Library of Congress

TPS Quarterly

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This issue explores how teachers can use primary sources to build students’ critical thinking skills, preparing them for success in the 21st century.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) names as its number one Standard for the 21st Century Learner the need to provide students with the skills, resources and tools to “inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.” Critical thinking skills are crucial to success in a changing environment. Primary source-based instruction helps students to practice and build their critical thinking skills.

Primary sources are often incomplete and have little context. In analyzing primary sources, students move from concrete observations and facts to questioning and making inferences about the materials. Students must use prior knowledge and work with multiple primary sources to find patterns. Integrating what they glean from comparing primary sources with what they already know, and what they learn from research, allows students to construct knowledge and deepen understanding.


American Association for School Librarians (2007). AASL standards for the 21st-century learner