Teaching with Primary Sources
Teaching and Learning with Primary Sources:
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Analyzing Photographs – Teacher Instructions
The Graphic Organizer
Steps for the Instructional Routine
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
The details are recorded in box 5.
Total it up
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Ansel Adams, photographer [reproduction number, e.g., LC-DIG-ppprs-00257].
Date strategy was used _________________________
Primary source document used:
Please place a check in the box that most closely matches your experience.
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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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