A Teacher’s Take on the Library’s Virtual Student Workshops

This is a guest post by Raul Almada, a Teaching with Primary Sources mentor and fourth grade teacher at Daniel Phelan Language Academy in Whittier, California. Here he discusses the Library’s new virtual student workshops offered for students in grades 3-8. More information on these workshops and a link to request a program can be found here.

I have been a fourth grade teacher in California for the past twenty-three years. In 2009, I traveled to the Library of Congress to participate in the Teaching with Primary Sources program as a fellow with the Cotsen Foundation for the Art of Teaching program. This was truly a life changing experience. Since then, I have been a teacher mentor on the Teaching with Primary Sources network, where I discovered the Library’s new virtual student workshops.

Cover page of the "Stories in the Stars" virtual student workshop, including an image of the Library of Congress dome and Pegasus as a constellationOur classroom was able to experience “Stories in the Stars: Mythology at the Library of Congress” first, which went very well. The children were eager to engage with the primary source materials and after the program a few stated they wanted to visit the Library and go to Washington, D.C. One student said he wanted to study mythology. This experience was so positive that I wanted them to have a second opportunity. We had already studied the idea of comics earlier in the school year so I felt that the workshop “Imagination: Everyone’s Superpower” would be a nice tie in. I think the idea of helping the children to see there are many ways to express yourself in writing is extremely valuable. I still hope to leverage this work into further work with comics as I give children full choice in writing type at least three times a year. This will open up the possibilities for them to be even more creative and flexible in the future.

The children were very impacted by the work of both workshops. First there is simply the experience of doing the work live with some from the Library. It is highly interactive and just about all of my students had an opportunity to offer responses and thoughts to the discussions. The children in our classroom were very eager to share their thoughts about what they were seeing and thinking. The primary source materials used in the presentations helped the children to be able to construct ideas and the confidence to share them in a safe environment.

These workshops gave the children the opportunity to work in a different type of environment from what they are experiencing day in and out with me. This is a breath of fresh air and a chance for them to take part in something they would not normally be able to do. From personal experience over the past ten years I know what a true treasure the Library of Congress collections can offer for children. I probably would not have covered these topics with them and certainly not with the breadth of materials offered in these workshops. I knew when I signed up that this would be a valuable opportunity for the children to grow as learners. We regularly engage in inquiry practices in our classroom and this helped to provide them another window into the power of observation, reflection, and questioning. I hope the Library of Congress will continue to offer workshops like these in the future.