This post is by Carolyn Bennett, the 2018-2019 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.
Over the winter holidays, I visited family in Connecticut. When selecting dishes to contribute to holiday dinners, I perused American Cookery, the first American-written, American-published cookbook – fittingly published in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1796. Recipes, like music scores, are especially interesting to me because they can still be used in the way the author originally intended. Though one cannot read historic newspapers to stay apprised of current events, or read historic letters to stay in touch with friends, “American orphan” Amelia Simmons still speaks through the centuries to help the reader get dinner to the table.
The carrot pudding caught my attention. As I considered making it for my holiday dinner, I immediately encountered some challenges in interpreting the recipe. What size was an eighteenth-century coffee cup? What is the ideal carrot texture? What time and temperature to bake?
When analyzing a recipe, some information becomes immediately salient. I needed to closely read the cookbook, enriching my understanding of the Carrot Pudding recipe by noticing contextual details within the volume’s other recipes and informational text. I researched antiquated culinary technologies and measurements, seeking out both modern and contemporary cookbooks. I synthesized what I learned through close reading and research with my personal culinary experiences, tools, and skills, including my ability to use a food processor and modern oven. I developed a plan and then created my carrot pudding. I was able to evaluate my success as measured by the expressions on hungry faces – most of which transitioned from skepticism to enthusiasm as my family sampled their first spoonful.
I realized my process components, reminiscent of the Stripling Model of Inquiry, can guide learning with all manner of primary sources. Students must engage in close reading, wrestling with unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax, in order to understand the original instructional content. They must synthesize this information with their prior knowledge. Then, they must form hypotheses about how to best accomplish the author’s original intent through the modern means at their disposal. Finally, the end product can be enjoyed by the student and a larger audience. Assessment of the product, by the student, an audience, or teacher, invites students to reflect on their process, evaluate their analysis, and make adjustments for the future.
The Library’s collections include many texts which invite students to engage in inquiry through project-based learning. Musical scores can guide young musicians; blueprints can guide young makers. Manuals can inspire students to play a game, conduct an experiment, dance, or send secret messages – and some exciting books feature all of the above.
How can primary sources lead your students into project-based inquiry? Bon appetit!