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 David Hollander, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Kennedy Junior High School in Naperville, Illinois. The TPS program at DePaul University in Chicago nominated David, a 20-year teaching veteran, for his effective classroom use of primary sources to support inquiry learning. In this interview, David discusses teaching strategies and his favorite Library of Congress online resources.
How did you first learn about the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program?
The TPS program at DePaul University offered an introductory workshop at my school district’s technology office.
What motivated you to participate in the TPS workshops in your local area?
Although I was already teaching with primary sources, I thought it would be great to learn about new strategies and resources. The TPS workshops provided structure to my search for and use of primary sources appropriate to the middle-level classroom and oriented me to the digitized collections of the Library of Congress.
Tell us about the first time you tried using primary sources in the classroom.
I used primary sources early on in my teaching career. For example, I used the wonderful correspondence between John and Abigail Adams to engage students in learning about the role of women in history, which textbooks did not include until 10 or 15 years ago. From these early efforts, I learned that primary sources provide students with not only rich learning opportunities but also hurdles to overcome, such as recognizing bias and assumptions within the source, understanding challenging vocabulary and developing historical literacy, which require teacher guidance. Despite these challenges, I discovered students to be much more apt to persist in learning with primary sources than with secondary reports of the same historical event because they enjoy working with the “real” stuff.
How have you combined primary sources with inquiry to enhance learning for students?
Nearly every primary source leads students to as many questions as answers. And if you provide students with primary sources that offer conflicting historical interpretations, they will ask questions about who to believe and why one source reported the same event so differently from another source. Primary sources encourage the development of testable hypotheses, connections within students’ understandings, construction of new knowledge, and the motivation for further investigations and reflection.
Students, particularly those in middle school, must feel they have a stake in what they’re learning or else they’re not interested. Giving my students primary sources so that they can think intelligently, ask questions, investigate and form their own opinions about an issue based on historical evidence is crucial to their engagement in anything we study.
What are your favorite resources available on the Library of Congress Web site? Why?
I’ve enjoyed perusing the Abraham Lincoln papers and Lincolniana. Examining a letter in Lincoln’s handwriting is so much more exciting for students than reading its transcription in a secondary source. Also, historical era photographs have tremendous potential for inquiry-based activities. One of my favorite collections is Selected Civil War Photographs.
What advice do you have for teachers who have never tried teaching with primary sources?
Give your students the chance to discover for themselves firsthand how we arrived at the history stories we tell. Whether engaging students with the actual text of a famous document, a political cartoon drawn in response to a pivotal moment in history, or the personal correspondence of a significant historical figure, you will help students to come up with their own questions and learn unexpected things from primary sources.