In 1897, the doors opened to the Thomas Jefferson Building and the Library of Congress found its new home. Unequaled in its magnificence and grandeur, it was designed as a tribute to the ideas and philosophies from the past and the possibilities of the future. You only need to walk into the Great Hall to appreciate the history that the Library contains.
And here I am, the 2016-2017 Teacher-in Residence. The Teacher-in-Residence uses Library of Congress resources to create a project that will benefit their hometown or district in the following school year, and I’ll be developing primary source portfolios for teachers in grades K-2. The Library of Congress will be my home for the next year. I am humbled, eager, and honored to serve in this position.
I am a Kindergarten teacher from New Jersey, and I attended a week-long Library of Congress Teacher Summer Institute in 2011. My goal was to learn something new that would enhance my teaching and contribute to student achievement. I was not disappointed when the Library’s Educational Outreach staff launched my use and knowledge of primary source lessons. It was an approach to teaching and learning that I would embrace and bring back to my school district.
The second week of school, I excitedly introduced my Kindergarten students to the Library of Congress by showing them images of the main reading room. I taught them the term “historian” and instantly they were eager to become experts in the study of people, places, and times from the past.
We began our first primary source lesson with thinking about how people from a very long time ago were called to gather. I reminded the students that it was a time when there were no cell phones. Then I posed the question. “What could be used?” After letting the students describe their own ideas, and there were many, I finally showed them this stucco painted conch shell and explained that it was used to gather crowds and to open ceremonies. Finally, we discussed why I play chimes in our classroom to call the students to gather.
This helped students understand the difference between the past and the present. Measured by the rich vocabulary, the critical thinking, interaction, questions, engagement and the sense of accomplishment for each student, I knew primary source lessons were here to stay in my classroom!
Each month I offered the Kindergarten students a new primary source lesson. Every lesson included the standards for speaking, listening, and foundational skills for reading. I witnessed growth in confidence, social skills, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness as my historians studied toys from the past, mail delivery, the circus, transportation, umbrellas, baseball, and so much more.
As the Teacher-in-Residence, this year is a gift. It is a gift of time to research and delve into the primary sources the Library has in their specific collections. It is a gift of time to create new primary source lessons for my students and colleagues. It is a gift of time to learn and work among expert staff. It is the best gift an educator could receive.