This post is written by Jen Reidel, the 2019-20 Teacher in Residence.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a Pacific Northwest native from Bellingham, Washington, the “city of subdued excitement,” who loves teaching Civics, Law, and History. I’ve dedicated my career as a high school Social Studies teacher to providing students with meaningful and relevant learning experiences about the world around them as well as offering ways to practice civic engagement.
How has using primary sources changed your teaching?
Using primary sources in my classroom shifts the responsibility of learning from teacher to student and changes the teacher’s role to coaching students to take more responsibility and agency for their learning. Creating a classroom where primary sources are the main course takes additional effort on the part of the educator. For me, it means knowing my students’ reading abilities, background knowledge, and interests. From there, I curate documents and images that push students to consider multiple perspectives and interact with unknown aspects of a person or event. Finally, using primary sources effectively forces me to consider what I want students to do with the knowledge and questions gained and design engaging and appropriate tasks which connect to the primary sources. The richness of using primary sources lies in the fact that students themselves get to determine narratives, uncover stories, and give voice to the marginalized.
Why did you decide to apply to be the Teacher in Residence to the Library of Congress?
A fellow Social Studies nerd from Washington state shared a link to the Teacher in Residence application. When I clicked on it, I was fascinated about the possibility to push pause on the duties inherent in day to day teaching and get the chance for one school year to work with enthusiastic educators and leaders at the Library of Congress uncovering the resources and stories within the Library’s collections. For the 2019-20 TIR position, the Library specifically solicited applications from Civics teachers. Honestly, I jumped at the chance to combine my love of Civics and History within the position.
What are your goals for your year as Teacher in Residence?
I hope that working and spending time at the Library of Congress this year will develop in me a deeper knowledge and understanding of the resources and collections at the Library. Additionally, I am very excited at the prospect of having the time and space to create and share effective and engaging lessons connected to civic ideals rooted in specific historical events.
What advice would you give to teachers who want to use primary sources in classroom activities, given the push to meet standards and insure success on standardized tests?
If teachers really want students to be successful on standardized tests, using primary sources is a no-brainer. Primary sources require students to practice inquiry skills, critical thinking, entertain multiple perspectives, and use background knowledge to interpret text. Each of these skills is necessary for success on standardized tests and will undoubtedly help students in other endeavors.