Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Analyzing Primary Sources to Develop a Deep Understanding of Perspective

As we all know, teachers of 21st century students are developing classrooms that are part of a paradigm shift in learning. We are not teaching students geography, we're teaching them to apply the skills and processes of geographers. We are not teaching students economics, we're teaching them to apply the skills and processes of economic reasoning. We're not teaching students civics, we're teaching them to apply the skills and processes of active citizenship. And...we're not teaching students history, we're teaching them to apply the skills and processes of historians.

The historical process is significantly connected to the analysis of primary sources. The sources of history allow students to engage with the artifacts and ideas of the past. When students engage with primary sources, it becomes quite obvious that sources reveal perspectives about people, events, and ideas. Since primary sources are created by people in the past, they capture the perspective of an individual (or group) and invite students to ask, "If I were to analyze other primary sources, what other perspectives might appear?"

While primary source analysis is a foundation for historical thinking in all grades, the concept of perspective appears significantly in grades 5 and 6. (In addition, the same concept appears within reading but might appear as point-of-view.) This is no coincidence and the cognition of students in intermediate grades develops in ways where they can begin to see how different people might "view" people, events, and ideas.

The following two videos were created in a 5th grade classroom (Chicago) and the instructional approach might help teachers to consider how this type of learning can play out within any intermediate classroom. Teachers might consider how to elevate perspective when students examine slavery during the colonial era (5th grade) or when students study the era of European exploration and the collision with early cultures in the Western Hemisphere (6th grade). These are just two opportunities where perspective can be explored and there are obviously many more opportunities to explore this concept since history is based on exploring the perspectives inherent within primary sources.

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