Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Fantastic Series of Books Containing Useable Primary Sources for Secondary Students

For my first blog regarding the Teaching American History Grant, as well as my first blog ever, I would like to highlight a fantastic series of books containing useable primary sources. This collection, which was given to me at 2007’s Teaching American History Grant Conference, which was held at Reading Memorial High School, is organized into 5 soft cover books. Each book in the collection contains one to two page excerpts of primary sources which address significant events in American History. Each book, approximately sixty pages long, are titled based on their overall theme. Titles include The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address, and “I have a Dream”.

So, why do I think that these resources are so fantastic? Because they have changed the way I teach American History at the High School level. Since obtaining the series, I can safely say that I use a primary source in my classes at least twice a week. Many weeks I’ll use primary sources even more often. And now, I don’t limit the primary sources I use to the ones in this series. Now that my students are used to reading, interpreting and responding to primary sources in class, I find that I regularly search for primary sources to incorporate into my lessons regularly, and my students have become quite accustomed to utilizing their skills in interpreting them. Just the other day, one of my students asked me, “Mr. Hanlon, when are we going to read the textbook again?”

One effective week of primary source use was one where I focused on the formation of the constitution. For this unit of study, I utilized the book titled The Constitution. From it I selected the excerpts from the “Albany Plan of Union”, “The Articles of Confederation”, “The Northwest Ordinance”, “The Massachusetts Constitution”, and of course, the US Constitution in its entirety. Additionally, this issue contains excerpts from Federalist No. 1, Federalist No. 10, Letter from a Federal Farmer No. 17 by Richard Henry Lee, as well as an Anti-federalist excerpt from Patrick Henry. In all cases, I asked students to read the documents (or I read the documents with them) and then fill out a Written Document Analysis Worksheet (this worksheet and others can be obtained from the US National Archives website:
From these worksheets, I used the students’ written responses as topics for discussion in class. I have been very impress with the depth of understanding both my honors and college level students have gained from reading these primary sources excerpts.

The collection was put together by the American History Professional Development Project. Photo copying for student use is encouraged as this project was funded by the United States Department of Education.

If you are interested in obtaining these books to use with your classes:

Unfortunately there is not an email or website contact for the project, however the books are published by the Teaching American History Professional Development Project, A Partnership of the Fall River Public Schools and Bristol Community College.

If I discover better contact information, I will update this blog.