Teaching With Primary Sources Leadership Team: Recap

In my last post, I described the work I was doing with high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver districts funded by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region division.  I thought the project went great – and so did the teachers.  Breeze through a few representative quotes to get a feel for the participants’ enthusiasm:

I learned that the kids are able and willing to think for themselves – that they’re willing to jump in and give it a shot.  It’s all about getting kids to think… not just compliance.

We just went through the same inquiry process looking at the student work as [the students] went through with the documents.

This was not like a learning walk.  I worked on a lesson related to my work, and I’ll use it.  This is the way professional development should be.

It was great to work with other teachers who have such expertise.  This shows what teachers from different schools can do with each other to benefit kids.

We’re all after the same thing: Seeing kids being able to connect with the material and make their own meaning is the big payoff.

We lit the fuse, and the kids took care of the rest.  The collaboration was valuable…  Hearing others’ observations reinforces the idea that I can relinquish some control and that the questions are as important as the answers.

The conversations and questions that we had today make me hold off on retirement.

I wonder: How far can this go?

I think there were several fundamental reasons why the project was so successful:

  1. The folks from the Library of Congress Western Region office were fantastic.  They were able to introduce the Library of Congress archive in a way that both demonstrated its immensity and its usefulness. They emphasized the role primary sources play in catalyzing student inquiry and meaning making. They were flexible in adapting their approach to our needs.
  2. We used a lesson study approach. This helped teachers explore the immediate application of the approaches in the classroom. It guided collaboration in an authentic and accountable fashion.
  3. The teachers displayed true professionalism. Throwing a bunch of strangers together, providing them with new resources, and asking them to play with each other required a willingness to be public learners and not let vulnerability shut down the process. They met the challenge head on.

If you’d like to read more about the project, I’ve posted the final report here.

Click here to learn more about the grant program.

In the next several posts, I’ll share the lessons teacher-teams developed through this process. Sharing these does not mean to suggest that any are “Super-Lessons”  (if any such thing exists.) I think that they are interesting as artifacts of a powerful professional development process – and they’ll probably get you thinking about great ways to guide student inquiry in your classroom. If the lessons are kept alive by your testing and tweaking, if the comments section is used to share what changes folks made and how their students responded, then the process continues. Here’s hoping!


Teaching With Primary Sources Workshop


The best historical inquiry - and teacher professional development - leads to laughter.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of working with high school teachers and coordinators from Vancouver and Evergreen Public Schools in a workshop led and funded by the Library of Congress Teaching With Primary Sources Western Region Program.  Through the workshop, teachers learned about the immense resources available through the Library of Congress website and discussed ways to guide student historical inquiry using primary sources, including the development of Annotated Resource Sets.  Using a quick version of the lesson study cycle, teacher teams designed lessons that will serve as the basis for demonstration lessons and debriefs throughout February (for which we’ll use this debrief protocol.)  After the demonstration lessons and debriefs, teachers will share their new insights with their school-based Professional Learning Communities.

The agenda wiki, filled with fantastic links, is posted here.  I’m looking forward to attending all the lessons in February!

History Day Judges Needed!

Followers of this blog know that I love National History Day.  National History Day challenges teens to investigate historical questions and present their findings in papers, websites, exhibits, performances, and documentaries.  Students discuss their work with interested adults as they strive to rise above the competition first at the school, then at the district, state, and national levels.  All this depends on interested individuals offering to talk to these young historians. Will you show them you care about their learning?

The Southwest Washington History Day Competition will be held Saturday, February 25 at Wy’East Middle School in Vancouver.  Judge orientation will begin at 8:00.  Preliminary round judging will conclude by 1:00; if you’re available to stay for the finals round, you’ll be done by 4:30.  Clock hours will be provided.

If you’re able to join us to judge, please email me.  Whether or not you can join us, please spread the word!

On the list of things to do: Keep Learning!


Johnny Cash via Letters of Note

For many readers of this blog, learning opportunities figure high on holiday wish lists and resolutions.  In that spirit, I send you into the winter vacation with a short list of terrific opportunities:

  1. The elimination of Teaching American History funding is a sad end to what were fantastic teacher professional development opportunities – but some amazing opportunities remain through other sources.  Why not set aside some time over break to apply for a summer institute? Both  Gilder Lehrman Institute and the National Endowment for the Humanities  have posted their 2012 offerings. As always, there is a wealth of offerings available at very little cost to participants. Some of the offerings align closely with expeditions ESD112 TAH teachers have previously taken:  Study the everyday life of early America with John Demos at Yale! The Age of Jefferson with Frank Cogliano and Peter Onuf at Monticello! Lincoln and Emancipation with Matt Pinsker and James Oakes at Columbia College! Other offerings are of a different nature: Study Shakespeare in DC! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Fairy Tales and Fantasy at Harvard! 
  2. Closer to home, sign up for the Foundation for Teaching Economics free February 11 workshop, “Is Capitalism Good for the Poor?
  3. Even closer to home – because it’s offered in your home – is the online Teaching with Primary Sources Basics course, offered Tuesdays in February.
  4. Support budding historians – and deepen your thinking about student learning – by judging at the National History Day competition!  The Southwest Washington contest will be held February 25. If you can join offer your time to this important endeavor, we’d love to have you: Please email me to let me know you’re interested.

