This post is by Caneisha Mills, the 2022-2023 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am honored to serve as the Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress for the 2022-23 school year. Originally from Morganton, North Carolina, I have been a classroom teacher in Washington, D.C. for eight years. I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees at Howard University, and I have taught everything from World Geography to U.S. Government. For the past five years my focus has been early American history, from the pre-colonial era to Reconstruction.
How has using primary sources changed your teaching?
Many of the lessons and units I teach begin with primary source image analysis. I want students to interpret the past using their own perspective and that of the people living when an event occurred. Thankfully, my school district incorporates primary source documents in the US history curriculum, supplemented with secondary readings to provide context. For example, 8th grade students are required to learn about the American Revolution and investigate the famous engraving by Paul Revere on the Boston Massacre. However, the depth of knowledge about the unrest within the 13 colonies changed for my students and for me when exploring other primary sources from the time period such as “The colonies reduced – its companion.” In order to understand the foundation of America, students need to investigate the conflict between the thirteen English colonies and Great Britain, and I also want students to explore the internal conflict within the colonies by reading excerpts from narratives written by the enslaved, such as Briton Hammon. Rather than using one image to answer a question, I try to incorporate additional primary sources to inspire students to ask their own questions. Every year my teaching changes and deepens. I hope to inspire students to ask more questions of history and themselves.
Why did you apply to be Teacher in Residence?
Collaboration with colleagues has always been a key component to my growth as an educator, and an English teacher at my school informed me of the Teacher in Residence opportunity because of my previous work creating or modifying field experiences for students in our building and district. Hearing that the Library of Congress was creating an interactive space for families and students in the Jefferson Building piqued my interest. And it is the Library of Congress. As a history teacher, having the opportunity to explore primary sources, such as images and manuscripts, is an invaluable experience.
What are your goals for your year as Teacher in Residence?
During this year, I hope to examine primary sources and learn as much as possible about the telling of the American story through different formats. I am excited to view the collections within the Library of Congress and learn how artifacts are made accessible to children and families.
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?
For me the classroom is a place for students to explore and learn, regardless of content area. While the pressures and expectations for teachers to meet certain benchmarks continues to increase, growth in literacy skills and success on standardized tests are inevitable when teaching with primary sources. If you haven’t tried it yet, today is the perfect day to begin.
Note: A earlier version of this post imprecisely described Briton Hammon’s enslaved status.
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