Cleveland High English teacher Patty Puckett recently participated in a five-day intensive primary resources program at the Library of Congress alongside hand-selected educators from across the country.
“I went thinking possibly I wouldn’t have as much access just because of the course I teach, but then I realized there [are] plenty [of primary resources],” Puckett said of the experience in Washington, D.C. “Just to get to be a part of a student’s day in every course would be a great way to open things up for them.”
More than 400 teachers applied for the opportunity to join the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute. It is one of five summer institutes offered by the national library. Puckett studied for five days with 27 K-12 teachers.
In-house education specialists and subject-matter experts taught the participants how to effectively utilize primary sources in their daily lessons. A primary source is any document or physical object which was written or created during the time in question. The resources offer an inside glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of real people from a particular point in history.
Puckett was initially unsure whether or not she would find material for her English courses. She explained her first subject of the fall semester is British Literature with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” being the first play in the line-up.
Puckett quickly discovered the millions of digitalized historical artifacts and documents preserved by the library did indeed offer resources for her subject matter.
“I was just working with newspapers, then I narrowed it to Shakespeare in Tennessee from 1863 to 1950-ish,” Puckett recalled. “Then I focused on Macbeth.”
She finally focused the search on references in Nashville, Knoxville and Athens papers from 1863 to 1950.
Puckett added, “It is kind of remarkable the number of mentions in ads of allusions to Macbeth.”
The teachers became the students during the five-day study spree, with a schedule so tight there were built-in study breaks. Participants in the program completed assignments their students will complete this academic year. Both group work and individual research and reflection further aided the teachers’ understanding of the material.
The goal of primary-source-based learning is to challenge students to engage with the material through probing questions, critical thinking and placing themselves in the individual’s shoes.
“One thing I thought was pretty fascinating were the songs,” Puckett said. “There is a lot that can be gleaned from a 100-year-old song. What were people selling? What were people buying? The issues that were happening were represented.”
Puckett will share her newfound knowledge with her colleagues at an in-service prior to the start of school. She will also talk at the professional learning community gathering held every other week during the school year. She said her intention is to spread the excitement about the teaching tool.
Those interested in learning more can contact Puckett through Cleveland High or examine the primary resources firsthand at www.loc.gov/teachers/.