Teaching with Primary Sources
The Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges & Universities


Teaching and Learning with Primary Sources:
Research and Practice

A Publication of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities TPS Project

Volume 1, Issue 1, January 2009

 

Digitized Primary Sources and Students with Disabilities: Instructional Strategies to Promote Learning

C. Ben Freville
Dominican University

Research has shown that students experience myriad benefits when primary sources are integrated into the curriculum. Many students with disabilities, however, may not completely experience these benefits due to the reading levels, vocabulary, visual processing, and background knowledge required for analyzing and making meaning of primary sources. The author of this article and his colleague developed a series of instructional strategies for integrating primary sources into middle and secondary classrooms. These instructional strategies are designed to aid students with disabilities in analyzing and making meaning of primary sources. This article describes a pilot study which explores the use of these instructional strategies with students with disabilities and the response of teachers and students to these strategies.

Introduction
The increased availability of digitized primary sources through the Library of Congress website has led to greater integration of original documents and artifacts into middle and high school social studies and language arts classrooms. The benefits of their use have been well documented. Allen and Dutt-Doner (2006) contend that the use of primary sources encourages students to engage in critical thinking and information literacy skills including skills in analysis, evaluation, interpretation, problem-solving and synthesis. Tally and Goldenberg (2005) found that when primary sources were used in the classroom, students were more likely to engage in historical thinking behaviors such as observation, inferencing, question posing, and corroboration. Furthermore, when students use primary sources, they believe that they gain a deeper understanding of history and learn more than when primary sources are not used (Tally & Goldenberg, 2005). Clearly, the integration of primary sources provides new and exciting possibilities for social studies and language arts classrooms today.

While these new possibilities provided by the use of primary sources are very exciting, they also present challenges, especially for students with disabilities. For example, the reading level of primary source documents may be higher than students’ reading levels, making them inaccessible to students, particularly those who struggle with reading comprehension. The vocabulary and language found in primary source documents can also be overwhelming to such students. The ability to analyze and connect meaning to photographs, maps, and other primary sources that are visual in nature present challenges to many students with learning disabilities, especially those who struggle with visual processing disorders. Furthermore, teachers expect students to access prior knowledge about concepts, events, and people, and apply it to their current studies; these can be formidable tasks for students with disabilities.
Challenges such as those stated above hinder the productive use of primary sources for students with disabilities. This preliminary study sought to address the following questions: How can primary sources be used effectively with students with disabilities so that they experience the benefits of using them? Would instructional strategies specifically designed for use with primary sources aid students with disabilities? What would teachers’ and students’ attitudes and opinions toward the use of such strategies be after using them in the classroom?

Background
The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning developed a collection of instructional strategies that are part of an approach to teaching content called content enhancement. Several research-based instructional principals make up this approach. These include:
• Actively involving students in the learning process
• Presenting abstract information in concrete forms
• Organizing information for students
• Tying new information to previously learned information
• Distinguishing important information from unimportant information
• Making relationships among pieces of information explicit
• Explicitly showing students how to learn specific types of content (Bulgren, Schumaker & Deshler, 2001).

Researchers at the Center contend that when attention is given to these principles, students learn more. As a result, a series of instructional strategies, or content enhancement routines as they are called, that incorporate the instructional principles, were developed by researchers at the Center for use with various content areas. The content enhancement routines are teacher-led, instructional strategies that “help teachers carefully organize and present critical content information in such a way that students identify, organize, comprehend, and recall it” (Deshler, Schumaker, Lenz, Bulgren, Hock, Knight & Ehren, 2001, p. 98). The routines are composed of three parts: 1) a teaching device, such as a graphic organizer; 2) a routine, i.e. a set of steps that guide students through the thinking processes which enable them to meaningfully access the content; and 3) procedures associated with strategic teaching, i.e. explicitly teaching the routine for completion of the device, actively involving students in the process (Bulgren & Lenz, 1996).

