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October 17, 2018

Spotlighting the Use of Primary Sources in Teaching California

As the California Historical Society (CHS) moves forward with development on Teaching California, our state-funded initiative to offer schools and teachers classroom-ready instructional materials aligned with the new History-Social Science Framework, we’d like to spotlight the important primary source-driven philosophy of our project, and share some of the great examples that we’ve been incorporating in our content development.

Teaching California, , , ,

Spotlighting the Use of Primary Sources in Teaching California

As the California Historical Society (CHS) moves forward with development on Teaching California, our state-funded initiative to offer schools and teachers classroom-ready instructional materials aligned with the new History-Social Science Framework, we’d like to spotlight the important primary source-driven philosophy of our project, and share some of the great examples that we’ve been incorporating in our content development.

In short, the new Framework is an instructional tool by which teachers can cover, and in some cases move beyond, the existing History-Social Science Standards for the state of California. Primary sources like this photo of Chinese citrus worker picking oranges in Santa Ana help answer grade-specific questions of significance, such as “Why do people move?” Students can explore how people moved from place to place, while reflecting on their own family experiences. Picking Oranges at Santa Ana, circa 1890s; General Subjects Photograph Collection-Agriculture; California Historical Society
Examining primary sources, original documents and objects created at the time of study can be an engaging, meaningful, and rigorous way for students to connect to the past. Primary sources give students the ability to trace continuity and change, foster personal connections to a larger narrative, and build deeper community connections. They also invite student inquiry and encourage students to wrestle with the complexities of differing points of view while learning crucial critical thinking and analysis skills. For teachers however, access to engaging and grade-appropriate primary sources is not always matched by a corresponding stress on the tools and context needed to utilize them successfully in the classroom.
Cue the new Framework, which outlines a new inquiry-based model of instruction for California’s K-12 classrooms. Embedded within the Framework are grade-level examples of the types of primary sources that teachers can explore with their students to help address questions of historical significance. Importantly, California’s diversity is seen as an asset and, according to Deputy Superintendent of the California Department of Education Thomas Adams, “a new opportunity for inclusive instruction.” This opportunity is available in recommendations for primary source types—like photos, letters and objects—that are not only engaging, but also inclusive.
But while teachers responded positively to the Framework after its adoption by the California Department of Education in 2016, they also expressed the strong need for access to the type of engaging and relevant primary sources outlined in its pages, organized to easily address the new inquiry-based model.

This need will shape the new collection of classroom-ready instructional materials we create for the project, which will be free and accessible to teachers in Summer 2019 on teachingcalifornia,org. Never-before-seen primary source material, much from CHS’s collections, will lead the student exploration and discovery of history through a uniquely California lens (when appropriate and relevant), and teachers will also find support in historical context, sourcing, and developing student literacy.

As the Framework details, primary sources speak to students’ own lives, heritages, and family identities, and in early grades can help students start developing a sense of history through their own family and community histories. This image of the Shorey family, from Oakland, California, can help students explore the Grade One Framework question, “How do families remember their past?” Capt. William T. Shorey and wife Julia Shelton, daughters Zenobia and Victoria, ca. 1910; Portraits Collection; California Historical Society. 

This example shows a men’s baseball team at San Juan Bautista, that can help Kindergarteners think through the question “What is our neighborhood like?” as they learn about living and working together now versus long ago. Men’s baseball team, undated; California Counties Photograph Collection; PC-CO-San Benito; California Historical Society.

This is an example of an image that we may use for Grade One, which helps students think through the question, “How do many different people make one nation?” as students explore the ways in which Native Californians and immigrants have helped define Californian and American culture. Washoe Indians–The Chief’s Family; Stereographs of California and Nevada; PC-RM-Stereos; California Historical Society

This photograph from our collections can help address the Framework question, “What have been the costs of the decisions of people in the past?” as students explore the cost of logging or preserving the natural environment. Big Tree, 22 ft. in diameter, Jas. Brown’s Claim, Humboldt Co., California; California Counties Photography Collection; PC-CO; California Historical Society

Our content development partners on Teaching California, The California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP), are current members of the Library of Congress’ Teaching With Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium, a group of institutions across the country who help deliver TPS professional development, design curriculum using primary sources from the Library’s collections and/or conduct research on the classroom use of primary sources. This week, I am fortunate to accompany CHSSP on their annual TPS meeting in Washington DC, and learn from and with those working at the forefront of primary source-led instruction in the classroom. Opportunities like this, as well as further engagement with teachers throughout our development process, will help us continue providing access to primary sources in a way that is not only useful for teachers in the classroom, but will help do our part to shift the pattern of history-social science instruction.

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This post was written by Kerri Young, Teaching California Project Manager at the California Historical Society.

Funded by a $5 million grant from the State Department of Education to the California Historical Society, Teaching California offers schools and teachers classroom-ready instructional materials designed to engage students in exciting and inspiring investigations of the past. Comprised of curated primary source material from California’s premier archives, libraries, and museums, this program provides a research-based approach to improve student reading, writing, critical thinking and civic engagement, all aligned with the State’s new K-12 History-Social Science Framework. For everything you need to know about the new Framework, visit CHSSP’s useful blog here.