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 art teacher Denise Tullier-Holly. The TPS program at Southeastern Louisiana University nominated Denise for her effective classroom use of primary sources in a variety of formats. Denise has taught art for 16 years at the University’s Lab School (Grades K-8) in the Tangipahoa Parish School System, Louisiana. In this interview, she discusses teaching strategies for using different primary source formats and her favorite Library of Congress online resources.
Tell us about the first time you tried using primary sources in the classroom.
I introduced a unit to my fourth grade art students using select photographs from the National Child Labor Committee Collection highlighting child labor in Louisiana’s textile industry. As students observed each photograph, I sparked critical thinking with questions such as, “What’s happening in this image?” and “Tell me what makes you say that?” The thought that some of the children photographed were about their age really made my students pause and reflect. I used wait time to help them consider the “silence” of these still photographs before comparing it to how the industrial space might have sounded in action. I invited students, in turn, to try recreating the possible sounds.
These analysis strategies work just as well for posters, maps and other visual images. Most students were not familiar with this time period in our nation’s history, and the labor conditions endured by many children in early 20th century Louisiana surprised them. I also used interview excerpts with the child labor photographs. Whether spoken or written, these interviews allowed students to hear people discuss work conditions, what they made and how they felt. Oral histories afford students the occasion to “meet” the human past and compare it with their own presence in the world.
Why might a teacher use primary sources in a variety of formats?
Using Library of Congress primary sources with my students links them to the past in a very concrete way, and different primary source formats can help do this by awakening almost all of the senses. I think both art and history can tap into the affective domain to help students become more feeling people.
Returning to the unit on child labor, it would be easy to incorporate a greater variety of primary source formats. Students could listen to labor songs that cotton pickers, for example, sang to pass time in the fields. Analyzing maps would help students visualize the physical distances between textile mills and cities of the time period and determine why the mills were located where they were—in close proximity to water and large population centers.
For me, teaching with primary sources is all about helping students learn to investigate and hunt for knowledge so that this joyful inquisitiveness will stay with them the rest of their lives. It empowers students because they get to decide how to interpret their findings. My hope for my students is that these activities will build empathy and tolerance for others, and generate in them a curiosity for learning and a desire to be creative.
What is your favorite resource available on the Library of Congress Web site?
The American Folklife Center, especially the Alan Lomax Collection, is one of my favorites. My love of music, especially the old tunes from long ago in this collection, really broke open the history of those times for me. Alan Lomax is one of my personal heroes. But as an artist and photographer myself, I must mention the immense Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. It’s always a pleasure to browse this catalog.
Also, receiving email from the Library of Congress is quite enjoyable, especially when the Sheet Music of the Week pops up; it’s a wonderful way to connect your students to the past. You can subscribe to regular updates from Library of Congress Blogs by RSS and e-mail, including a new blog just for teachers.
What advice do you have for teachers who have never tried teaching with primary sources?
Your first visit to loc.gov can be daunting with so much information and so many choices. I suggest teachers consider researching a topic in their content area that they are personally interested in investigating. Enjoy the search pathways and consider how you might use your findings in your classroom. Your enthusiasm for the topic will be contagious and hopefully will inspire students to use the Library of Congress in their lifelong quest for learning.