Extensive research has been conducted to support the use of the content enhancement routines with students with disabilities. For example, the concept mastery routine was designed to enhance students’ understanding of and ability to apply, complex, abstract concepts. In this routine, the teacher guides students through a process of exploring a concept, its critical attributes, and identifying examples and non-examples of the concept. Using this information, the teacher and students construct a definition of the concept. Bulgren, Schumaker and Deshler (2001) found that students with and without learning disabilities benefited from the concept mastery routine. The results of their research showed significantly better grades on “tests designed to assess concept acquisition” (p. 3) and on “regularly scheduled, teacher-made or commercial unit tests” (p. 3). They also found that students took better notes when the content enhancement routine was used.

The clarifying routine is a content enhancement routine designed to aid students in gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning of a vocabulary term. When teachers use the clarifying routine, they guide students in a discussion of the vocabulary term and in making connections between the target term and the students’ own knowledge and experiences. Teachers also guide students in using the term in a variety of ways. Ellis (2000) reported that research conducted on the clarifying routine showed that students, especially those with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELL), benefitted when the clarifying routine was used. Results showed that students correctly answered more test questions which included terms taught via the clarifying routine. Additionally, teachers reported that students were more engaged in classroom instruction when the clarifying routine was used, and they found that students were more likely to use the terms that were taught using the clarifying routine than those that were taught using a traditional approach (Ellis, 2001).

In addition to the studies described above, the KU-CRL has conducted considerable research on other content enhancement routines and their impact on student learning (Deshler, Schumaker, Lenz, Bulgren, Hock, Knight & Ehren, 2001). This body of research provides powerful evidence that when teachers use instructional strategies which take into account the principles listed above, the learning of students—those with and without disabilities—increases. As a result, it is important for teachers to have access to and consistently use such instructional strategies. The current study seeks to examine the use of research-based instructional strategies as a means of increasing the capacity of students with disabilities to effectively use primary sources.

Instructional strategies & primary sources
For the current study, the researchers developed a series of instructional strategies for teachers to use when they integrate digitized primary sources into their classrooms. Three of the instructional strategies are designed for use with specific types of digitized primary sources. One is for analyzing photographs; one is for analyzing and gaining an understanding of documents such as letters, diaries, and pamphlets. Another is for analyzing and understanding maps. The fourth instructional strategy is for activating students’ background knowledge about particular time periods and incidents in history and historical figures. A fifth instructional strategy is designed to enable students to broaden their conceptual understanding by making connections across units of study. These strategies have been designed with careful attention to the instructional principles cited above and the barriers that students with disabilities might encounter when working with primary sources. These include difficulties in reading, visual processing, accessing prior knowledge, and making connections across a unit of study.

Like the content enhancement routines from the KU-CRL, each of the instructional strategies contains the three components described above: a teaching device or graphic organizer, a routine to guide students, and strategic teaching procedures. For an example of a teaching device and a routine, see the components of the SNAPSHOT instructional strategy, the strategy for analyzing photographs, in the appendix.

When implementing an instructional strategy, the teacher begins by calling students’ attention to three items: the content (here, the primary source), the steps of the routine (usually posted in the room for students to see), and the teaching device or graphic organizer used in the process. Students are given a copy of the graphic organizer to complete as part of the process. The teacher begins the steps of the routine and engages students in an interactive way. Together, the teacher and the students complete the graphic organizer. It may be appropriate during the process for the teacher to model his or her thought processes or use think-alouds so that students can observe how the teacher thinks and questions him or herself about the primary source. When all of the steps of the routine have been completed, the graphic organizer will be completely filled out. The teacher then reviews the graphic organizer with the students in an interactive way, engaging students through questioning and requests for explanations.

It is important to note that for each instructional routine, researchers were careful to summarize the steps of the routine using a mnemonic device related to the primary source document for which the instructional routine was designed. For example, the steps of the routine for analyzing and understanding photographs and pictures are represented by the mnemonic device SNAPSHOT and the steps of the routine for analyzing and making meaning from documents are represented by the mnemonic device DESCRIBE. This practice enables teachers and students to remember the steps of the instructional routine, and eventually leads to students’ independent use of the strategy.

