In each issue, we introduce a teacher who has participated in Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) professional development and successfully uses primary sources from the Library of Congress to support effective instructional practices.
This issue’s Teacher Spotlight features high school library media specialist Joyce Mason. The TPS program at California University of Pennsylvania nominated Joyce for her effective use of primary sources in helping students meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). An educator for more than 25 years, she has spent the last 17 years in her current position at Canon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. In this interview, Joyce discusses teaching strategies and her favorite Library of Congress online resources.
Tell us about the first time you tried teaching with primary sources.
Integrating primary sources into lesson design to develop a student-centric, inquiry-driven lesson helps to engage students and develop their critical thinking skills. Primary sources provide evidence for deep analysis of an event, interpretation based on previous and new knowledge, and opportunities for comparison of different sources. In the English Language Arts (ELA) standards of the CCSS, students must cite specific textual evidence to support primary and secondary source analysis. Primary sources provide the impetus for students to describe the source, summarize what it tells, contextualize the source, consider inferences, and finally ask, “What else do I need to know or find out?”
For instance, I designed an inquiry lesson for a social studies class that examined the theme of revolution, reaction, and reform as it pertained to the influx of immigrants during the 1900s and its effect on the people and government of the United States in what turned out to be a tumultuous two decades. The lesson aimed to answer the guiding historical question, “How did the reactions of the United States’ citizens, politicians, and government to increased immigration and events abroad influence legislation resulting in the Immigration Act of 1924?”
I first asked students to respond to the editorial cartoon, The immigrant. Is he an acquisition or a detriment? This cartoon depicts the arrival of immigrants surrounded by conflicting interest groups. Students spent considerable time analyzing the cartoon and researching the characters in the drawing to contextualize it in time and place. We followed this with the analysis of additional images as well as newspaper articles: unemployed workers in New York City, a print of the assassination of President McKinley, an article from The New York Times (1914) about a bomb explosion on Lexington Avenue in New York City, the front page of a Minnesota newspaper from 1917 with stories on strikes occurring across the nation and events in Europe, an image of the “Soviet Ark” used to deport Russians, and another article from The New York Times (1919) entitled, Senators Tell What Bolshevism in America Means. The students summarized, contextualized and analyzed the information gleaned from these primary sources along with a secondary source, Immigration Timeline from the Library of Congress, to decide what led to the Immigration Act of 1924.
The CCSS (ELA-History/Social Studies grades 9 – 10) require citing textual evidence in primary and secondary sources, determining central ideas, analyzing series of events, comparing point of view, and determining meanings of words and phrases used in texts, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history and social studies. The use of primary and secondary sources in this lesson easily met the appropriate Common Core standards.
What is your favorite resource available on the Library of Congress Web site?
My favorite is the “Today in History” feature. It easily works as a bell ringer, discussion starter, comparison to current events, or writing prompt. Teachers are always looking for activity ideas and this is one resource that I always suggest.
What advice do you have for teachers who have never tried teaching with primary sources?
Begin with browsing the resources especially for teachers to locate classroom materials and links on how to use primary sources. I also recommend reading the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog, which highlights so many unique materials and strategies.