Kansas Memory Workshop

February 2011

Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

Presented by Pat Michaelis, Director of Library and Archives, and Mary Madden, Director of Education and Outreach, Kansas State Historical Society

Pat Michaelis and Mary Madden provided the group with instructions on using the Kansas Memory website, strategies on using primary sources to teach social studies and reading/writing indicators, and directions on creating a Read Kansas! lesson plan.

They discussed some of the inherent problems with using primary sources:

  •  Presentism – students look at primary sources using their present “lens” and not the standards of the time
  • Difficult handwriting,
  • Archaic vocabulary and complicated syntax
  •  Not enough information
  • Isolated from other sources – need more than one document to understand what is being researched
  • Out of context – the farther we are away from when the document was created, the harder it is to interpret
  • Black and white photographs
  • Takes time to use

They shared a wealth of information about why to and how to use primary sources in the classroom from the Boeing Learning Center of the National Archives.They also shared the Habits of the Mind from the National Council for History Education.

They demonstrated how to help students take time to study the details of a painting by dividing it into quarters and examining and listing details for just one quarter of the painting at a time using John Gast’s American Progress, available at the Library of Congress.     


Writing a Read Kansas! Lesson Plan

  • Identify history, economic, government, or civics indicator
  • Do initial search of Kansas Memory to see what resources exist.  The goal of the lesson is to have students use primary sources to learn history.  Like a science lab, the lesson will have the student questioning, analyzing, and interpreting the primary source.
  • Choose reading and writing indicators
  • Write essential questions that help students connect the topic to a bigger issue or view the topic from a different perspective.  These questions have no one obvious answer, raise other important questions, often are interdisciplinary, and are framed to provoke and sustain student interest.
  • Develop lesson plan activities that provide context for the topic (brief lecture or expository reading) and allow students to do history by using primary sources to create their interpretation of the topic.
  • Develop an assessment activity that shows that individual students gained understanding.
  • Provide for the teacher background information on the topic, definitions, answer key, and resources used in creating the lesson – anything you would need if you didn’t create the lesson.
  • Provide an overview of the scope and content of the lesson and the length of time it will take to complete the lesson.

Workshop 1 - Historiography Overview & Understanding

December 2, 2010

One of the things we learned from our first Teaching American History grant (2005) was that we were underprepared for the rigor involved in taking graduate courses in history.  This time we wanted to provide the teachers with some tools upfront so that they would be ready when the classwork began.  Teachers from our first grant also mentioned that they would like to have a better understanding of historiography from the beginning.  So in addition to getting our pre-tests and confidence surveys taken care of, we designed a workshop to get the teachers prepared and ready to go before the first colloquium class.

Agenda Workshop 1

Our pre-test covered the content to be covered in the first year of the grant.  Questions were selected by the professors for our first three colloquia sessions.  Teachers also completed content knowledge and teaching confidence surveys based on the Kansas State Standards for U.S. history for grades 5, 8, and high school.

CLIO 5th grade survey

CLIO 7-8th grade survey

CLIO 11th grade survey

One of the successful activities from our previous grant  we carried over to this grant was the use of the National Council for History Education’s History’s Habits of Mind as a framework.  Teachers selected a photograph from an assortment (we took ours from a History Alive! set  we had), introduced themselves, and then explained how their photograph depicted one (or more) of History’s Habits of Mind.

Habits of the Mind

One of the strategies introduced to teachers was that of “Gutting a Book”.  In our first grant group, the teachers became bogged down really quickly with the volume of reading.  Dr. Jennifer Weber, one of our KU instructors, taught us how to gut a book to get the main ideas, argument, etc.  The graphic organizer below summarizes the key steps to the strategy:

Gutting a Book

We also discussed text coding strategies that we could use while reading for our CLIO classes that could also be used by students in our classrooms.  For inspiration, we were inspired by The Stanford History Education Group’s Reading Like a Historian online curriculum.  The Historical Thinking Skills Chart found at this site was adapted for use by adding text codes corresponding to the skills.

Reading Like a Historian Text Coding

Throughout the grant, we will be using a common lesson plan template.  This template is based on one used in the district by our instructional resource teachers when they are working with new educators.

CLIO Lesson Plan Template

Finally, we looked at samples of book reviews.  Since part of the course requirements for the graduate classes is to write book reviews of the books used in classes, this was an opportunity to discuss what those should look like.  A  book provided for our teachers for guidance in writing book reviews and other topics related to history is A Student’s Guide to History by Jules R. Benjamin. Check out each semester’s colloquium page to read examples of book reviews written by the teachers.


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