Please note that the while the researchers for this study developed five other instructional strategies for use with primary sources, copies of the teaching device and instructional routines are not included in this article. They are currently part of a more extensive study about the effectiveness of the instructional strategies. They will be published as future research studies are completed.

The Pilot Study
Research questions. A qualitative, pilot study was conducted in order to respond to the following questions: 1) How can primary sources be used effectively with students with disabilities so that they experience the benefits of using them stated above? 2) Would instructional strategies specifically designed for use with primary sources aid students with disabilities? 3) What would teachers’ and students’ attitudes and opinions toward the use of such strategies be after using them in the classroom?

Participants & Setting. Three teachers participated in the pilot study. All three were certified to teach students with disabilities; two teachers had master’s degrees in special education and one had a bachelor degree in special education and a master’s degree in a related field. All three taught in schools in the same urban setting, two in high schools and one in middle school. One of the high school teachers taught social studies and the other taught social studies and American literature. Both taught students with disabilities in a 9th and 10th grade self-contained, instructional model. The middle school teacher taught language arts and math in a self-contained classroom, and social studies in a resource room model to 7th and 8th grade students with disabilities.

Teacher training. The researchers conducted two teacher training sessions of approximately three hours each. The first training session was composed of three parts. In the first part, the researchers defined primary sources and showed examples of digitized primary sources from the Library of Congress American Memory website. They also presented research that shows the benefits students experience when primary sources are integrated into the classroom. In the second part of training, the researchers provided an overview of the project and an orientation to the Library of Congress American Memory website. They demonstrated various methods for searching the collections of digitized primary sources and engaged teachers in a treasure hunt activity so that they could practice using the search methods. The researchers then aided the teachers in searching for primary sources that could be integrated into upcoming units in their classes. In the third part of the training session, the researchers and teachers discussed difficulties that students with disabilities might experience when using primary sources.

The second training session focused on preparing teachers to use the instructional strategies developed by the researchers. This session was composed of two parts. In the first part the researchers reviewed general guidelines for strategic teaching; a copy of the guidelines is provided in the appendix. The researchers then provided training on four instructional strategies: ACT (activating background knowledge), DESCRIBE (analyzing documents), FINDS (analyzing maps), and SNAPSHOT (analyzing photographs). Researchers modeled each strategy using digitized primary sources from the Library of Congress American Memory website (http://www.loc.gov/ammem). Each teacher was provided materials containing directions for implementing each instructional strategy. A copy of the training materials for the SNAPSHOT strategy is provided in the appendix.

At the end of the training sessions, teachers were asked to choose two instructional strategies from the four strategies presented and implement the two chosen strategies in one of their current classes, on three different occasions. After each implementation, teachers completed a Likert-type feedback form about the implementation of the instructional strategy. Their response choices were not at all, to a limited degree, to a moderate degree, and to a large degree. A copy of the feedback form is included in the appendix. Additionally, one of the researchers visited the teachers and observed them implementing the instructional strategy in their classroom settings. The purpose of the visits was to assess the extent to which each of the teachers followed the general guidelines for strategic teaching and the instructional procedures for the strategies implemented, and to gauge teacher and student reaction to the instructional strategies. The researcher interviewed each teacher after the observations.

During implementation, teachers chose primary sources from the Library of Congress American Memories website that would contribute to the outcomes of their current units of study. For example, one class was working on a World War I unit of study, and the teacher chose a front page of The Stars and Stripes newspaper. Another class was working on a unit on the Spanish American War, and the teacher chose a photograph of American troops marching to Muriano camp after the evacuation of Havana by the Spanish in 1899.

Results. Data collected during this pilot study were qualitative in nature and taken from the feedback forms submitted by teachers after implementing the chosen strategies. Additional qualitative data included observation checklists and interviews with teachers conducted after one researcher observed teachers implementing one of the instructional strategies in their classroom settings.

