A Rich Colonial Times Resource Collection
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
Imagine a social studies classroom with only textbooks: no artifacts, primary or secondary documents, student work, or works in progress. Imagine a social studies classroom with students sitting solemnly in straight rows without communicating ideas, just memorizing facts. Old school.
Thankfully, we know that social studies is not just passive content to be taught “at” students. Instead it is an interactive subject that comes alive with discussion and a range of primary and secondary resources.
Literacy in the social studies classroom
With the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers in all subject areas share the task of teaching literacy. It is important for teachers to provide students with authentic opportunities to learn and practice literacy, including thinking deeply and critically about social studies.
While our textbooks often cover a breath of knowledge (often lacking depth), 21st century students need to be able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate a variety of texts specific to a discipline. Teaching students to think critically and communicate their thinking is not a small task.
The internet is a wonderful place to begin a search for social studies resources, but the task is daunting. A simple search of “Colonial History in America” yields 35,200,000 hits. Teaching social studies is like solving a mystery from the past, using clues from primary and secondary sources to be able to ask and answer questions about what happened. As educators, we need to provide opportunities for our students to think like to historians, archaeologists, and detectives.
Readings and more from Harvey and Goudvis
The newly published teacher resource, Colonial Times: Short Nonfiction for American History (Gr 5-8), with texts selected by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, provides the clues to help solve the “how and why” of the past.
The resources they have chosen in Colonial Times, part of The Comprehension Toolkit Series, are a compendium of authentic documents that challenge students to think and analyze like historians rather than merely memorize a group of facts. This unique collection of relevant materials specific to the colonial time period also offers ideas for integrating primary sources into your teaching.
Included in this remarkable toolkit are:
- 10 new Toolkit lessons for close reading in content literacy,
- 45 short nonfiction articles on a wide range of topics and at a variety of reading levels,
- an image bank of primary source documents and artifacts, and
- bibliographies, web sites, and ideas for online investigations.
Primary sources are the artifacts of social studies. They come in all shapes and sizes: plays, first person accounts, images, paintings, maps, timelines, and speeches. letters, newspapers – pieces of evidence from the time period and concepts that are being studied.
Now students at an earlier age are expected to analyze, compare sources, research, persuade, take notes, learn new content vocabulary, and hypothesize. As early as second grade, we expect students to “Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.” (That is a tall order for upper elementary students.)
Harvey and Goudvis have done a remarkable job in gathering engaging short primary documents from 1600-1750 which provide an overview of the time period. As I reviewed the selections in the resource, I was impressed by the authors’ representative choices. Each document was chosen based on interest/content, visual literacy, writing quality and accuracy, and reading level/complexity (p.xv-xvi). Each time I reached into the toolkit, I discovered another educational tool. In addition to the resources listed above, I found
- A correlation chart to the five social studies strands (history culture, economics, geography, and government),
- A chart with foundational comprehension strategies and how students use them to acquire knowledge and deepen their understanding of history, and
- The article “Teaching for Historical Literacy” by Goudvis and Harvey (Educational Leadership, March 2012).
For educators, by educators
As an educator, I have my list of “people I would love to have dinner with.” Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis are definitely on it. Each author is not just an education guru but a literacy advocate for our students. They have coauthored Strategies that Work, The Comprehension Toolkit, and Comprehension Intervention: Small-Group Lessons for The Primary Comprehension Toolkit.
The basis for their work lies in research as well as in time spent with students and teachers. As staff developers, they are able to open a window into the classroom and talk with teachers about what works, what doesn’t work and the needs of teachers in the 21st century.
I was so excited when I first previewed the book, I emailed my son who is a social studies teacher, “Are you teaching the colonial time period? Then, you have to get this book!” “Eureka! I found the gold mine of social studies resources!” I texted to my coworkers. I was so excited that I contacted Heinemann to find out when the next book in the series would be published. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found out the publication date was December, 2014 with The Westward Expansion(1800-1850) and Civil War (1850-1975) Toolkit Texts to be published in the future.
Growing historians, archeologists and detectives
As educators, we are always searching for ideas, methods, resources and sources that enrich our students’ experience. We want education to come alive for our students and to have meaning. Harvey and Goudvis have helped us by providing user-friendly materials that give a glimpse into the lives of the early colonists and that teachers can scaffold to help generate understanding.
Goudvis and Harvey challenge our students to think like historians, asking what matters and why it matters. They challenge our students to think like detectives, asking how we can evaluate this source. What does it tell us about the past? They challenge our students to think like archeologists and dig for clues within the documents. What was that person like? What were they thinking?
The authors also challenge our students to think like debaters to read multiple accounts and perspectives, take a position and defend it with evidence. What can this shard of evidence tell us about the past?
Thank you, Ms. Goudvis and Ms. Harvey, for making history come alive for my students, my colleagues, and me.
Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel. She recently attended the invitation-only ECET2 Conference in New Orleans to explore teacher leadership and collaboration.