I always seem to forget that I taught English to Middle Schoolers for a year, and yes, it was as just as weird as you would assume.
Working in a library I thought my teaching days were over, but I suppose you never really stop teaching. As a library on an academic campus Special Collections holds classes throughout the year to a range of disciplines using resources from the archive. The goal of these classes is not only to supplement what they are learning with the physical remnants of history, but to teach them about archives and how they can be utilized for both academic and personal uses. In preparation for next semester’s classes I have been working on creating instructional kits that we can pull and utilize for different classes so that we are always ready with lesson plans and objectives.
The most interesting thing I noticed while going through the case studies is that they all have one common theme- students no longer know how to use primary sources. A majority of the students who filled out a survey after the class were still confused about the archive and how to use it, buy why? And how do we change it?
From a teaching perspective I have a lot of theories, but most importantly I think we need to change when we teach these students about archives and primary sources as opposed to how. While Archivists and Librarians now are focused on finding college classrooms to bring in I think we should also be looking beyond our own campuses and start creating educational relationships with local Middle and High Schools. Let me throw some teacher facts at you.
- Students love field trips
- They actually listen to guest speakers better then they do their teachers
- They will go to libraries if you make it part of an assignment (and threaten their grade a little)
- Computer days are their favorite, get them in a lab and teach them how to explore databases that don’t include Google, then let them go crazy
- Kids these days can find anything on the internet thanks to social media, they can absolutely be taught to use these skills in the same way for research
- They would much prefer teaching themselves through physical history then sitting through another PowerPoint
So where do we start? Teach Middle School students about primary vs. secondary sources with a strong focus on primary. Show them how to use different databases and have them practice constantly to find new sources through different outlets. Take them on field trips to museums and treat the pieces as primary sources, teach them to talk about and describe things based on their historical context. As they go into High School keep widening the scope. Bring them to archival repositories and have them handle the material, keep practicing these skills with more hands on and unguided work.
What are the perks? Students are more inclined to do their own research and make their own judgments instead of relying solely on secondary sources. They can analyze and describe history from firsthand accounts and are more comfortable using an archive for any kind of research they will do moving forward. Finally, when they get to college and are back in an archives instruction class you can spend more time analyzing and discussing the material instead of teaching them how to find it.
Of course, kids will always be kids, but encouraging them to be active in their own education and giving them these skills is incomparable. Encourage them to get out there, you never know what they might find.