When viewing the data, the researchers recognized some significant trends. First, each of the teachers overwhelmingly believed that incorporating the strategies into their teaching beyond the time frame of this study would be beneficial to them and to their students. Teacher responses about individual strategies also support the benefit of these strategies. In a question about the extent to which the instructional strategy for activating prior knowledge actually aided students in activating prior knowledge, with one exception, all of the teachers indicated to a large degree. After one teacher’s first implementation of the strategy, the teacher responded that it aided students to a limited degree. The teacher attributed this lower level of effectiveness to it being the first time that the teacher implemented the strategy; in subsequent implementations, the teacher indicated to a large degree when responding to the question about the effectiveness of the same strategy. In a similar question about the extent to which the photograph (SNAPSHOT) and document (DESCRIBE) instructional strategies helped students to understand primary source photographs and documents, with one exception, all of the teachers’ responded, to a large degree after every implementation. The one exception was one response of to a limited degree for one implementation of SNAPSHOT. The teacher elaborated that students’ lack of engagement may have been the result of using a photograph that had poor resolution and clarity in a class where many of the students had visual processing deficits.

Student response to the strategies also revealed a significant trend. Teachers were asked, “To what extent did students respond favorably to this strategy?” Teachers responded to a large degree the majority of the time and to a moderate degree in a few instances. The teacher who implemented the photograph instructional strategy (SNAPSHOT) using a photograph with poor resolution and clarity indicated that the students did not respond favorably to the instructional routine; however, the researchers believe that this is understandable given the students’ challenge in clearly seeing the photograph. It is also important to note that there appeared to be a positive correlation between the number of times that teachers used the instructional strategy and their perceptions of students’ favorable responses. This seems to indicate that as the teachers and students became more comfortable implementing the instructional strategy, students responded more favorably to it. This was confirmed by the researcher who observed the teachers implementing the strategies. The researcher noted that in all three of the classroom settings, students exhibited a high level of engagement in the instructional process with the strategy.

Teachers were also asked three questions regarding the steps of the strategy. They were asked about the logical order of the steps, whether or not the steps were easy to follow, and the extent to which they were able to use the steps as described in the procedures for each instructional strategy. Overwhelmingly, teachers responded to a large degree in response to these questions. In instances where they responded to a moderate degree, teachers provided constructive suggestions for revising the strategy steps or the design of the teaching device in the short answer section of the feedback form. For example, teachers made a number of constructive suggestions for changes in the layout of the teaching devices (graphic organizers) to make them more user-friendly. The data gathered in interviews following observations further confirmed the teachers’ satisfaction with the steps of the strategy.

The purpose of observing the teachers implementing the strategies in their classroom settings was to assess the extent to which each of the teachers followed the general guidelines for strategic teaching and the instructional procedures for the strategies they implemented. The observations provided some important findings. The guidelines for strategic teaching (see appendix) were used as a checklist during the observations. The data gathered from the checklist indicate that all of the guidelines were followed by all of the teachers with a couple of exceptions. One of the guidelines directs teachers to post the strategy steps so that they can be referred to during instruction. Two of the teachers did not post copies of the strategy steps. They had copies of the steps on a nearby table for them to see; however, the steps were not posted for students. Upon further reflection, the researchers believe that this guideline could have been stated more clearly in the list of guidelines provided to teachers and highlighted in teacher training.

Another guideline states that after completing the steps of the strategy and completing the graphic organizer, teachers should review the graphic organizer by asking students questions about the material on the graphic organizer. None of the teachers fulfilled this guideline. In two instances, classes ended abruptly when the class change bell rang. The two teachers asked the students to bring the materials with them to class the next day. The third teacher completed the activity after the final step of the strategy and did not review the graphic organizer with students. As this is an important element of strategic instruction, the researchers believe that this guideline should be further emphasized in teacher training.