Enjoy your vacation!

A parent writes about teacher professional development

Learning and socializing on the beach (Spree2010)

Today’s guest post comes from Tony Liberatore.  Tony is a high school teacher at Columbia River High School in Vancouver.  He writes:

As a TAH grant teacher (twice) I had some great experiences; James Madison’s Montpelier, standing at Dr. King’s pulpit, marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, and working with amazing educators; however my favorite experience is when my 5th grade daughter had a TAH teacher this past school year. As a self-proclaimed history geek I have always struggled on how to “pass on” my love of history to my kids and I have had mixed results. This school year something clicked with my oldest and her teacher Mrs. P. We had dinner time discussions about Jefferson on how a person who wrote those beautiful words “all men are created equal” could still own other human beings? On a spring walk we talked about the Bill of Rights and when my daughter wrote a CBA the topic was school uniforms and the 1st Amendment (I had to hold back and actually let her do the work).

When I ponder my daughter’s experiences it encapsulates the purpose of TAH grants; professional teachers who take the purpose of social studies education seriously, providing students with genuine historical inquiry, and training in best history teaching practices (the list is long). I’m frustrated that the TAH grants have not been funded but proud to have been involved in many aspects of the grant. Most importantly I’m a better student of history and so is my daughter. Thanks Mrs. P.


National History Day

Last week, I attended the National History Day contest at the University of Maryland, College Park. I’d previously volunteered at regional and state levels, but it was my first time going to the big show. And what a show it was:  2700 middle and high school students from all 50 states (and DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and Shanghai), all of whom had extensively researched a historical topic and carefully constructed a response related to the theme of debate and diplomacy. I was amazed and delighted by the work they created: consistently interesting exhibits, websites, documentaries, performances, and papers.  Even more so, I was thrilled to discuss the students’ research with them, whether as part of the judging process, in the lobby of the American History Museum, or in line to see the panda at the zoo. These students were motivated by both the energy of competition and the rigor of the contest’s parameters:  they were well served by their teachers and the NHD staff.

Students from Washington did well, including taking top honors in Senior Individual Documentary, Senior Group Website, and second, third, and fourth place in a number of other categories.  Oregon also did well:  With only three entries in the contest – all from tiny Helix High School – students finished third in the Senior Group Documentary category.

Lists of award winners are posted here.  These students are from large and small communities; from public, private, and home-school settings; and tracked and heterogeneous classrooms. The list is incomplete, though:  All students who participated are won a well-considered approach to doing history.  If you’re a middle or high school teacher, you ought to consider building NHD into your curriculum.

Time to get started on next year’s theme:


The end is nigh

While we may have thought that we made it through May 21 unscathed, I received two messages yesterday that our friends in the colonies might have considered providential signs.

The first was an email from Peggi Zelinko at the Department of Education.  She wrote to say that no new Teaching American History proposals would be awarded FY 2011, ending any hope that “Competing Visions: Debates that Shape America”, the excellent proposal we submitted in March, would be funded.   This confirmed my suspicions – but was disappointing nevertheless.

The second was a posting on the National Coalition for History site:


The House Education and Workforce Committee this week approved, by a strict party line vote of 23-16H.R. 1891 the “Setting New Priorities in Education Act.” This bill would eliminate 43 programs at the Department of Education including Teaching American History (TAH) grants.

An amendment was offered by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), and cosponsored by Representatives Davis (D-CA), Woolsey (D-CA) and Wu (D-OR) that would have potentially preserved TAH. The amendment would have required the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to determine if the United States was experiencing a shortage of linguists. If it was found that was the case, Department of Education funds could have been used to improve foreign language education, economic and financial education, arts education and the Teaching of Traditional American History. The Holt amendment was defeated by the same party line vote of 16-23.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MI) has decided to adopt a piecemeal approach to reauthorizing the ESEA, considering a series of targeted bills instead of one large one. H.R. 1891 is the first of those bills to be introduced and passed by the panel.

H.R. 1891 will now be considered by the House where it is expected to pass. While this is disheartening, the bill would still have to pass the Senate and be signed by the President which is unlikely. Traditionally, there has been strong bi-partisan support in the Senate for the TAH program.

In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will soon introduce a single all encompassing ESEA reauthorization bill. It was expected he would introduce the bill right after Easter, but that has not occurred. There is no indication at this time what Chairman Harkin’s position is with regard to TAH in particular or history education in general.

It’s a shame.  Based on our experience, I believe that TAH projects have catalyzed important change, critically supporting teachers in ways that renew and expand their vision and capacity to improve students’ learning experience.  I hope that teachers find creative ways to continue the work on their own.

I look forward to next week’s demonstration lesson in Castle Rock and our final “Causes of Conflict” program June 29 & 30.  Enjoy the long weekend!