How to Introduce Students to Primary Sources
Introducing Students to Primary Sources
Marti MacKenzie: What we’re going to do today is we're going to compare some drawings and some engravings, and we’ll complete one together. We'll try another, and share; and then you'll do one on your own.
Marti MacKenzie: We have four classes of 4th grade, and actually this is somewhat of a typical class, I think, for Winchester city—a mix of abilities, but no one at the really high end and no one at the really low end, so it’s a nice, average class. These are very inquisitive children.
Marti MacKenzie: Imagine you've been exploring in America. Imagine you were Christopher Columbus, and you went back to Europe. Do you think people'd be curious about what you saw, what you found?
Marti MacKenzie: Yes. So how are you going to tell them what you found? How are you going to show them what you found? Katie.
Katie: You might bring back some stuff that, um, you saw in America.
Marti MacKenzie: You may bring back some artifacts, some things that you saw. That's a great idea. Jocelyn, how else?
Jocelyn: You could bring a garden; um, they could have some gourds.
Marti MacKenzie: Okay, guys, this is what happened. The people that came to America wanted the Europeans to know what the Indians were like, so they wrote a lot of stories; but they also sent this wonderful guy called John White, and guess what he was. He was an artist. He was the Mr. Edwards of these explorers. And he decided to do some drawings. So what we’re going to do today is we're going to look at actual drawings that John White did, but there's a problem.
Marti MacKenzie: Now we've just moved into the first Virginians, the first Americans, so we're really just starting the history content. They had heard of Powhatan, and had a little inkling about, you know, the artifacts.
Marti MacKenzie: So what's going to happen to the John White drawing.
Student: [indistinct comment]
Marti MacKenzie: Well, this guy named De Bry, said "I'm going to take that drawing, and I am going to make an engraving."
Marti MacKenzie: The idea was just to understand what a primary source is, to have a chance to interact. This is the first opportunity they've had to really interact with a primary source.
Marti MacKenzie: So, look at your drawing. Just study it. Look at detail. Then we're going to look at the watercolor first. Deduce and compare. How are they alike, but how are they different?
Student 1: Um. It's that, um, picture—that picture that he made, their heads are more rounded. And this one more like, um.
Marti MacKenzie: So you think these heads are more rounded than the engraving. Good. Good, Justin. Great observations. Latoya, what—, or Jocelyn, what do you see?
Jocelyn: Um, this is on the ground, and that's like inside on a mat.
Marti MacKenzie: It does. It looks like it's inside, not outside.
Jocelyn: And there's more food in the bowl.
Marti MacKenzie: Ah. Look at the food on the bottom of the engraving that you have in front of you.
Marti MacKenzie: And then look up here at John White's watercolor. Are they different?
Marti MacKenzie: Yeah.
Marti MacKenzie: Yeah, they really are. Well, as good historians, we would go and probably look at both. We would look at the watercolor, and we would look at the engraving; but today, we're going to do some history. We're going to do some history by looking at the one in front of you—at the engraving.
Marti MacKenzie: I just wanted to introduce something I thought they would have some fun with, that would be easy on their level, and give me some scaffolding that I can start building on; and then we can get a little more complex in using primary sources in the future.
Comparing and Contrasting
Marti MacKenzie: The other thing that I try to do is to get my students excited about "doing history," and to suddenly see that history is alive, because it's changing—constantly; and this is one of the first ways we can talk about how history has changed.
Marti MacKenzie: There are three columns. What does the first one say? At the top. It's very small print, I know.
Multiple Students: Observations. What do you see? Record details here.
Marti MacKenzie: I adapted the Library of Congress data sheet to use to collect—to analyze primary sources, brought it down a little bit more to their level, and simplified it.
Marti MacKenzie: And we call that "observe." Observe is "what can you see?" So let's look at that first drawing. What can you see? What do you observe?
Marti MacKenzie: Fish. Okay.
Student: Some food.
Marti MacKenzie: Food.
Student: Separate food.
Marti MacKenzie: Are there any people?
Multiple Students: Yes.
Marti MacKenzie: How many?
Multiple Students: Two.
Payton: You see corn?
Marti MacKenzie: Where do you see corn, Payton?
Payton: Right there on the floor.
Marti MacKenzie: Right there on the floor. How many ears? Could you write how many ears? Is that a detail?
Marti MacKenzie: Four ears of corn. What is that?
Marti MacKenzie: It does look like squid, doesn't it? What about this?
Marti MacKenzie: If you look at it really closely, it almost looks like shells, maybe nuts or some sort of shellfish.
[At the same time] Student: It is a shell.
Student: It is a shellfish.
Marti MacKenzie: Yes. You all found some great detail. Would you look in the second column? After "Observe." Can you read it with the lights out? It says, "Reflect."
[At the same time] Multiple Students: Reflect.
Student: What does "reflect" mean?
Marti MacKenzie: Or "Infer."
Students: Reflect on what you've learned.
Marti MacKenzie: Could you infer that they're mad at each other?
Multiple Students: No.
Marti MacKenzie: No, but what could you infer, maybe?
Jocelyn: They might be wife and husband.
Marti MacKenzie: You could—Oh, you're going to infer that they're wife and husband. Why?
Jocelyn: Because they're kind of sitting together, and it looks like they've always been together.
Marti MacKenzie: Okay. Oh, it looks like they've always been together. Good observation, Jocelyn.
[At the same time] Student: It looks like there's some water in the [unclear].
Marti MacKenzie: Could you infer that they're happy?
Multiple Students: Yes.
Student: Can we write this stuff down?