The teachers were also observed to assess the degree to which they implemented the strategy as it was designed. The observations showed that two of the teachers completed all of the steps of the strategies and the graphic organizer as they were designed. The third teacher did not follow the steps of the strategy when guiding students through the process. The teacher implemented the steps; however, they were not implemented in the specified order. As a result, the teacher was unsure about where to write information on the graphic organizer.

Discussion. The purpose of this pilot study was to address three questions: How can primary sources be used effectively with students with disabilities? Would instructional strategies specifically designed for use with primary sources aid students with disabilities? What would teachers’ and students’ attitudes and opinions toward the use of such strategies be after using them in the classroom? The data above provide evidence that the instructional strategies designed to be used with primary sources may indeed have a positive impact on student learning. The data also indicate positive attitudes and opinions of teachers and students toward the use of the instructional strategies. The researchers will use the findings of this pilot study to make revisions to the instructional strategies and teacher training; furthermore, this study will become a springboard for future studies about the impact of these instructional strategies on the learning of students with disabilities when they use primary sources.

Conclusion
The benefits of integrating primary sources into middle and secondary classrooms have been well documented. Because of the difficulties experienced by students with disabilities in the areas of reading, visual processing and accessing background knowledge, the use of primary sources can be overwhelming. This article has presented a pilot study about a set of instructional strategies based on validated instructional principles and designed to aid teachers in the integration of primary sources into the classrooms so that all students, including those with disabilities, can benefit from their use. While this study has shown that teachers and students have positive opinions of the instructional strategies, further research is needed to understand their impact on student learning.

Appendix

Analyzing Pictures
See the picture from the LOC website
Note the title, caption and summary
Address the concept and unit
Pull together general information
SHare what you already know
Observe details
Total it up

 

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Analyzing Photographs – Teacher Instructions

The Graphic Organizer

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Steps for the Instructional Routine
SNAPSHOT is the mnemonic device which summarizes the steps for this instructional routine. The teacher uses these steps along with the graphic organizer above to guide students through analysis of a photograph. Prior to class with the students, the teacher creates a rough draft of the graphic organizer. In class, the teacher and students complete the graphic organizer together. The teacher elicits responses from the students, filling in the organizer on the overhead or on a SmartBoard while students fill in the organizer individually.

See the picture from the LOC website
The teacher presents a picture form the AAM website to the class and asks students to examine the picture.

Note the title, caption and summary
The teacher asks students to read the caption or the title of the picture and then writes the caption or title in box #1 (Title).

Address the concept and unit
The teacher briefly explains the current concept being studied and writes it in the top section of box #2, then states the current unit of study and writes it in the bottom section of box #2. Students write the concept and unit on their graphic organizers.

Pull together general information
The teacher asks students questions to help guide them in identifying what they see or observe in the picture. The teacher writes student responses in box #3 (general information) of the graphic organizer. Students copy information into their graphic organizers.

• Who?
• What?
• When?
• Where?
• Why?

SHare what you already know
Given the information in box 4, the teacher asks students what else they already know about the topic as it relates to the picture. This is an opportunity for students to bring their background knowledge about the topic related to the picture to the discussion. As students respond, the teacher writes notes in box 4 of the graphic organizer. Students copy notes on to their graphic organizers.

Observe details
The teacher asks students to look at the photograph more closely and to identify details, providing guidance to the students if needed. Examples of questions are below.

People/person
• Male/female?
• Wearing?
• Doing?
• Holding?
• Facial expression?

Scene
• Event?
• Action?
• Geography?
• Architecture?
• Items?

The details are recorded in box 5.

Total it up
In the final step, the teacher guides the students in making an interpretive statement about the photograph. This statement should pull together information from the general information and details previously identified by students and recorded in boxes 5 & 6.

Review
After completing all of the steps, review the graphics organizer with students in an interactive way. During the review, ask students questions or request further explanation about the information found on the graphic organizer.

Sample SNAPSHOT graphic organizer for a photograph of a mess line at the Mazanar Relocation Center in California, 1943. See photograph below.

