Practicing the past: Primary sources and pedagogy
Gradwell, Jill Marie
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Although there has been much advocacy for instructional approaches that include the use of primary sources to further historical knowledge, only in the past two decades have researchers attempted to understand teachers' consideration of such materials for classroom instruction. Although the findings of this small collection of research are rich with nuance, more research is needed to comprehend the complex processes a teacher undergoes as s/he creates document-based lesson plans and implements them in his/her classroom. This interpretive case study offers a glimpse into the rationale and instructional choices one novice teacher in a first ring suburban middle school makes as she incorporates primary source materials in her teaching of two American history units in a high-stakes testing environment. The data sources include a questionnaire, five in-depth, semi-structured interviews, six weeks of classroom observations, and classroom artifacts. Data were analyzed using case study methodology (Stake, 1995). Data analysis began immediately and continued throughout the research and write-up processes. Initial emerging patterns and themes were checked by triangulation across data sources and probed for both confirming and disconfirming evidence (Bogdan & Biklin, 1982). This study adds to the small, but growing body of research about teachers' use of primary sources in the teaching of history to school children. The implications of this study include new insights for future teacher preparation programs, alternative models of powerful history teaching, and more awareness about the limitations and possibilities of using primary sources in a high-stakes testing environment with a heterogeneous group of children.