Multiple Students: Yeah. If you agree. Is an inference—does everybody have to infer the same thing?
Multiple Students: No.
Marti MacKenzie: So those are all inferences—things that you can look at the drawing and assume, but you don’t exactly have hard facts for it, right?
Marti MacKenzie: And finally, and I think most importantly, you know, what questions would you as a historian have after you look at this drawing, and you react to it, and reflect on it.
Marti MacKenzie: Jocelyn said something, but I would like to know it for sure. Are they. . .
Jocelyn: Wife and husband.
Marti MacKenzie: She wants to know, are they wife and husband? That's her question.
Student: But, can we put, "Are they married?"
Marti MacKenzie: You can. Yes.
Student: How did you make the earrings?
Marti MacKenzie: That's a really good question. How would they make their earrings? Would you like to know how they made anything else?
Student 1: Yeah!
Student 2: The food.
Marti MacKenzie: How they made the food? What other questions would you ask about this? Katie.
Katie: Um. Are they, um, are they hungry?
Marti MacKenzie: Are they hungry? Okay.
Marti MacKenzie: Now I think that's one of the hardest things for students to do, is develop questions about history, so if we can start developing a question about something that they're looking at then they can become more comfortable in the questioning strategy. And, also an important S.O.L. in Virginia history is to compare and contrast.
Marti MacKenzie: Here is John White's original watercolor. And then you can see the engraving. What do you notice different about the engraving, again? Katie.
Katie: Um. If you compare the two walkways, this one's coming from two directions, and then this one's coming from one direction.
Marti MacKenzie: How about detail? Jessica?
Jessica: It has—it has, like, trees in that one; and that one doesn't, like, look like it has trees.
Marti MacKenzie: The engraving, which is based on that drawing, shows the detail outside the village. How about this palisade or the sticks—the fence? Jessica—or Jocelyn.
Jocelyn: Those sticks are skinny, and those sticks are fatter.
Marti MacKenzie: These sticks are better?
Multiple Students: Fatter.
Marti MacKenzie: Fatter, and those sticks are skinnier.
John: If—if—if they get—if they engraved it, isn't is supposed to be, like, exactly the same thing? I mean, 'cuz the spikes are wrong. I mean, they—they look like lines.
Marti MacKenzie: Okay, let's put our history hat on. What are you saying here? That maybe. . .
John: Maybe they tweeted it on a little—they changed it a little.
Marti MacKenzie: Tweeted on it, changed it a little. I think he’s right. How many agree with John?
[Students raise hands.]
Marti MacKenzie: But, is there enough difference to change your mind about the drawing?
Marti MacKenzie: And I thought it was an excellent way to look at the White drawings and compare it with the engravings, and they—they really seemed to eat that up. They, you know, "But it's not there!"
A New Way to Look at History
Marti MacKenzie: There were a few occasions when I think I got them to think in more of an upper-level way—to really analyze, not just look and see.
John: The fire maybe is for an occasion.
Marti MacKenzie: Oh!
John: Or heat.
Marti MacKenzie: You can infer that there is a special occasion, because the fire is so big, right?
Student: Maybe they're cooking the fish in the fire, 'cuz it looks like they're fishing up there.
Marti MacKenzie: So they were fishing up there. You think they're fish—putting fish on the fire. Jeffrey.
Student: And they have earrings if they're hunting that they could fall off or something.
Marti MacKenzie: Okay.
Marti MacKenzie:They certainly seem to be dressed up, don't they, in a lot of fancy things done to go hunting. So why do they have such fancy things on to be hunting?
John: Well, maybe they're wearing all the stuff for camouflage?
Marti MacKenzie: One of my objectives was, we talk a lot about why, you know, people would come from Europe to America, and I think it was the first time that they gave them a chance to start thinking, you know, "Would people want to come and see this wilderness?" You know, "would they want to see people with a different lifestyle?"
Marti MacKenzie: These were pictures—engravings, that were circulated in parts of England especially. And they were to answer people's questions. "What would it be like to go to America?" "What are the American Indians like?" So, I want you to just kind of go back, look at all four of your drawings, and as you're looking at them, I want you to think. Put yourself back all 400 years ago. You're in England. After looking at these drawings, would you want to go to America? How many of you after looking at these pictures would want to go to America?
Student: I do.
[Students raise hands.]
Marti MacKenzie: How many looking at these pictures would not want to go to America?
Student: The food looks good.
Marti MacKenzie: So I think that helped a lot, and I think it just got them excited about, "Great, you know, I’m doing—I’m having fun doing history."
Scaffolding and Reflection
Marti MacKenzie: I had my certification in gifted and talented; and if I were doing this for totally a gifted group, I would leave a lot more for them to discover, and then also go into some of the actual descriptions that came with the primary sources. I know I would adapt that.
Now, I have a lot of struggling non-readers and non-writers, and we may just be drawing parts of the drawing. Let’s pick out the part of the drawing where you think you understand why the Indians have their bows drawn, and they would then maybe draw the deer.
I wish my role could have been less in this, and it probably would be the second or third time they had had a chance to analyze a primary source like this, but I thought I had to do a lot of leading, not just facilitating, but, you know, especially walking through the first one together, maybe adding more than I would like to, but realizing that they weren’t always coming up with information that would help them go down to the second, third, and fourth drawings, and make their own analysis.
There are other pictures available. I tried to select a variety—some that wouldn’t make 4th-graders giggle too much, if you know what I mean, and I may go with a different selection now that I saw how those four played. They’re so many places, the archives out there, and just National Archives and LoC. You know, you can find something. Then you just have to see is this worth it for getting the essential knowledge across to my kids.