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Creating Ripples of Change with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

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Nicole Kukral

This post is by Nicole Kukral, a teacher on special assignment to the San Juan Unified School District in California and a participant in the 2013 Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute.

“When you drop a pebble into a pond, ripples spread out, changing all the water in the pool. The ripples hit the shore and rebound, bumping into one another, breaking each other apart. In some small way, the pond is never the same again.” -Neal Shusterman

In one way or another, I think all teachers are perpetual pebble-droppers. In my role as a literacy coach, staff developer, and writing project teacher consultant I always feel that my job is to drop pebbles and stand back as the professionals I work with create unpredictable and beautiful ripples.

That was my frame of mind when I attended the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute with two of my Area 3 Writing Project partners. Our director sent us to learn all we could for our own professional practice, but also to think about ways we could share our learning with the writing project community and beyond.

We spent all week in continuous bursts of excitement. Each strategy we learned gave us even more ideas about how we could create meaningful learning opportunities for our colleagues. Because we’re all passionate writing teachers, we kept connecting to ways we could bring the primary sources to life by asking students to write about them.

After we returned from the Summer Institute energized to share what we learned with others, we were invited to present at the California Writing Project state meeting, a gathering of writing project teacher consultants from across the state, and we knew it would be a perfect place to try some new strategies with our participants.

Votes for Women Broadside. 1911
Votes for Women Broadside. 1911

Inspired by one of our many Summer Institute experiences, for our workshop, we designed a session around the investigative question, “How did the nation react to the women’s suffrage movement?” Participants received one source at first and used the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool to help closely read their document. We then asked participants to write a preliminary claim answering the question we posed. After participants had an opportunity to write their original claims and talked to their table groups, we provided each person with a new document, ensuring that each participant at the table had something different. Then, they wrote a second claim synthesizing both documents. Participants then shared their documents and claims with their table groups, and tables wrote one more claim, synthesizing all of their ideas.

Conversations about how to use this strategy to inspire students to write simmered in the room. Teachers were excited about the opportunity to use this strategy to show how writers revise their ideas based on new information. They saw this strategy as a way to help students generate questions for further research. And, of course, they saw that students could write in more depth about their claims, using the evidence from the documents.

We were so happy to drop a pebble in the pond of our writing project colleagues, and we know that they will continue to spread the ripples by trying the strategy and creating even more ways to use it with primary sources in their classrooms. So how about you? What ideas do you have to encourage students to write and revise claims using primary source documents? Let’s all make sure that we continue to keep the ripples spreading.


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