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Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Ansel Adams, photographer [reproduction number, e.g., LC-DIG-ppprs-00257].

General Guidelines for Strategic Teaching
1. Prior to instruction, develop a complete graphic to use as a guide during instruction.
2. At the start of instruction, indicate to students that the use of the designated strategy will help them better understand the primary source.
3. When presenting the strategy, post a copy of the strategy steps nearby so that they can be referred to during the instructional process.
4. Have a blank copy of the strategy graphic organizer on a transparency, a Smart Board, or a large poster board.
5. Provide each student a blank copy of the strategy organizer which they fill in as the teacher guides them through the steps of the strategy.
6. Guide students through the steps of the strategy and the completion of the graphic organizer. Ask probing questions to engage students in the process. Point to each section of the organizer to show students where to write key information. Use the graphic organizer created prior to instruction as a resource. The graphic organizer created with students may look different from the one created prior to instruction.
7. After completing all steps of the strategy, review the completed graphic organizer by asking students questions about the material on the graphic organizer.
8. In this process the teacher and students are creating knowledge together. The teacher guides students through the steps of the strategy; active participation from students is a key element of the process.

FEEDBACK FORM

Date strategy was used _________________________

Class strategy was used with _________________________

Number of students in the class during teaching of strategy ________

Disabilities of students in class during teaching of strategy __________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Name of strategy taught __________________________________

Number of times you have used this strategy including today ____________

Primary source document used:

Collection _______________________________________________________________________

Name of primary source ____________________________________________________________

Please place a check in the box that most closely matches your experience.

 
Not at all
To a limited degree
To a moderate degree
To a large degree
To what extent did you find order of steps logical to follow?        

To what extent did you find the steps easy to follow?

       
To what extent were you actually able to use the steps as described in the strategy procedures?        
To what extent did the use of this strategy help your students understand the photograph or document?        
To what extent did students respond favorably to this strategy?        
To what extent did the activation strategy (if applicable) aid students in activating prior knowledge?        
Would incorporating this strategy into your teaching be of benefit to you and your students in the future?        

Based on your use of the strategy today, what steps or parts of the procedure would you keep the same?

 

 

 

 

Based on your use of the strategy today, what would you recommend be changed?

 

 


 

How would you describe the impact of the strategy on the child’s ability to understand the primary source or to understand the content of the unit? Please be as specific as possible. You might consider the students’ ability to make a new connection, explain the relationship between ideas, describe facts in greater detail, explain a concept, express confusion, or incorrectly describe a fact, concept or idea.

 

 

 

 

Please email forms to creardon@dom.edu or freville@dom.edu


Bibliography

Allen, S.M. & Dutt-Doner, K.M, (2006). Four takes on technology: Using digitized documents in the classroom. Educational Leadership 64(4), 66-67.

Brown, C.A. & Dotson, K. (2007). Using digital primary sources: A success story in collaboration. Teacher Librarian, 35(2).

Bulgren, J.A., Schumaker, J.B. & Deshler, D.D. (2001). The Concept Mastery Routine. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises.

Crew, H. (2008). Enhancing the curriculum using primary sources: Women engaged in war. Teacher Librarian, 35(3), 28-32.

Deshler, D., Schumaker, J.B., Lenz, K. Bulgren, J. A., Hock, M.F., Knight, J. & Ehren, B.J. (2001). Ensuring Content-Area Learningby Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16(2), 96-108.

Deshler, D.D., Schumaker, J.B. & McKnight, P.C. (2001). The Survey Routine. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas.

Ellis, E. (2000). The Clarifying Routine. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises.

Eamon, M. (2006). A “genuine relationship with the actual”: New perspectives on primary sources, history and the Internet in the classroom. The History Teacher, 39(3), 297-314.

Lenz, B.K. & Deshler, D.D. (2004). Teaching Content to All. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Tally, B. & Goldenberg, L.B. (2005). Fostering historical thinking with digitized primary sources. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(1), 1-21.