss primary source documents will soon realize that almost all recorded events are subjective. They will be empowered to research and defend or disprove their findings. Primary source documents are supportive of the first framework of universal design for learning as well as differentiation. By providing multiple representations of content we can individualize the learning experience of our students.

A quote from Docs Teach

Primary sources encourage higher order thinking. As historians, students can link documents to see cause and effect relationships, fit historical pieces together to understand a whole story, understand historical events in context by relating primary sources to mathematical data or geographic locations, and assess primary sources as evidence to formulate interpretations about the past.

Providing Help for Students

Reading and analyzing primary source documents may be difficult for some students. Here is a guide that will help students learn how to annotate such documents in order to understand the documents and to become active readers. Here is a guide with some strategies for reading these types of documents.

Implementation and Extension with Web Tools

Primary source documents may be provided to students in electronic form. By using Moodle, blogs or wikis students may engage in discussions about the sources in forums, collaborate on analysis, and develop presentations regarding them. By building a library or collection of primary source documents we can not only differentiate for our students but we can move to an instructional model that is not dependent upon a textbook and allows for self-directed learning.

Docs Teach -

While there are many sources for such documents, Docs Teach is one worth exploring. It was developed by the National Archives. With Docs Teach we can setup classes and assign activities to classes. Activities consist of a collection of primary source documents and a related activity.  The activities are interactive. They encourage students to apply the levels of blooms taxonomy as they work to build  and support their interpretations within each activity.  Below is a screenshot of the available activities. Click the image to enlarge.

You will also find a library of activities that have been created by other educators and shared on the site.


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