Using primary sources, such as memoirs, letters and diaries, rather than relying solely on secondary sources (i.e. the textbook) is a more effective way for students to appreciate the lived experiences of those who were present when the history was made. This article details how memoir was used in a college classroom in Connecticut as a supplement to required texts. It provides a lesson plan, a sequence of activities and a list of recommended primary sources that were used to explore selected topics. It proposes reasons for why this method of instruction has been so successful.
The study uses VARK approach: visual, auditory, reading, kinesthetic; sequential activities using text, video and primary sources; PowerPoint from group work; presentation via ZOOM; and required text used as lens through which to see student choice topics.
Accessing VARK learning behaviors and including the original voices of those who lived through history improves student engagement, increases understanding and empathy and promotes sense of agency to student progress.
Students focus on a particular aspect of history. Shared text covers all of it, through a thematic lens. Final exam and papers insure that students are responsible for all of the course material.
Young students might “role play” individuals in history, or particular situations, but this is not accepted, practical or as useful in higher grades. Using primary sources bridges that gap.
Teamwork, shared technical skills, product produced and shared, and sense of group experience lead to more unified classroom. Teacher role is more of director and editor rather than information giver.
The study is not a new idea, but one that is usually used only as a one-off and should be made part of standard curriculum.
Liftig, R.A. (2021), "Using memoir in social studies and history classes: a VARK approach to address all learning styles", Social Studies Research and Practice, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 16-27. https://doi.org/10.1108/SSRP-03-2021-0007
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